I was listening to the Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations during my workout today and this particular conversation was with Anthony Ray Hinton, a wrongly convicted death row inmate who spent 30 years in prison before he was exonerated. There was a moment as I was lifting weights in the gym when he said “The life that you’re used to, you have to let that go. You cannot live that life anymore.” I stopped mid bicep curl as his words hit me straight in my heart.
“The life that you’re used to, you have to let that go. You cannot live that life anymore.”
Just a few hours before listening to this podcast I was speaking to a friend about the very same thing – going home. Her parents divorced a few years ago and last year her dad decided to sell the house. Angelique was lucky because she got the opportunity to film her last day in her house. She got to walk through her home and live those memories one more time and not only that, she had the video to watch whenever she wanted.
When I was a sophomore in high school my family moved into the only place that has ever felt like home. It was snuggled into three acres with tall, old oak trees in the yard. It was a nice house in a nice neighborhood with a cathedral ceiling, a big kitchen with a full pantry, and I only had to share my bathroom with my brother. After years of tiny houses and trailer parks, this was dream come true. I was finally home. I felt safe.
And then everything fell apart. My mom and stepfather divorced and the summer before my senior year of high school everyone left, except for me. They all scattered in the wind, even my dog disappeared into the woods one day and I never saw him again. Miss you, Buddy. Mom bought a house in town but I wasn’t speaking to her because I blamed her for the divorce, so I had no idea where she lived. My brother went to California because my father had promised him greener pastures, and my step dad – the one who raised us after our father decided he didn’t want to anymore – went off the deep end.
My stepfather came home sporadically but for the next year I was mostly alone. And then during my freshman year of college he sold my safe place. I didn’t get the chance to pack up my room because I was away at school. Then next time I went “home”, it was to a different address. The room was 1/3 of the size, it was located in a weird part of town and the house cheap. My world was upside down. And then he moved again. When I came home this time, it was to an old decrepit house on the side of the highway. There were pie pans tied to the tree outside to keep the birds away. Cars whizzed by at 70mph. I had a dark room with wood paneling – like the trailers we grew up in. I tried to paint over it with bright colors, yellow with blue stripes. But I never finished the job. There was no hope for me there. My home was gone and I couldn’t keep following my stepdad all over town. Besides his downward spiral had gotten out of control. The man who taught me to drive a car and run a mile had disappeared.
My feeling of safety was gone. Everything comfortable and everything I thought I knew was gone. And I didn’t get to say goodbye. Almost 20 years later I still dream about that safe house out in the woods. I’m reminded of the Miranda Lambert song when I go back in my mind. I still imagine myself walking through the hallway, into my bedroom with the dried corsages from prom, my cheerleading pom poms on the bottle shelf and pictures of me and all my best friends next to my yearbooks. I picture the bathroom with the gold fixtures and the huge linen closet and the striped towels. I see my dog Buddy, and the flowers I planted in the front yard on Mother’s Day. In those memories I have peace. I don’t think about food, work, money, bills, street cleaning or locking my front door.
But those days are gone, and I cannot live that life anymore.
When I heard Mr. Hinton say tell Oprah he never went home again, a part of me knew how he felt. And I thought of all the other great people who were not able to go home again. The Dalai Lama has waited almost 60 years to go home. Nelson Mandela waited 26, Thich Nhat Hanh 40…I have a friend who was molested when he was a child. After he settled privately with his molester, he wrote a $72,000 check to rent the last place he felt safe, to try to reset. After that year was over I spoke to him. He said it didn’t work.
“You can’t go home.”
I’m beginning to accept this. I’m beginning to let this go because part of my heart is still stuck in 1997. Its wearing my cheerleading uniform and eating breakfast at the kitchen table. The sun is shining into the large windows of the front of the house and it’s a game day. I am happy and whole. I’ve spent the last 20 years in my own mental prison trying to get this feeling back. I believe it hasn’t come to me because that feeling of safety is gone and until I can step out of the past and into the present, I cannot receive the safety that may be waiting for me here. So I pray. I write. I search for things inside and out that make me feel safe again – those things are mostly inside. I search for places that make me feel like I’m home.
I just want to go home.