At 9:35 a.m. yesterday, the notification popped into my e-mail that my flight was eligible for check-in. I printed my boarding pass from my cubicle, punching my four-digit copier code into the Xerox box and springing from my office chair to snatch it from the printer. Oh, the anticipation. I’m now fresh off my first flight back to Kansas City in six months. The last time I was home, I was a child again, vulnerable and needing the protection of my family and few close friends I still have in town. I had skipped the trip home for Thanksgiving and was hungry for affection from people I could trust. Not four weeks earlier, my mother had flown to Chicago on less than 12 hours’ notice when she heard panic and desperation in my voice after another month of near silence before that. She picked me up from work, glancing at me lovingly from the driver’s seat of her rental car and stroking my hair at stoplights. I was a teary, nervous mess. We took the long way home and returned to my scrubbed-clean, newly reorganized apartment for steaks and asparagus. We sat at my kitchen table — I never use it, opting instead for my crumb-crammed brown loveseat and smudged glass coffee table as my “dining room” — set with decorative napkins and a vase of unseasonably, almost unreasonably cheerful blooms. The trip home for Christmas was more of the same; I cried a lot and slept even more. My mom made me mashed potatoes, which I ate in the king-size bed I can’t sleep in without waking with excruciating neck pain. The time at home was restorative, but I was still a disaster when I returned to Chicago. I had a long way to go.
While I was living in New York and the hassle of flying out of LaGuardia each time threatened an aneurysm, I would fly back at least every few months. Maybe it was because I still didn’t have that distance from my college life yet; maybe it’s just who I was. Either way, I went back because I craved the familiarity. But I’ve changed. A lot. And it’s not because of this new man in my life — not entirely, anyway — though it’s easy to give him a lion’s share of the credit. It catches me off guard when I realize it, but I have this…well-adjusted, healthy, happy life. I have friends who care deeply about me, who always seem to find time to spend with me. I have somehow afforded myself this fairly lavish lifestyle with beautiful food and nice wine and Starbucks any time I want it. (Which is often.) I wear swishy skirts and blue leather flats I bought at a department store in Paris. I’ve moved my furniture back now, to where it was before the breakup, pre–December feng shui. These are all tangible things, I realize, but it’s also testament to my state of mind.
Still, around midnight, I remarked on how strange it felt that I hadn’t been home in six months. “You’re a big girl now,” the new man, part of this change, said. “You take care of yourself.” I nodded. True.
So this morning, I watched, with heavy eyelids and contented sighs, the green fields getting bigger below me as low, wispy clouds rushed over and under the wing of the plane. As we made our final descent, I felt the familiar wave of nausea that goes along with landing — but everything else felt new. I realized that I’m home for no good reason, and that’s a great reason in itself. No crisis, no holiday, no maxed-out social agenda. I’m home because it’s been six months, and visiting my family seemed like a nice idea. The humid air outside on the patio of the Starbucks where I’m writing hangs heavy with the familiar, sticky smell of the only barbecue worth eating. I’m meeting a good friend as soon as I post this; we’ll sit on the patio, drink wine and pretend we can live like ladies who lunch forever. There’s no place like home, right?