Wednesday, June 13, 2012
There's No Place Like Home
My expectations of coming home and the reality of coming home left a lot to be desired, and that would be the problem with expectations. They almost always fail you.
When I left for Arizona, it broke my heart. I spent months trying to get over being homesick, and it took someone else coming into my home to care for my dog to get me to even attempt to make it look like a home. It resembled a camp site. I lived out of my bedroom, though I had enough furniture to fill two rooms. I had not hung any curtains, and there wasn’t even any design to the furniture I had in my bedroom. Everything was exactly where it had been dumped off. I liked the transient feel of it. It helped fuel the denial that this really wasn’t my home after all. Home was still in Ohio with my girls. Arizona was just a place to stay; a place Spirit sent me for reasons that are becoming increasingly clear. I waffled back and forth, referring to both Ohio and Arizona as my home, but the reality was Ohio was still my home in my heart. It took going back home to define where home was.
It was easy to ignore Arizona as my home; after all I made zero attempts at making friends. I am a lone wolf by nature; making friends has never come easily for me. All of my friends were in Ohio and they are great friends. I had neither need nor desire for any more. When you have great friends, you don’t tend to seek more out. Then something unexpected happened, I made a friend. And he is not just any friend, either. He turned into someone with far more significance in my life than being a mere friend, even if that friend is your best friend, and even if that best friend is your very best friend in the whole world. He has turned into someone I love. I think he already knows it, but if he doesn’t he will after reading this, he is one of my biggest fans. I know he loves me.
Still, I am fiercely independent, so even having someone I love here did not make it my home. It made it a place where there was someone I loved, that was all. My heart remained in Ohio and I refused to believe anywhere else could ever be my home so when it came time to fly back for a visit, I was elated. I could hardly contain my joy. I had friends I wanted to see and most of all; I had children I needed to see. My expectations were very high for my homecoming. I made plans to see everyone I could, and the trip was forming into a very busy and very stressful vacation. My time was spoken for at every turn. Yet, how could I not see everyone? I had to fit in as many people as I could. I had plans with my girls, plans with friends, a party at a bar and a BBQ planned. I had a graduation ceremony to attend and personal business to attend to. I had visions of people running up so excited to see me they would knock me over with their joy. I anticipated endless hugs and even a few kisses. There were problems emerging before I could set foot on the plane, but those expectations remained high.
I have never flown alone before, so I was nervous about the trip. I get lost going around the block and I hate crowds to the point where I feared a panic attack. I still struggle with agoraphobia though it is much better than it used to be. Travel was going to be a significant challenge, but I have never let fear run my life before and it was not going to run my life now. I was determined to fly home and that’s what I was going to do. The thought of all those people made me very, very nervous, however as did navigating the airport and flight connections. As the day approached, my anxiety grew. It was so bad I didn’t even try to pack until an hour before I had to leave. I was subconsciously trying to miss my flight. I wouldn’t let that happen, no matter what, but I was fighting a battle within myself. It was a battle I knew I would win because I was going home. I was filling up with trepidation about leaving my dog, and I knew I would miss the man I now knew I loved, though I wasn’t willing to admit that to anyone. I guess the cat’s out of the bag on that one. I was a little worried that once I returned home, I wouldn’t return but I guess that is where Spirit is and always has been wise. I had someone I loved waiting for me back in Arizona. If that wasn’t a reason to return, I don’t know what is. But the problem was, my children were in Ohio, and one of them is quite ill. She is about to face one of the biggest challenges of her life & I am over two thousand miles away. I thought to myself I might not return home, even though I loved a man here. The love of my children is stronger than any love I could feel for a man, or so I thought.
My greeting home was anticlimactic. My girls picked me up at Cleveland-Hopkins airport at the Delta hub. As anyone knows, there is no time for running hugs and hair flowing in the wind, ending in a long embrace and tears. They pulled the car up and I hopped in before I got ran over. The flights had been long and I was exhausted, the girls had had a busy day as well and it was late at night. We exchanged excited greetings and the GPS ordered up the next turn to get us back home. We were all too tired for much conversation as we made the forty-five minute journey home. One of my girls criticized something about what I said or did twice before we would reach her apartment. We ran through a fast food restaurant so I could eat and made hurried travel plans to attend my eldest daughter’s graduation in New Jersey. A couple brief hugs and it was time for bed. It was as if I had never left, and not in the comforting, warm hearted way I would have expected to feel. Instead, it was as if I had never been missed. The criticisms picked up right where it had left off, never skipping a beat. I was home all right.
The next day I was beat. The preflight anxiety, the anxiety of the actual trip, and my failed expectations of being warmly welcomed had worn me out. Additionally, there is a three hour time difference between Arizona and Ohio, so when my daughter awakened me at ten in the morning, it was like being awakened at seven in the morning to me. I stayed awake briefly before sleeping until one in the afternoon Ohio time. I had never experienced jet lag before, and I was having a round of it now. I could not believe how exhausted I was. In between doing what I should, I slept. By the end of the day, my daughter criticized me again for sleeping so much my first day back. She kept saying she had no problem with jet lag when she flew back home, but she was only in Arizona the one day. My biorhythms had a different time zone in mind. I was criticized for not picking up after myself within minutes of my mess, for sleeping too much when I should be as energetic as my daughter thirty years my junior, and I was banned from mentioning anything about my boyfriend. I wasn’t allowed to say anything at all. It seemed my daughter had a huge problem with his age. He is twenty four years younger than I am. He is younger than two of my three daughters; therefore I wasn’t allowed to talk about him because it was “gross.” I wanted to tell them what an amazing individual he is and how he has made my life complete when I didn’t know anything was missing. I had no intention of mentioning anything “gross.” And so day one back home was also less than what I had envisioned. I was beginning to see why Spirit wanted me to leave in the first place; still I had much to look forward to. My children may not have been thrilled to have their rebel mother (dating a much younger man) home, but my friends would be thrilled to see me. I still had a party and BBQ to attend.
Day two did not prove to be any better at all. My daughter’s illness was a black cloud of terror reigning over all of us. It is still in the early stages, so we don’t know much about it yet. I have cried every day since I had learned of the serious nature of it, and my heart is still breaking as what we learn unfolds. My host daughter had to leave for Columbus to be with my eldest daughter, so they could leave for graduation earlier than I was able to leave with my other daughter. We were being splintered off from one another, but everyone’s schedules made it impossible for us to travel all together. Still, I enjoyed the trip up with my daughter who is facing this challenge. We arrived at the hotel room early of the morning my eldest would graduate. Another day without running hugs, flowing hair or a tearful embrace. I was let down and it wasn’t over yet. The criticisms continued, and the one bright spot in my day was at night when I got to talk to him. Since neither of us is admitting what is really going on here, we keep the conversation far away from that topic, but I spill my heart out to him and he makes me feel better. This is why he is in my life. This is why after ten years of not being in any relationship at all, he has broken through and made a difference in my world.
I finally get to see my eldest daughter, but previous tensions invaded any warm welcome here, either. I was a bystander in the lives of my children and it hurt me deeply. This day was about her and her accomplishment, though, so I sucked up my hurt feelings and performed my role in the shadows of her life. I didn’t get the running hugs, the flowing hair or the tearful embrace here, either. I did, however get plenty of tears as my disappointment grew. I felt irrelevant in their lives. It cut my soul to the core, but I did what I had to do. After the ceremony, we went to dinner where I was relegated to the far end of the table. I hadn’t seen my eldest daughter in over a year, yet I was seated at the farthest point from her. I sat and ate my meal, hiding behind shyness. Inside, the tears were threatening to emerge. It was all becoming too much for me as my children harbored anger and judgments about my new life they weren’t going to discuss with me until later. I was the redheaded step child, the relative no one wanted to acknowledge but couldn’t leave out. I wasn’t allowed to discuss any new developments in my life and I wasn’t allowed to discuss my writing. It seems this blog embarrasses them as well, though some of my writing has received critical and academic acclaim. It is an embarrassment though my poetry has been listed in the National Archives, The Library of Congress. It sucks to be me. It sucks even more to have my warm welcome become a bitter disappointment. I still have my party to look forward to, so I try to keep a positive attitude, reminding myself I need to have a good visit with my daughters. My time here is very short.
I get through the day looking forward to the talk I will have with him later. He is my port, and it is becoming very clear where home really is. It isn’t Ohio and I can’t wait to get back to Arizona. I am almost sorry I came & I am regretting ever coming in the first place. I am beginning to understand that though I love my children like a mother should love her children, I was blind to their faults and I was blind to the stress they placed me under. For the first time in a year, I was starting to feel bad about myself, doubting all the truths I knew, and feeling less than the woman I am. I was remembering how unhappy I was in Ohio, because in the eyes of my children I am a bitter disappointment and someone they need to control and contain. My self-esteem was plummeting by the hour and my real friends were starting to be concerned about the dramatic changes they were seeing in both my attitude and confidence. I had begun to doubt myself, my abilities and even my sanity as they continued to put me down for the life I have chosen as a free adult woman without the encumberment of dependents. The day labored on in much the same manner; complete with an epic argument with one daughter which almost resulted in me leaving that hotel altogether in favor of one more amenable to me, though granted between the certainties of bedbugs and roaches it would have been far more crowded. At this point, I preferred the company of insects to what I was encountering in the company of my children. One daughter smoothed the argument between this daughter and me, so the evening continued.
I tried very hard to be what they wanted me to be, but I was failing on every point. One by one each daughter quit speaking to me. Though they were failing my expectations of what I had hoped for during this visit, I remained silent in my grief. This trip had to be about them, not my pain. My pain was sheltered in my friends and in the man I loved. They met and exceeded every expectation I could have had. They did what people who care for you do. They supported me, they comforted me and they validated me as the woman I am, a woman of value and substance. Despite their best efforts, the expectations my children had for me as their mother was reaching deeper lows than I could swim out of. I was losing myself and it was clear I had no reason to call this place home any longer. I have not met the expectations of my children for a long time. That was not going to change and they were determined to make me pay for it. Our conversations were reaching levels of hurt I had not known they were capable of. They said dating this man was reprehensible and wrong on every level and it was based entirely on his age. They said there must be something wrong with me to seek the company of someone so young and seeing me as manipulative and selfish they said I couldn’t have any genuine feelings for him, I must be using him. I denied that, of course but they refused to allow me to tell them what I did see in him. They said having a boyfriend his age was nothing more than an ego boost from an aging woman fighting the fact I am no longer the youthful beauty I once was. They were right about one thing; I was no longer a youthful beauty. My beauty has matured far beyond that and it has nothing to do with how I look.
It didn’t end there, of course. It went on and on. When I denied his presence in my life was ego, that I cared for him, their argument went in a different direction. You can’t use someone you genuinely care for, and having someone in your life you love is not an ego boost. Love doesn’t know what an age is, nor does it know what physical appearance is either. I don’t see his appearance. I haven’t for a long time. I see what he is to me and what he means in my life. I see how he treats me and how I feel when I am with him. I see our shared experiences and our shared spirituality. You see, he knows Spirit, too. He knows Angels and though I haven’t fully explained it here, he gets my mystic journey because he is on the same one. We share Spirit. He is mature beyond his years. So I went in a different direction with my argument with them as well. I can’t talk about him to them, my relationship with him is vile in their eyes, so I said to them “He makes me happy, he is the first man in ten years to enter my life, he is that significant to me. If he treats me well and makes me happy, doesn’t that matter?” They said in unison, “no.” I was floored. My happiness didn’t matter to them; all that mattered was how they and what they thought others would perceive of me and my “behavior.” I didn’t know that the woman I am, what made me happy, mattered so little in the eyes of my children. All that matters to them is how they think I should conduct my life. My happiness is irrelevant. I had nothing I could say in response to that.
The trip home with my daughter who is ill was uncomfortable, but to her credit she tried every bit as hard as I was doing to make the time here with them pleasant. I still had my party to look forward to. Problem was, we got lost and she had to stop frequently. She wasn’t feeling well. The trip took three and a half hours longer than it should have taken so by the time I arrived at my own party, everyone was gone. I can’t blame my friends for leaving, that is a long time to wait for someone, but it added to the bitter disappointment this trip was turning out to be. A few phone calls later and I managed to track down some friends to spend some time with while I waited on my host daughter to arrive back in town. Though our trip took over fifty percent longer than it should have, she was not due to arrive back to her apartment for several hours yet. I had nowhere to go until then and it was late. My friends again came to my rescue and I put on a happy face and partied like it was 1999. I partied in between tears, which were on the brink of a shower cry all night long. I told them I was crying because my daughter was ill, and I told them I was crying because I missed my party and disappointed so many people. Both of those things were true. I might have mentioned my children were hurting me, but I didn’t go into the extent of it. It has not been a good trip so far and it doesn’t look like it was to get any better.
They got me home safely, but my host daughter was not talking to me at all. She did not approve of my behavior by going out to a bar two nights in a row. I went to the hotel bar the night before and celebrated with some of my family and then with my friends the next night. I have been to a bar three times in the last year, the third time being a year prior when I went to a bar for my going away party. That translated to them that I had a drinking problem. I don’t know how long I cried after I got back to the apartment that night, but it was a long, long time. Because I missed the friend I was to spend the night with, I also missed my BBQ the next day. I didn’t wake up until after noon and she had already made plans for the day. Since I had plans to visit with some people in the afternoon, there wasn’t any point in trying to catch up with her. I couldn’t blame her, either. I just couldn’t seem to pull it together and every plan I made was not working out. Not going to my BBQ was another disappointment, but by this time, I had bigger things to be disappointed about. Not one of my daughters was talking to me and I was ready to leave my host daughter’s apartment in favor of a friendlier place to stay the remaining three days I had left on my vacation. I soon saw that my leaving was not going to solve anything and if I had any chance at all of salvaging not only this vacation, but my relationships with my children, I had to go back to the apartment with my daughter and bear the brunt of the children’s anger. So I went back, because nothing is more important to me than my children, not my pride, not my dignity and certainly not my sense of self while I was in this foreign land. I was becoming more vulnerable by the moment, but I had good friends to keep me grounded in the person I am. I also had him, and he could not have been a better person to have in my corner. By the end of the next three days, I would need every friend and had and all of his strength to shore me up.
So I went back, hoping that weathering out their storm would bring me back to my daughters. My eldest daughter was designated the spokesperson for all of them and it was her that gave me a call later that evening. The conversation went something along the lines of this: “Mom, we are worried about you. Since you have moved to Arizona, your life is spiraling out of control and we think you need to see a counselor. You don’t volunteer anymore, you spend all your time on Facebook and I don’t know what else, but you hole yourself up there in that apartment of yours all by yourself. All the values you have taught us as children to make us into the adults we are today you are violating and ignoring. Now you have this boyfriend that is half your age. There has to be something very wrong with him if he can’t get a woman his own age or he thinks you are what he wants. That just isn’t right and he also smokes. Mom you wouldn’t ever date a smoker. I’ve seen you turn down dates from men who smoked because they endanger your health. Your weight has dropping and you look terrible. You don’t look young like you used to, you look older. You dress like you are in your twenties instead of a woman you age and your life is a mess. You don’t even care about your health when you allow yourself to be around someone who smokes. Your drinking has become a problem and you are killing yourself, you have let yourself go. You are killing off your lungs, liver and kidneys and you are going to die if this doesn’t stop. You are acting ridiculous and it has to stop before you destroy everything you’ve worked so hard for. You make off color remarks on your Facebook status and it reflects poorly on you and your children, that’s why I unfriended you. I can’t afford to have you known as my mother from a professional standpoint. I am judged by your behavior and political opinions. You are an atheist and I am not. You have links to your blog on your Facebook page and I can’t have that associated with me. You are going against everything you have taught us to believe in and everything I want for myself.” It is a compilation of all the conversations my girls have had with me over the past days, and it is certainly not verbatim. What could I do? I listened to their concerns. How could I defend myself when they won’t listen to what I have to say?
I have cried every single day of my homecoming, and while I tell people it is because I am dealing with my daughter’s illness it is also because my self-esteem is now dwindling fast. I doubt who I am and I doubt whether I am even sane. They think I need to see a counselor! Part of me is angry; don’t I deserve to have my own life? I have been happy here in Arizona, happier than I can remember for a very long time. I dedicated a total of twenty eight years of my life raising these girls and I did a good job. My job is done now; can’t I finally live my own life, even if it is not the life they would choose for me? I have never followed the drummer, preferring to make my own music. It plays so wonderfully in my head, after all. That doesn’t mean I need psychiatric help. I am lost and confused and now even the comfort of my friends is not enough to prevent the downward spiral my confidence is slipping toward. I love my girls. I want their respect and admiration but I can’t be what they want me to be. Maybe I should make some compromises. I am even considering whether my relationship with him is worth the strife it is causing with my children, but then again, they don’t have to deal with him. He is back in Arizona, where I will be shortly.
I can’t wait to get home. Now it is irrefutable where home is and it is with the people who love me. It is with the people who love me exactly the way I am. It is with the people who cheer me on when I doubt myself and appreciate all the weird, eccentric and beautiful things that make me who I am. Home is where I can laugh at myself and anything else that brings me joy and this I know; when I am not being put down for who I am, I love to laugh and I do it most of the time. It is with the people who know I am a good person with a loving heart and not an image for others to judge as worthy. Home is where I feel safe and no one criticizes me for not being who they want me to be. There is no criticism because I already am exactly who they want me to be and it is just as I am. Home is where I am loved for who I am and not an image to present to others. Arizona is my home because I have felt safe and happy here for the last year. Arizona is home because he is here and he adds a whole new dimension to a life I already thought was complete. Arizona is home because while my children think I spend all my time on Facebook, I really spend it with my friends from all over the world. I have friends in my former home, Ohio. I have friends in Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota and Texas as well as most states in the United States. I have friends in Australia, Canada, Jamaica, China, Japan, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Serbia and Great Britain. I have friends all over the world who have supported and loved me just the way I am. They think all my time is spent on Facebook because I spend a considerable amount of time writing and posting to this blog. I may have thought my home was in Ohio with my girls, but that is not where I am happy. My girls love me, but they do not know me, nor do they accept who I am.
And so I spent the next few days watching my daughter go from not speaking to me or speaking to me very rudely to on my final morning she finally started speaking to me in a civil, but guarded tone. The last morning she did not look happy to see me go. It’s no wonder. While I was patiently waiting for the opportunity to spend some quality, loving time with her; I was being treated with utter disregard, and she was holding onto anger, wasting the precious time we had left. Now it is time for me to go and I could not be happier. I am going home. I spent the last couple of days counting down the hours until I could return to a place where I could be happy again, where I could live my life in love and peace. The place I was staying at was not happy, nor was it peaceful. I was ignored and left alone, and though my daughter was in my company at times I remained alone. I was not loved for the content of my character, but treated badly for not being what someone else wanted of me. I don’t need their permission to live my life as I see fit. I don’t need anyone’s permission. I am flying here at home, I am happy and I am productive. I moved two thousand miles away because Spirit told me I had to, and it has become very clear I would have perished in Ohio. I’m not going back and no one can make me. I may visit, but I am going to make those visits much shorter than this one. I will not do that to myself again. I don’t know how they got to this point with me. I don’t judge their lives, though I do not agree with their spiritual beliefs, political opinions or always what they choose to do with their lives. I make no commentary on it at all except to say that I love them & I will always be there for them. That has not changed. I will always be there for them, just at a safe and assured clear distance.
I received the homecoming I expected after all, just not from the people I expected it from. He hugged me almost before I got out of the car, and then again before he left to do the things he needed to for the day. He cleaned my car for me, and the apartment was immaculate. We stopped off at the grocery store and he carried in my groceries and even put them away for me. He had my bed made with a freshly washed comforter and sheets. He missed me and not only did he tell me, he showed me. He was happy I was home because his life is better because I am in it. He loves me just the way I am and if there is anything he would change he hasn’t said. He has never uttered a critical word to me, and offers me nothing but his steadfast friendship, love and support. My dog was ecstatic I was home. Finally, I got the running hugs, the flowing hair from my Yorkshire terrier and the tearful warm embrace as her paws reached around my hands. It is good to be home.