You can, in fact, go home again.
(That’s where I am right now, in fact: my parents’ home, my childhood home, on the other side of the country from my usual home. My parents and I agreed a long time ago that trying to arrange traveling during the actual holidays was too much of a pain; and given that they live in Texas, it’s preferable for us to avoid the summer months, of which there are many.)
I only do this once a year, and every year, there are so many things that are the same — the old Walgreens that’s been there as long as I can remember, my favorite local-only sandwich chain, the wide streets that are still so cramped because of the constant, unending construction. The redbrick exterior of my childhood home looks untouched: there are some cosmetic changes to the yard, reflecting my mother’s whims with her gardening projects, but outside it looks exactly the same.
Inside, it’s a little different.
My parents are older and it’s showing; they’ve made updates and changes to the interior to reflect some of that. A year and a half ago, they ripped up all the carpet that’s been in this house since it was made (nearly 30 years ago, whoosh) and replaced it all with hardwood. They installed a new sound system and remodeled their kitchen to update everything. My bedroom is stripped of a lot of what I left behind — there’s a handful of my old books, a couple of stickers I slapped onto the walls when I was 6, and a handful of clothes in the closet.
Even with all of that, the house still looks the same. Every time I walk in, it’s not like walking into a stranger’s home; I know where everything is. I know where Dad keeps the giant baggy of free toothbrushes accumulated from dentist visits; I know where Mom keeps the spare trash bags. I know how life goes in this house, where my parents live in their retirement, where I grew up.
But it also doesn’t really feel like “my home” in the same way. It is, but it isn’t. It’s a lot of house for two people — to be honest, it was a lot for three people, when I was growing up — but my parents have held on for various reasons. Initially, Mom wanted me to have a familiar place to come home to, when I was back from college. Then it became about the garden (it might have always, in some ways, been at least partly about the garden). Mom’s put so much work and money into it over the years, and it shows. It’s practically a sibling to me, in some ways. I know where the little walkways are, where she has the vegetables versus the flowering fruit trees; I know where the little stone Buddha is set and where she’s planted her roses.
I know where everything is; this is still a home to me, even if it is not my home anymore. There are spaces here for me, but they’re the ones left for me, whether by time, familiarity, or a deliberate attempt on my parents’ part.
(I love my parents, but by now it is quite apparent we’re very different in our tastes and preferences in life. I get a lot of the very bemused, “we support you but we don’t understand why you make your choices, and because we don’t understand we’ll be inadvertently pretty insensitive sometimes about the matter.”)
These are not spaces I made for myself. This isn’t the home where I choose to live. Austin is not “my” city, in the same way Seattle is; I’m not familiar with its roads and layouts. I barely know what downtown looks like, because my parents live out in the suburbs. I grew up detached from the city, even as I was considered part of it. People are friendly, but also do things like openly speculate about my race to my face like it’s any of their business, or speak to me slowly and over-enunciated, like they expect me to not understand what they’re saying. Walking through the airport, I am one of maybe ten Asian people period.
That’s not necessarily a fault of the city. People live where they live, whether by circumstance or choice, and Austin has been good to and for my parents, who continue to live comfortably in the home that they built.
But for me, I can go home again, but it’s not really home in some ways. I don’t live here, I just visit.
(For one thing, it’s actually pretty hard to get anything done, because my parents keep hovering even when I’m trying to focus and get things done and talking to/at me. I haven’t even been here for 24 hours and Dad’s made me watch 4 trailers and Mom keeps asking me about what I want to eat as soon as I’ve finished eating. Parents.
Wish me luck in making it through this week without getting into at least one fight.)