Last week I took a break from working, and from Los Angeles, to go home. Because California isn’t home yet. It pulls at me, tugs me toward its dry heat as more time passes. Covers me in its breeze, its sunny skies. Makes me smile and makes me cry. But still I can feel myself leaning inward like a palm too heavy for its height. I can feel myself retreating. Waiting for the calm.
As the week crept on, my ticket burning a hole through my laptop’s screen, I anticipated this calm. I’d lie on the ground for twenty minutes. Submerge my head in warm water. Press my lips together around a phrase like “see you later” or “yes, I’ll be safe.” I packed thin shirts and wicking socks. I wanted real heat. I wanted a thunderstorm.
So I was happy to get on a wobbly plane (show me one plane that is 100% functioning) and cross the continent, barely make my connection in Chicago, sleep an hour out of 24, stare longingly at forests whipping along MARTA’s track, get carried to the place I would feel most solid, the place that would ground me, hold me in its familiarity, slobber me in the comfort of knowing. Coat me in home’s spit.
I got my storm. One hour and 32 minutes after arriving. I breathed it in through the dry side of single pane windows. I watched and thought how this felt like swallowing cold water after a run around the track, how this was something like that too, how though I have never run around a track, nor am I willing to experiment in self-harm, this could be that feeling. I pressed my nose to it. It smushed.
But then the wind shook the branches in new ways. Thunder roared in a language I didn’t seem to know. The air was thicker, wetter, and my lungs, I assumed, weaker. My dogs were old. They had tumors between the pads of their feet, above their eyes, along their spines. Someone new had entered my siblings’ lives; a girlfriend, world travel, perfect eyebrows. I realized how little I recognized of the house I’d grown up in. My parents were long in the process of change, arranging our home in new ways, curating it as a commodity. I’d seen the professionally taken photos and supplied my opinion on price. I had said $11 dollars. I thought it might throw the market. Surely there must be something wrong. Lead in the paint, bones in the yard, a hippopotamus under the rug. I thought about drawing pentagrams behind paintings. Digging a hole through the floor. Ordering a ghost off Amazon (CAN YOU IMAGINE).
In lieu of breaking into the zoo or getting in a fight with some nerd about ruining his Slimer-loving childhood, I chose the things I wanted to keep. I put them in a box to be stored in the attic of a new home that would be mine, but also, not. I had seen pictures of this place. I was told it was worth more than $11. Probably twelve.
2,252 miles is a long way. Three time zones, a desert, and, I’m told, a lot of fucking corn. 2,252 miles has taught me about the silliness of permanence. That expectation is like fruit flies. It breeds pestilence; it swarms your body, your things. You have to swat it away. Or leave it where it belongs: on sticky paper near the trash. Or open the door; look in the other direction so you’re not grossed out, so you don’t have to wonder how much you’ve swallowed without knowing.
In this storm of a few days, as I let expectation fade away, I felt my language come back together. New sounds of thunder clapped with the old. I shook alongside the trees. I became refreshed. I got on a plane back to the West Coast, carrying my family and my home in the clothes I wore, in good thoughts, in pictures on my phone and the pollen in my nose.
When asked how home was, always with a glint of envy (everyone bears this, I’m unsure it can be washed out), I’ve said: “humid.” And it was. Humid with the voices of the people I love. Of bodies pressed in long hugs, filling rooms, under lights, swaying to Paul Simon, stomping to ABBA, flailing to Queen, shouting about finding somebody to love while surrounded by it.
There’s nothing like restoring a sense of purpose, restoring definition to living, to moving forward, like seeing the ones you love. And I take comfort in knowing they’ll continue to defy my fruit-fly-papered-expectation, that I’ll still grow with them, even at this distance. And that when we come back together it won’t be about the things I’ve put away in a box bound for another attic. That instead that time will be for lying on the floor together. For rib-soring laughs and words soon to burst and uninhibited dance. But also for figuring out how to cure my armpit rash and to do it en committee. Most of the assorted panel voted for baby powder. Some “the doctor.” Others abstained with a shrug and a sigh, but only after extremely close inspection, some head-shaking, and a worried line about “taking care.”
But I am taking care. And I'm taken care of. Even at a thousands' mile distance. Even as I push away thoughts of insects crawling from my fruit. And even if I haven't paid Olga in weeks. Olga is my in-home nurse. She's been here since the rash developed and continues to shout about her "squatters rights." They are apparently very strong in California and I "can't do anything about it." But I do always put the toilet seat down. I am considerate.
Update: Olga has stolen my bed.