Going Home

31 May

Train station

I went home to visit my parents in the small suburban town I grew up in this past weekend. On Sunday, my Mom and I planned to go out to lunch at a tiny cafe on one of the two streets that comprise the downtown area. She told me that the Memorial Day Parade was going to be going on, and I was annoyed.

“I don’t want to get trapped downtown,” I said, worrying that the parade and its blocked off roads would mean her car would get stuck in its parking spot. “Trapped” may have been extreme and “downtown” an exaggeration given that it was only a five-minute walk from her house, but I had an agenda and I didn’t want to waste time: it was lunch with my Mom, then a quick dash to a nearby town for a mandatory Starbucks run, and then dinner at my Dad and Stepmom’s. Also, I was taking advantage of the luxury of suburban home washer/dryers and wanted to squeeze in a couple loads of laundry in between Starbucks and dinner.

While we were eating lunch, the parade started to go by in front of the restaurant we were at, and I kind of half paid attention and half didn’t. Afterwards, as we walked outside and were heading to her car, a group of bagpipers and drummers marched by. Entranced by the music and the beat of the drums, I told my Mom to stop, and that I wanted to stay and watch the parade for a little while. It was mesmerizing, looking the musicians and then the people driving by in convertibles and fire engines, honking and waving, and I got caught up in it, cheering for the police and firemen. We saw the father of one of the kids from my toddler playgroup who I grew up with standing at the side of the road, and said hi.

“The parade used to be bigger,” my Mom remarked, “and there used to be more of a crowd.”

I glanced around at the sparse bystanders and remembered being a little kid, and the Memorial Day Parade being a huge deal. I remembered the year it was the biggest deal of all, when I was four-years-old and in the parade with two of my nursery school buddies, wearing a brown dress with flowers on it and a floppy matching bonnet, drifting down the street in a baby blue convertible with a Co-Op Nursery School sign hanging over the side, smiling and waving to the crowd.

And other years, watching the cheerleaders and dance team march by to the beat of the high school band, wearing the coolest short shorts ever with yellow jackets, the school mascot, embroidered on the butt. Dreaming of the day I’d be a cheerleader, or on the dance team, marching in the parade in my own yellow jacket short shorts.

“Jenny Garam!” someone yelled, and I snapped back into today to see one of the firemen in the parade waving at me. It was a guy I went to high school with who was a few years older than me, and I smiled and waved back. I felt at home, and comforted by being from a small town where even though I hadn’t lived here for almost 20 years, someone in the parade still knew who I was, shouted my name, and waved.

It reminded me that I’m more than who I think I am right now. I’m bigger and more expansive than my worries, disappointments, struggles, and fears–worries about being broke and what actions I should take, disappointments from all the personal and professional rejections and life not turning out how I’d hoped or planned or assumed it would for me, struggles to make ends meet, pursue a creative path, cope with my obsessive thoughts, grasp onto shreds of serenity, and fears about what’s going to happen (or go wrong) next. I have this whole history, and memories, and hopes and dreams from when I was a child and teenager that are still alive in me somewhere, as much as they get drowned out in my day-to-day, 36-year-old, Brooklyn life.

I have all these other experiences and stories that look very different from my life now. As the fireman walked by waving, memories of when I knew him 20 years ago flashed into my mind. How daring I used to be, the crazy parties I went to and all the drinking I did. These days my life is a lot tamer, and usually too tame–I rarely drink which isn’t a problem, but I barely go out, which is. And I’m never the last person at the bar with the craziest stories of all anymore; I’m the first person to go home who hears about the stories the next day.

Thinking back to who I used to be, I remembered hanging out in the firehouse late one night with a group of guys, some of whom were volunteer firefighters, when one of them accidentally set off the fire alarm. The big, loud one. I remembered a substitute teacher from my high school who lived next door rushing in, angry and appalled. I remembered how soon afterwards, I learned that my town’s Fire Chief called a fire department meeting to address “the underage girl drinking in the firehouse,” and how I was mostly mortified, but also a little bit proud of my infamy.

I have this storyline that I was unpopular in high school, cast out, rejected, and alone. That I was invisible and didn’t matter. This is part of a larger narrative that goes, I’m still invisible, I still don’t matter. Except it wasn’t true when I was growing up; for most of my life my inner reality has been very different from my outer reality, and I can’t seem to make them match up. The fireman I went to high school with, shouting my name from the ranks of the parade, reminded me that I wasn’t invisible then. And that reminded me that my overarching storyline isn’t true today either–I’m actually not invisible now, and I do matter.

After the parade, I went to Starbucks. On the drive home, I wound my way through the hilly streets, past the house I grew up in that my Mom moved out of 14 years ago, past my high school best friends’ houses, past my high school, the parks, and the homes I used to walk by every day. I skipped doing laundry and relaxed, opting for a Real Housewives marathon instead. I hopped off my speeding agenda, and slowed down. I can do this when I go home in ways that I can never even come close to in grown-up life, in Brooklyn.

Every time I go home, I feel like I’m on some kind of excavation mission, unearthing shiny parts of myself that got covered up and clouded over with rushing and stressing and loss. Going home, I feel, finally, separate from the things that weigh me down daily. I feel at home and, at last, like me.

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2 Responses to “Going Home”

  1. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) June 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    Jenn, I became totally mesmerized in your story. Feeling too blown away to know which parts to respond to. Also, there are so many quotable bits, I’m regretting that Twitter only allows 140 characters.

    So glad you got to slow down and get back to the Real You while you were home. And that you got to see the parade. It’s an amazing symbol for so much about the way your life got built. I’m also glad you took the time to write this. And lucky I got invited to read it.

  2. Jennifer Garam June 14, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    Thanks, Milli!

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