Santa threw up again.
That's what I say to my mother every year as I walk into my childhood home. I know, I am such a sweet daughter. My mom bombards every inch of her house with Christmas decor. The Santa Clauses stare at me with their vacant dead eyes. I know in those instances there's no place like home for the holidays.
My mom picked me up from the airport and we made our yearly stop at the Bolingbrook promenade mall. People bustled around, shopping bags filling their arms, rushing to finish last minute shopping. We were looking for a blush dress that I could wear to my friend's wedding that will take place in early January. Last minute as well, but our urgency was less pressing. The immense tree in the center of the shopping area was accompanied by a blaring song, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." The tune mixed with the frantic bodies combined to create a cacophony of sounds that pulsed through the small road which was adorned by a decorative sign. The street was named Hemingway. The Chicago temperatures stretched to a mere twenty degrees. I had forgotten that abrupt feeling that occurs as your body exits the arctic air and enters the warmth of a store. It is both pleasant and jarring. You forget a lot of things when you're away long enough.
I was thirteen when my mom decided we should move to Plainfield, Illinois. I remember the many phone calls where she cited her reasoning as "I want them to have access to a better school district." The truth was that my brothers were smashing car windows, smoking weed, and skipping school constantly. I don't know when the last straw was but it might have been around the time that they left me home alone when she was working a night shift. We were living in Bolingbrook, Illinois then. Drew Peterson was the police officer on duty who called my mother to inform her that the boys had broken curfew along with a few other laws. Yes, the same Drew Peterson whose third wife was murdered and his fourth wife went missing. Apparently I was sleeping throughout the whole exchange.
My childhood consists of similar strange incidents such as this. None of them are particularly traumatizing, depending on the person whose reading I presume. Yet, there is something unsettling about visiting the place where you morphed into a cognoscente member of society. You no longer inhabit the place that shaped you but this is where you became you. Anytime I come home I feel like I'm in a movie montage as my past, the good and the ugly, plays out in my head on repeat.
We departed Francesca's and although there were a few more stores I wanted to walk to down the way, I stopped.
I looked at the area where I had been proposed to four years prior. I remember how my glove wouldn’t come off. “You light up my life like nobody else…” He sang the song off tune and my life made sense in a way that it hasn’t in a long time. The montage moves to the moment I gave up on our relationship. My ex-fiance informed me that he wanted to take his friend to New York. My hair was in curls and I was wearing a much too pink dress. We were supposed to take our engagement photos.
This was only four years ago. He is married to someone else now. Memories like this aren’t filled with pain or regret. I think about them as if I’m peeking into the window of someone else’s house.
Whenever I come home, I feel like the ghost of Christmas past, showing myself who I used to be.
I will never understand how people can change and stay the same in the exact same body. The awkward seventeen-year-old who painted her face with neon colors in an attempt to stand out and fit in is more alive here in this place than when I’m back in Baltimore. She’s still alive though. I spend a lot of time running from her, but here she is, waiting.
So I ask myself, does going home have to be this emotionally tumultuous thing?
I lost my first love here. Fifteen minutes away, one of my best friend’s died on a gravel road. This is where I learned that abuse changes people.
All of those facts remain true. They don’t negate another truth, a bigger truth. I am still the new me despite the memories that exist in this place. They do not threaten who I have become. I sit on my couch with a cup of tea, snuggled in my nutcracker jammies. I am simultaneously my teenage self and my now self. I accept that I am not who I thought I was going to be. Is anyone?
I am a teacher in Baltimore City. I am a girlfriend to an incredibly sweet, often times grouchy man who teaches me about patience, love, and understanding every single day. I am presently completing my MFA at the University of Baltimore.
One second I was the me four years ago and then a variety of choices I hardly remember making happened and here I am. It is Christmas 2017. Santa threw up again. Some things will always stay the same and some will never be the same. I spend so much time worrying about this and the future. James always says, “Stop being stuck in what could happen. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow.” I hate when he says this. I hate it so incredibly much.
It’s true though. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We can prepare and plan and make goals. We can want and wish and hope. And still, we just don’t know.
A Danish philosopher, Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
I have been living life backward, stuck in between those minutes that have come and gone, long ago. There is a painting on the far wall next to the fireplace that often catches my eye. It has four sleds that lean against a fence. Each one has a name in it, not one of us remotely the same person as we were when the artwork was bought. It hits me then, why would we be? Why is it so surprising that time passes? Nostalgia cracks your ribs open, but if you sit long enough, it can also close those same divots.
I think coming home will always be an emotional time for me. I also know that just because I have been broken does not mean I have to continue to break.
We passed by the house I grew up in on the first day I was back. “Mom, that’s the street where our first house is!” She nodded and turned without prompting. I think we wanted to “take a trip down memory lane.” When the bombs went off in Hiroshima they say that the people and objects made literal imprints on the ground. There were no bombs here. I see the shadows though, pressed into the siding of the house. They’re only visible to us. I snap a few pictures of the house where we lived.
We drove away and I’m back on the couch, just trying to be here. I never knew there would be a day where it would be so incredibly hard to just exist without all of the yesterdays telling you what to do. I never knew that NOW would be so impossibly difficult. I wiggle my toes and yawn. I think about what book I’m going to read. I spread myself in this moment like jam so that nothing from either side of my existence can seep in.
I’m glad that my mom keeps the Christmas decorations up until I leave. It’s my favorite time of the year.
About the blog:
Emily Ann Hansen
I'm a writer and teacher living in Baltimore City. I'm originally from Chicago. I graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a BA in Fiction. Instead of babbling, I will list a few of the things in life that make me happy: