Mikey's Story |
Sooner or later, we all want to go home. At least that's what my grandma says. At first I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that. And just when I thought I had it all figured out, I found out she was talking about something totally different. But maybe she's right. Maybe I'm remembering wrong. Maybe. Maybe not.
You see, it's not that complicated. I mean, I'm only five years old, which by grown-up standards (and there are so many grown-up standards) means I still have a lot to learn. But even I get this. Sometimes, I think I get it better than most grown-ups.
But I try to be patient. Most of the grown-ups I know have a lot on their minds. They have a lot of balls in the air. At first I thought that meant some kind of game, but I'm beginning to suspect otherwise now. They tell me I'll learn about this before long, but I don't think I'm looking forward to it.
But I know about Going Home. I know because I was there not too long ago. And I can remember it. The feeling. The knowing. The love. And it seems so sad and strange to me, that all the grown-ups here have forgotten the truth. It's like forgetting your own address. How could you forget your o-w-n address? Isn't that why you have your name written in the back of your jacket and on your lunch box and in your under-woos? So you don’t forget? Don't grown-ups wear under-woos? Carry lunchboxes? Heck, some of 'em carry around great big books and stuff I don't even know what it's called. Surely they have their address written down in there, just in case? Have they really forgotten their address, their way home? Have you?
Ok, I'll admit, I don't know you. I'll probably never meet you. And if I do, I probably won't talk to you, ‘cause my grandma told me to never talk to strangers. I think that r-u-l-e is a little strange, if you ask me, because to me, no one feels like a stranger. How can they, when we’re really all just One? But Gran has explained (over and over again) that while I'm with this family, I have to learn How Things Work Here. And apparently here one doesn’t talk to strangers. Gran says her grandma taught her this when she was my age. Ok. Well, I don't really get it, but I can go along with that. Just seems kinda sad. And lonely.
There's something else I don’t understand. Here it seems like everyone is so sad when someone goes home. I've seen it happen, in my own house, when Grandpa Harry went home. And my bus driver. And the lady next door with the calico cat. It seems like when this happens everyone cries and cries. I try hard to help people feel better, but when I tell them it’s a GOOD thing to go home, that it’s something to celebrate like my next birthday (you're invited, by the way), they just look at me and kind of breathe heavy and pat my head and say things like “Someday you’ll understand.”
But that's not true. I already understand. I do. I DO. It's everyone else who doesn't. Some of my friends do. We talk about how strange grown-ups are, how they seem to have everything backwards. They laugh when they should cry, and cry when they should laugh. They do all kinds of crazy things that a-n-y-one should know better, and then wonder why things turn out like they do. Like working too much. Of COURSE you get sick if you work all the time. Duh. Even I know that, and I'm only five.
Some grown-ups do seem to know a bit more about How Things Really Are. Like my grandma. She's pretty cool. She knows A Lot. Like she knows about wanting to go home. See, I didn't really understand that, because I was just home — so I'm not in a hurry to go back. I'm ready for a big adventure! But Gran says that when someone has been adventuring for a grand long time, sooner or later they’ll get tired, and they'll start missing home.
You know, they miss all the good stuff Home stands for. Like warm blankets and soft pillows and fresh cookies and hot chocolate and love everywhere around and red mittens and fingerprints on windows. Like admiring the fresh snow out the front window and watching your dad come around the corner of the house, tramping out a path to the mailbox. Like sitting in the kitchen floor, industriously rearranging one's car collection, making paths through the flour that sifts to the baseboards from the snickerdoodle production taking place at countertop level. Like taking the scraps out after dinner and turning around to see the lights in the windows and that warm feeling that starts in your tummy and goes all through your insides when you think about hurrying back in.
You know, that kind of stuff. The important stuff.
But that's not all. There are different kinds of homes. But you know that fuzzy feeling? It’s the same – for all homes. It feels the same, it tastes the same, it means the same, ‘cause it all comes from the same place. Even with all the different kinds of homes, it all gets back to one very own home. And all the other homes are like strings of paper snowflakes that are very pretty and good to decorate with, but they're not really snow. They just remind us of snow, like all these other kinds of homes remind us of our One Real Home. Kinda like funhouse mirrors.
So that's why Gran says that when people are away from home for a long time, or when they start feeling bad, like when I ate too many chocolate turtles at Jonah's house, or the very first time I had a sleepover at my cousin's (the time she stole all the blankets and wouldn’t share her LiteRite), that we get a different kind of fuzzy feeling — a not-very-nice fuzzy feeling. Gran called it "Feeling Homesick." And she said that sometimes, when you feel homesick, nothing else will do but to go home. For me, as soon as I saw Mom and my own little house, I felt one-hundred-percent better.
But Gran explained that when people go home, it's a little more complicated. Well, it's kind of the same. That person just isn't there anymore. Like when I went home from Jonah's. I just wasn’t there anymore.
When grown-ups go home, it's kinda the same: Your body isn't there. That would be silly. A body without you in it? How weird would that be?!? And yet, at the same time, you are still there. Just in a different way. Really, kinda, you're EVERYWHERE. And you can go everywhere and do everything and see everything and be everywhere. All in the very same second, maybe! I’m not sure on that one.
But I know that you're still There (and by that I mean Here), ‘cause Grandpa told me so. Right after he went home, he told me. We had a big talk about it, and it was so great, because finally I had a grown-up to talk to who knew all about home! I asked him all kinds of questions, if everything was still like I remembered it, and he said it was, and even Better Than Ever. That was pretty cool.
I wanted to tell Gran about his visit, but he told me she might not understand and he didn’t want her to be worried, so I just told her I had a dream about him and about home and how great it all was. And she was so happy, and smiling, and gave me a big hug, and she had a strange little twinkle in her eyes that made me wonder if maybe she knew a little bit more about Home than Grandpa thought she did.
Letter from Gran
Mikey remembering home: That's how the story began in the manuscript I’d found among my grandmother's papers. And yet, when I lifted the flap to peer inside the envelope, seeing the typewritten pages, I realized I wasn't ready for what was inside. Even without knowing what the words said, something inside me gave a shudder. I could feel a twisting in my soul, a stab of pain so deep it felt like my heart might split open, exposing what was left inside to a world that would mock it, searing its scars all the more deeply.
Not now. Too soon. Whatever it was, I didn't want to know. And that was enough. I closed the envelope, careful to fold it along the original creases that Gran had made, and put it back in the box, secure in the not-knowing, feeling my heart rate returning to normal, the knot in my stomach loosening a hair's width. That was then.
And now, what now? It's been just over a year, and here I sit, surrounded by pages, tears streaming down my face, heart raw inside. Where has the time gone? The feeling? The knowing? How could I have forgotten? How could I have forgotten?
Breathe with your belly, as one of my dearest friends often tells me, breathe with your belly. Ok, girl, I'm trying. I'm really trying. In and out, in and out, warm inside, flooding through, don't hold the emotion, don't attach to it, sit back and watch it do its dance, let it through, let it go, relax into the feeling, and just let it go.
Now. Deep breath. Back to center. Turn to page one again, and start reading, again.
Three times I've read these pages today. Three times the flood of emotions has threatened to overwhelm me, even now. Sometimes I start to pat myself on the back, thinking how far I've come on all this. Good for me, I want to say. And then something like this comes along and knocks me completely off my feet, if only for a moment, reminding me I still have so far to go. I have come far, my journey has been long, and yet as I read these pages I begin to realize that all that time, all those years, I was merely walking in a circle.
Today, reading, I find myself lost in a mix of wonder and sorrow and amazement and tears because I realize that in all my wandering, when I finally look up and see that I Am Where I Always Wanted To Be, as Mikey would put it, that my footsteps have, slowly but surely, simply led me 'round the world, and I find myself once more where I stood many years ago — on the front steps of my home, hand on the doorknob, ready to go inside.
If only, if only, if only. Too many ifs. How might things have been different, if I'd only seen what I see now? And yet I realize that wasn't possible. It was only by stepping away long and far enough to be able to get a broad view – the whole forest – that I could begin to see and feel clearly enough to come back to the same spot where I stood before, and see it for the reflected glory that it truly was.
What a journey. The more I think about it, the more it amazes me, and the more I understand the words of the letter clipped to the manuscript. As my tears run through the ink, I read aloud, Gran's voice echoing in my head as her message sooths my heart.
By the time you find these pages, you'll be ready to finish our book.
I know you want to DO IT NOW — you've reminded me of that several times, obviously unhappy with my decision to put our story away for now. But Mikey, you have so much still to experience in life, so much to learn about being a mere mortal. I can tell you this with the surety of my own years, my own journey. I know you remember a lot about Home, and I love that — I love to see your eyes brighten and sparkle as you remember, and I love to watch you search for words to describe what you feel in your heart, your soul.
But there will come a time when this will mean so much more to you, when you will begin to understand all this on a completely different level. Until you have experienced loss, until you have experienced the longing that comes when you fear that you can no longer go home, not even to yourself, until then, you won’t be ready to finish this work.
By the time you are, I will be long since gone. I know this, sure as I know the geese will return to our little pond next April. And you'll understand why I'm putting these pages away now, sweet little Mikey. I love you, precious girl. Love everybody and they will love you.
I'll never forget our afternoons together on this old front porch, sharing our thoughts of home. They brought a joy that I hope will heal your heart as you read these pages and begin their completion. And now, my budding authoress and lover of words: WRITE.
With all the hugs our years could hold,
You’re right, Gran — I feel the joy. It seems bittersweet and ironic, as I sit here smiling through my tears. You were right all along. And now, to pick up a pen — to write.