I’m just returned from a trip home. Or is it I’m just home from a trip to Louisiana? Anyone who lives somewhere other than where they grew up can relate to the either/or conundrum of what constitutes home. And for anyone with ambivalence about “home,” it’s even more complicated than that. I used to think that was a bad thing, but I’m coming ’round.
I did, in fact, spend much of the last week in Louisiana, where I grew up. I am now, in fact, back in the city where I reside in upstate New York. My feelings are, in fact, complicated.
I go back to Louisiana first and foremost because my mom is there. She and her twin sister, my godmother, are both in assisted living now. Their siblings do a phenomenal job of taking care of them, so I have the true luxury of being able to visit a couple of times each year to give everyone a few days off, visit, and have fun. They might bicker like an old married couple at times, but I love them dearly and I cherish that time. And while I have plenty of complicated feelings about them and the fact that they are aging, that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about feeling both profoundly connected to a place and also fundamentally uncomfortable while there. It’s the unsettling sensation of being in a place that is at once utterly familiar and completely foreign. Being in a place that is both home and the farthest thing from it.
For me, it’s about loving that shrimp poboy, but ducking to avoid being seen by a cousin when I go to pick it up at the restaurant because I know we have nothing to talk about. The anxiety of being summoned by an uncle, but then remembering I’m an adult now, that we can talk as something close to equals and I’m not going to be fussed at. It’s cypress trees growing out of the water, but with oil refineries in the distance. It’s taking Mama to Mass and getting a dozen hellos, but wondering if the old folks who remember me would be so friendly if they knew I was gay. It’s a warm and welcoming culture, but one laced with power dynamics and politics that turn my stomach.
This isn’t the first time I experienced this, but it all came to a head on my last day of this trip. After telling Mama goodbye, I drove the hour along I-10 to have beignets and a cafe au lait at Morning Call in New Orleans. I’m using the setting in my next book and, although it was my first time at that particular shop, it felt utterly charming and completely familiar. After, I went to the Tulane bookstore to pick up a tshirt for A (who is thoroughly obsessed with college tshirts). Walking around the campus made me think about how close I came to attending Tulane. (At the end of the day, I ended up at the University of Rochester because the financial aid was better.) That, of course, got me thinking about how dramatically different my life would be. I don’t know if I’d write. If I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure I’d be queer, or at least not queer in the way that I turned out to be. It messed with my head a little, and made me glad to be on the way to the airport.
I’ve been a little out of sorts the last couple of days. I think I’ve been trying to process the trip, the feelings that being in Louisiana always seem to still up. Is it home? Yes. I suppose it always will be. Am I glad to call another place home? So very glad. I guess I’m still coming around to thinking that both of those things are okay.