My sophomore year of college, just before our fall break, Professor Harris took the last few minutes of lecture to prepare the class. It wasn’t for an upcoming midterm or about required reading over the holiday. Instead, she talked to us about this concept, a question from writer Ella Winter, “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?”
In part, she was preparing us for the challenge of discussing identity politics over Thanksgiving dinner, while non-verbally warning us not to use the phrase “social construct” to our grandma. Especially, in light of the 2008 election, with President-elect Obama.
But the conversation was much deeper than that, and it wasn’t until I visited home less and less frequently that I understood it’s extent. You can try as hard as you can to come back, and hang out with old friends from high school, but it’s never really going to be the same home.
When the fall challenge started, I was so excited. Right away, I came in and set all my baseline scores during open gym. I like coming during that time, because I can sing along to songs as loud as I possibly can. I made sure to come a couple times a week after that, and follow the programming to the .5%.
Then, sometime during the third or fourth week, I just stopped training. I started to sleep in, rather than sign up for class in the morning. I spent money on going out to dinner rather than buying groceries for myself. And every day that passed made it harder to show up.
I wanted to come back, but I thought that I would feel more stranger than community. I even psyched myself out so much, I was beginning to convince myself that I didn’t need a gym membership. But I knew that was just a part of me trying to bargain with myself for my lethargy.
Then the day came, for us lift our heavy singles again. (Editor’s note: Heavy Single is the name of my forthcoming autobiography). So I decided to show up.
In my family, home is equated with food.
Every time I come over to visit, the first question is always, “What do you want to eat?” Not, “Are you hungry?” Or, “How was the drive?” No, before I can even shake the snow from my boots, my mother Jeannie drops everything to give me a tour of the fridge like it’s her MTV crib, with the addendum, “And don’t forget, there’s always more butter in the freezer downstairs.” (There are currently fifteen pounds, to be exact.)
There’s a cheese drawer. Yes, you read that correctly. In my mother’s refrigerator, there is an entire pull-out facility for pounds of solidified fat. Delicious, perfect, sometimes unpasteurized fat. Which would not be something to remark on except, oh that’s right, my entire family is lactose intolerant.
The first few times coming back home from college, it felt like I belonged more with my family than with my classmates. But every break I drove back, something changed. That building by the mall was torn down and became a Whole Foods. My trophies from high school theatre competitions gathered dust. Everything in the kitchen cabinets was rearranged.
Of course, there are certain aspects of home and family that will never change. Jeannie will always over-narrate when we are watching reality tv. The shih tzus will always be begging for food at the table. And there will always be a drawer of cheese somewhere.
But that is only contrasted by the guitar that has been in it’s case since I was fifteen. By that awful painting I made in middle school, that is framed for some reason, hanging above the toilet. And by all the Abercrombie hoodies that I will never wear again.
My home is not mine anymore. It has became a memorial of everything I was, a museum of who I used to be.
Instead of showing up to open gym this time, I signed up for a class. It was 11:30, which used to be my jam. When I used to show up to that class, it felt like Cheers. (Which, to be honest, is not a reference that I should use because I’ve never seen the show; I’ve just heard it so much that I think I understand.)
Anyway, when I walked in, I kept my headphones in and kept my eyes down at first. I was mostly surrounded by people that I’ve never seen before. Somehow though, it still felt like home. Coach Hannah was still lifting in front of me, being a total BAMF, inspiring me per usual. Coach Jerik still led class to a great soundtrack, recording videos all the while. And the PR bell still rang at the end of the hour.
I haven’t been to the gym since a week ago. But rather than sinking into my own insecurity, I’m not worried about it at all. Because I know when I come back soon, there will be Petey the shih tzu at the door greeting me, smiling with his tongue out.