Anne T. Donahue: You Can Go Home Again Whenever You Damn Well Please

Home is a place where you don’t have to put on airs or a persona or any of the other guises you adopt at work or school or events with complimentary snacks

Returning home: a row of pink houses-inline

(Photograph: iStock)

Two days after Christmas, I was washing the dishes when a bowl I’d just bought slipped out of my hands and shattered. I stood perfectly still in the seconds following, waiting for the paper cut-like sting that tends to follow most minor injuries. But instead, I just saw blood and a slice so wide I was suddenly very familiar with what the inside of my finger looked like. “This is fine,” I said out loud to myself, desperately trying to drown out the feelings of panic/horror/dread at the realization that I’d need to descend on the ER during flu season. “I am fine, and I can do this.”

I grabbed a dish towel and put it over my hand, raising it above my heart the way I remembered being taught to in my circa-1996 babysitting course. I ordered myself around the way you would someone who, in the wake of a shock, ends up standing motionless and unsure of what to do next: “Coat,” I said. “Boots. Plug in your phone. Iodine.” I reached into the bottom kitchen drawer and took out the first-aid kit my mom insisted I buy back in November. The alcohol stung but I kept the wipe on my finger until it was soaked through. “You’ve got this,” I repeated. “And you’re fine.” And then I realized I’d also cut my other hand and had left bloody handprints on everything I’d touched over the last two minutes.

“Shit,” I said, realizing I’d have to call my dad. I wasn’t about to bleed all over my car.

The hospital visit was routine and my dad and I bonded over our contempt for how warm the ER was. I needed stitches and a booster shot, and after a few hours I was dropped back off at home where I woke up so sick I needed my dad to come back and make sure I didn’t die. (My mom eventually took over.) “I’m sorry,” I said between sips of ginger ale. “I should be able to handle this by myself.”

At some point in my twenties, I equated adulthood with needing no one. After five tumultuous years where I lived at home out of financial necessity, I reminded myself I wouldn’t be a grown-ass adult until I could operate entirely alone. To need help, to need my parents, to ask anybody for their time was out of the question. And then, as I wrote about earlier this year, January and February told me to go f-ck myself.

“This could only happen to you,” my friend Sarah told me after I announced that I was being referred to a surgeon because my finger had healed in a way that it actually hadn’t at all. I was texting her from my childhood bedroom, having opted to stay with my parents for a while because winter is long, winter nights are longer, and when you can’t hold a pen or bake or do anything you’d typically do on a night in, you realize quickly that you can absolutely go home again if where your home is still matters to you. Not that it will feel the same (and thank God for that).

If you grew up in the 1990s, you’ll remember the opening scene from Now & Then where adult Sam waxes poetic about going home before arriving at Chrissy’s house, which hasn’t changed a day since her mom lived there. And because I use pop culture as my life-measuring gauge, I saw any nod towards the past as a similar pathway to childhood relics. I assumed I’d go home, resume the kid role, and find myself facing the same limitations I had come up against when my mom and dad last dictated curfew. I willingly forgot our grown-up dynamic when I’d been living there over the last five years, and believed they’d mistake my need for moral support (and company-with-people-who-don’t-expect-you-to-talk) for permission to slip back into old habits. “Going home again” felt like a loaded sentiment bogged down with the worst parts of history. And to make matters worse, what would the neighbours think?

The thing is, buildings or the number of people living in them may stay the same, but nothing else does. I’d failed to give credit to my parents’ own grown-ass lives or their jobs, social lives, or any other elements that didn’t include me. I’d failed to understand that they weren’t idiots, that while I was helping compare paint swatches (since they were finally repainting the house for the first time since 1992), they weren’t about to suggest I recreate the colour scheme of my teenage bedroom. “Home,” in this case, was the feeling of moral support and the familiarity of being around people I liked and loved when I was cranky about not being able to use my planner or hold a mug properly. It wasn’t my old room that was most comforting, but more so the fact that I could be a vulnerably baby bitch and wade through the last little while around people I could be honest with.

Because that’s the thing about “home:” it’s not a location. It’s where you can be your realest, most honest, and/or worst self. Home are the friends you can talk to about having a terrible time. Home is a place where you don’t have to put on airs or a persona or any of the other guises you adopt at work or school or events with complimentary snacks. Home is more than a sentiment sung in an Edward Sharpe song (thank goodness), it’s where you can retreat into your past without smothering your present. Home is the feeling of knowing you can call someone and they will take you to the hospital despite the fact that it’s flu season. It is texting one word and having that word understood to mean that you will meet in the park in 15 minutes with peppermint tea because there’s something to talk about. It’s the realization that while home, you can rebuild and take stock and figure out your next steps. And you can stay for as long as you want while you morph into the person you need to be.

I’d still rather drive myself to the hospital, and if and when the doctor cuts open my finger and puts it back together again, I intend on going alone and questioning him throughout the procedure like the nightmare I am. I am still working on “needing” people. But right now, I’m working from home.

More from Anne T. Donahue:
Even Unf-ckwithable Women Need Help Sometimes
Why What You’re Sifting Through Is No One Else’s Business
Have Yourself a Realistic Little Holiday