love is more thicker than forget / more thinner than recall / more seldom than a wave is wet / more frequent than to fail …
love is less always than to win / less never than alive / less bigger than the least begin / less littler than forgive
it is most sane and sunly / and more it cannot die / than all the sky which only / is higher than the sky [cummings]
I’ve been eating quite a bit of cake. Part of the reason is that I’m home during the day by myself, while my housemates are out acing geometry midterms or traveling to Nashville or doing those daily-grind sort of things. Part of it is that I’ve been reading, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the only thing anyone ever eats in books is cake. They’re always off to the sun room or the drawing room or some sort of room we don’t have to pour coffee or tea and eat cake. You never read about a character who sits down in the kitchen to a lunch of spinach leaves and shredded carrots with low-fat vinaigrette unless it’s integral to shaping her image; more likely, everyone’s eating cake. Maybe it’s because their futures are only four more chapters long and they don’t have time or concern to notice the calories. Whatever the reason, when one is constantly reading about cake-eating, and one’s mother has baked a cake, one tends to disregard any brain waves that might prohibit one from indulging in cake. Besides, I like cake.
All that to say that I’m home, the home, that is, of the front side of most of my first 18 years. It’s funny how it’s home and how it’s not, and you never quite know which way that will pop up. For example, trudging up my front yard hill to the wreathed door and pushing it open feels like home; it’s how I came in every single day after I began to drive, and after every single drive back, I’ve parked by the mailbox and begun the trek. Sitting on the couch while the air swells with the smells of chicken on the grill feels like home; how many times I’ve poked my head outside to ask how much longer I don’t know, but it’s been many. It feels like home as I type away on my computer, writing something, reading something, with the soft rhythms of my mother’s phone call drifting in from the kitchen, where she stirs a pot of rice or sits at the table working. Home, home, home.
But then there are the moments when I enter rooms I used to sleep in to find them bursting with someone else. There’s after my showers, when instead of pulling on a robe and going to look in my own mirror, I’m in the foggy bathroom, already beginning to sweat again. There’s waking up and popping a miniature coffee pack into the Keurig instead of stumbling through our coffee cabinet, Joanna coming in behind me and exclaiming, “Oh, coffee!” There are the ins and outs of everyone’s lives that don’t get mentioned on the phone or written in the texts, the ones that do not slap me into the face but sure do me make say, “What? Where are you going?” And I know my own life is like that for them, that I wear sweaters they’ve never seen, that my phone lights up with names of people they’ve never met, that I chatter on about this teacher and that poem, facets of my life they meet only through my words. (And you people wonder why I love words.)
But I’m here now.
I’m home. I noticed something funny last night after I showered, pulling on fresh pajamas. I could smell my apartment on them, a smell I notice as soon as I walk in and for about 10 seconds after, that one that fades the moment the place turns to home again. Here, though, in this house–the one with my stocking on the mantle–and these people–the ones who have seen me in real life with braces–that doesn’t happen. This smell is something I must carry, because I walk in and that blast of foreign is absent. My clothes, after I go back to Tuscaloosa, just smell like they always have, like mother’s hands dumping them into the soapy water and then smoothing them once they tumble out of the dryer. Maybe I’m not grown up enough for the smell to turn noticeable; maybe more of me is still here than there. I have a hunch that that’s not the case, though; I think that when I’m there, I’m there, with joy and fullness and energy, because I love my life in that house, in that town, with those people. But here, the world stops. Here, everything I’ve built up around me slips right down, because these people have seen me in braces. Here, I am not a magazine writer or a literature enthusiast or a coffee snob. I am simply who I’ve always been. When they look, they see me today, and yesterday, and the day I had the golf cart wreck, and they cannot sort them from one another, so they do not try. They just take me as I am. They sometimes see my flaws much better than the world can; they see my beauty in its purest form, not channeled into becoming anything, but simply existing. So here’s what must be true: This will always be home. I’ll always walk in, take a deep breath, and let the familiarity wash over me.
“I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and the dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.” –Maya Angelou
And it doesn’t hurt that there’s cake.