I stepped onto the plane, knowing that this would not be a fun trip home. I closed my eyes and prayed. I prayed for some alien colony to pluck me out of my seat and save me from the torture that was visiting my family. My mother called me two weeks prior, refusing to believe I would rather spend Christmas alone in Seattle than in Nashville, with the rest of my dysfunctional family. The next morning I woke up to an email containing a plane ticket. I pleaded with my mother to understand that I was thrilled to be spending my first holiday in Seattle, that I would have plenty of friends to keep me company. It was a lie. I had only been living in Seattle for about eight months and had made plenty of acquaintances already. To be honest though, I was looking forward to the solitude and quiet of staying alone in my studio apartment. I had grand visions of snuggling up on the couch with a book and stuffing my face with the Chinese food that permeated from the restaurant below me.
Attempting to prepare myself for the week ahead, I did not notice the man now sitting next to me. He looked at me sideways, seemingly in attempt to gage my sanity. I realized I was rocking back and forth in my chair like a psych patient. Find a happy place. I took a deep breath to collect myself and smiled reassuringly to the stranger next to me. I attempted to convey to him, ‘I’m not crazy’ with a smile. I was fairly certain he was wishing for a different seat on the plane, next to someone who did not appear to be in the middle of a breakdown.
As soon as I strolled through the front door of my mother’s home I found myself surrounded by ten people almost immediately. My entire family had come over to welcome me home. Great. My obnoxious cousin Teddy came bounding up and punched me in the arm. That must have been the only form of communication he was taught as a child. I have endured the same greeting from him for as long as I can remember. My mother blubbered all over my new shirt, acting as though it had been years since we had seen each other last. Don’t get me wrong, I love her she could just be insanely overwhelming at times. Wiping her tear soaked face, my mother called out to the rest of my family to come greet her long lost daughter. As I suspected, and hoped, she was in the process of making a huge feast of all of my favorite foods. The delicious smells filled the room and seduced my hungry nostrils. Maybe being home was not so bad. Perhaps I could stuff the traumatic death of my father deep down into the furthest corners of my heart and just enjoy my time here. Or maybe not.
Waiting for dinner to be ready I walked upstairs to find my old room. It was just as I had left it, a place that served to remind me how far I had come over the years, and how much had happened. This home became the only constant in my life. It smelled the same and looked the same, but somehow nothing felt the same. I ran my fingertips over the arsenal of family pictures that covered the hallway. The photographs seemed like a shrine to a distant memory. My family smiled widely as though nothing bad could ever happen. But, bad things did happen and this beaming family was now an empty shell of its former self. I realized that my mother had not put a new picture up of the family since my father’s murder. I wondered what it was like for her to be alone in this house now that my brothers and I had all moved away. I do not know if I could handle the haunting smiles of a family that once existed so blissfully smiling down on me, taunting my pain and inconsolable sadness. My brothers and I tried to convince my mother that she too should move, that it was unhealthy to live in the midst of such an excruciating past.
The memory of how my father died is seared into my brain, no matter how hard I have tried over the years, it is something I can never forget. We got the call at about eleven o’clock in the evening from the Watertown Police. I remember the look of horror on my mother’s face and the sheer agony in her voice as she heard the news. The police relayed the evening’s heart wrenching events as they believed them to have happened. My father worked late nights at the gas station that he owned, always insisting on being the one to bring the daily deposits to the bank. The police believed that someone knew about my father’s nightly bank drop. A man lay across the backseat of his truck waiting for him. As my father started the car the man sat up in the back seat and cracked him across the face with a bat. Helpless from the striking blow, my father was then stabbed several times. The killer grabbed the bloody deposit bag out of my father’s writhing hands and made a run for it. It took the ambulance too long to get there and my father bled out in his beloved truck, for a couple hundred measly dollars. None of us ever had the chance to say goodbye.
I missed my father terribly, he was the family rock and what held everyone together. Of course none of this was so blaringly obvious until he was gone. I wandered around my childhood home, trying to take in only the good memories and let go of the bad. I looked into the family room finding my cousins and brothers playing video games, all screaming in unison at each other about whatever game they were glued to. The rest of the family congregated around the couches, catching up on who was pregnant and other small town gossip. Gossip, something I definitely did not miss.
Seeing the attic string hang loose as I walked through the hallway, curiosity got the best of me. I knew that my mother had packed up most of my father’s belongings and stored them in the attic. I crawled slowly up the folding stairs trying not to make a sound. Boxes covered every square inch of space in the dusty attic. I really should have helped my mother go through his things earlier. I lost control as my hands ripped through box after box of my father’s things. Exhausted, I sat surrounded by piles of his clothes that somehow still smelled like him, emptiness took over. I was searching voraciously for something that did not exist, answers. Why did my father have to be killed? Why did my family seem to fall apart instead of bind together as so many others had? I put my head in my hands and cried. I cried long and hard and ugly. I finally calmed myself down holding my father’s favorite sweatshirt. My sanity began to resurface, realizing that this was why I was dreading coming home. It was not my mother, or my annoying cousin Teddy. It was me. I did not want to feel this sadness anymore. My mother had told me over and over again that I was moving to Seattle to “escape myself”. I never knew what she meant by it. All I knew was that she was wrong, until now. I had become my own worst enemy. Deciding that living in a four hundred square foot studio, above a nasty Chinese restaurant, in a state where I did not know a soul would heal my metaphoric wounds.
My mother poked her head into the attic, staring at me like this was a moment she had been anticipating. How do mothers always know? She buried herself into the pile of clothes next to me and hugged me tightly.
I whimpered to her, “I’m so sorry mom. I’ve been running from myself. You were right.”
My mother looked at me tenderly and whispered, “We have all been running. It’s time we start rebuilding us. We all hurt and feel incredible loss. Can we please do that together now? I cannot stand the distance between us all.”
I smiled as my brothers both trudged into the attic, finding my mother and me blubbering on the floor. They wrapped their arms around us both tightly and we decided right then and there to be a family again. To stop hiding from the things that hurt, but instead share the pain and move on together. Life is so fulfilling if you let it be.