I’m busy reading “The Body Keeps Score.” I haven’t finished it yet but wanted to write about something that really stuck with me so far, a quote from it that’s been sitting in my mind:
“animal studies involving mice, rats, cats, monkeys, and elephants brought more intriguing data. For example, when researchers played a loud, intrusive sound, mice that had been raised in a warm nest with plenty of food scurried home immediately. But another group, raised in a noisy nest with scarce food supplies, also ran for home, even after spending time in more pleasant surroundings. Scared animals return home, regardless of whether home is safe or frightening. I thought about my patients with abusive families who kept going back to be hurt again. Are traumatized people condemned to seek refuge in what is familiar? If so, why, and is it possible to help them become attached to places and activities that are safe and pleasurable?”
The mice from happy nests go home. And the mice from deprived and dysfunctional nests go home.
We all go home. Or at least we want to, even if part of us doesn’t. I think about what Robert Frost said about home being “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
I once read that quote to my mom and she was seemingly puzzled, but then her eyes met my gaze, narrowing like it was an invasion, a challenge. “What? No.,” she said.
When you can’t go home, you find places that remind you of home that also don’t fully allow you. The word “familiar” is based on the word “family” after all.
We find relationships that remind us of how we feel we should be loved (or not loved). We find jobs that demand of us what we are used to having demanded of us. We find apartments that we fill with the things that feel like they should be there, that were there in our formative years, whether that’s designer furniture, or garbage and cheap beer, or a combination of both.
We curl up in bed and in our deepest dreams we find the womb we came out of, the heartbeat of our mothers, our first memories that only exist in some primal state but are there nonetheless.
It is no accident that grown people mortally injured in wars or car crashes cry out for their momma. We were her. She is always a part of us.
Even when she says she doesn’t want to come to your wedding, that it would be fake, because you don’t want a relationship with her and you’re not close.
We are trees with inner circles, our rings of the past forming the core, the thing we build new life and a protective exterior around. There is no escaping that. We are strong and determined enough to grow through fences but long after the chain links have rusted away, bear their diamond-imprint scars.
I have moved 1,500 miles away. I blocked my father’s number. I don’t call my mom much. I keep in close touch with a few siblings by phone and moderate touch with the rest. I love them all dearly, like I imagine I might my own children. When good things happen in their lives I’m as happy as if it had been in mine. When bad things happen, I’m sadder. But I have my own life now. I’m not really a sister-mom anymore. I’m more like a quirky aunt who comes around in person a couple times a year.
It is a betrayal on my part. And also a rebirth.
My fiancé said he doesn’t understand. How I talk about my siblings with this reverence and warmth but have such a conflicted and anxious demeanor about actually visiting. And I almost always catch a cold on the last day or two of family visits, so depleted that I get sick. Why can’t I hold it together, go through a five day gathering without a bad fight, an emotional disagreement with somebody? But he can’t understand. When you’re home you do home stuff. And that is pretty good for me being home, considering. Walking the same stairs I was dragged down years ago, the same bathroom tile counter I used to sit on, picking pimples and telling my reflection that she was ugly, so ugly, that I was not her and she was not me. That some sort of breakup, some sort of escape had to happen.
For him home was a place he left for a while but remained where he could go and get his needs met, even if it wasn’t always on his terms or quite what he wanted. He was able to come back and so in time he did. For me, it was a place where I could not, did not. Where the answer was no.
I was talking with my counselor and told her that I left home at age 17 but couldn’t remember one genuine instance, not one, of feeling loved or cared for or appreciated for who and what I was by my parents after the age of two and a half, after my sister was born and my mother emotionally moved on. There were several stories from later years that I formed into glimmers of appreciation, told myself were divorced from the dysfunction, that were real, a highlight reel, proof of better. But they don’t hold up when I connect the dots, either falling into categories of manipulation or use, facades for others. I needed them anyway at the time but I don’t need them now. I was able to face the truth.
Stressful visits with screwy boundaries and struggles are what I get, and have gotten, at best when I return.
So I have set my life up so I can’t be there. Not often. Not really.
Even if I will always be the mouse that wants to go home.