We know. If you’re anything like us, Thanksgivings “back home” are nothing short of surreal. You cross the threshold into your former home and your family, who likely haven’t seen you in six months to a year, either expect you to regale them with stories of your life in the Big City or stories of your Big Time Job as a professor/editor/psychologist/[insert job that in no way resembles your families’ gigs here] or pretend you don’t have a job at all, because they already think you’re uppity and, if you get a word in edgewise about the rigors of your career, you’re only proving them right.
I’m going home tomorrow. For me, “home” is Baltimore. It isn’t where I was born, but I can think of no other city more responsible for my rearing than that one. This is not to say that my relationship with my hometown is without its awkwardness. I grew up griping about living there and dramatically vowed to leave as soon as I was able. I did. I went to DC. But after four years there, college released me to the open arms of unemployment and I had to shuffle on back to the homestead.
It would be another four years before I made it out of Baltimore, and I didn’t spend that time making my peace with the community. I spent it vowing, once again, to leave as soon as I was able. I never considered Baltimore particularly friendly to literary writers. It’s a great place for spoken word poets, fledgling or managing journalists, or street lit/erotica purveyors, but rarely did I find a resident there who thought getting an MFA in Creative Writing made any kind of sense.
Baltimore is for folks with hustle. It’s for moneymakers and money-takers. It’s for people whose good office jobs and occasional lawsuits lead to entrepreneurial endeavors (your neighborhood soul food restaurant, your independent cell phone distributors, your hair/nail/waxing hook-up) that lead to ownership of county-adjacent townhomes built to spec, from the ground up.
Whenever I go back there, I never quite know what to say. How do you answer for why you’re not in one of those townhomes? You, who insisted on going around the mulberry bush to get a couple of degrees instead of just stacking paper at the post office right out of high school? How do you return to a school reunion and tell your homeowning, child-rearing former classmates that you live on your fam’s couch while you’re building your curriculum vitae?
And running into folks you used to know really isn’t the worst of your problems, is it? The real conundrum is right in the family house, where you’re suddenly forced to confront whatever it was you sprinted away from as soon as you were able. For me, it’s the reminder that I am the third generation of living Brown women–which means I should be living up to something. I grew up in an orbit of matriarchs, my nana and mother being the closest constellations. I began my life living in an apartment with both of them. When I was seven, my mother and I moved out, but Nana’s presence was always as profound as it’d been when we lived with her.
After a decade of disorienting experiences living with my mother and her eventual defector of a husband, my mother and I found ourselves back in Nana’s apartment, sharing a bedroom with parallel twin mattresses positioned twenty feet apart. Then, upon procuring my first full-time job, nine months after college graduation, I took on financial responsibility for my mother, renting my first apartment and moving her into the master bedroom, while I took the much smaller spare. That went on for nearly four years, until finally, it was time for me to make yet another melodramatic break from the trappings of Baltimore.
That was all fine and good for me, but I left a little family drama in my wake. Mom had to relocate to Nana’s, while I went off to NY, pursuing a second degree.
Though I’m not exactly living like I’m middle-class (crashing on fam’s couch while adjuncting, remember?), I always feel slightly guilty going home, where I still sleep in that twin bed, twenty feet from my mom’s and my nana’s in the same two-bedroom apartment she’s been in for the past twenty-two years. I feel guilty for making moves, when my matriarchs seem to struggle with stasis. I feel guilty for positioning myself to surpass them, for thinking, “I want to be in a much better position than theirs, when I’m their age.”
It’s warranted guilt. After all, what gives me the gall to frown at the digs and the gigs that afforded me all my opportunities? How can I judge their stasis, when I’m part of its cause?
Then, as though these lofty ideas aren’t enough to choke down with my cranberry sauce and stuffing, there’s the biggest guilt of all, that nagging self-accusation that I should be further along, that all my years of “formal education” and post-grad career moves should be yielding me enough income to reciprocate some of their sacrificial generosity.
Instead, I’m just surfeiting on the meal they proudly and painstakingly prepared to herald my homecoming, however reluctant.
Talk about your holiday angst! No, really. Talk about yours, in the comments section.