How can a place you called home for almost half of your life feel like a completely different place?
Growing up in Virginia with just me and my dad, I knew something felt off. I could never walk the suburban streets in my neighborhood and knew where I was going. I felt like I spoke a foreign language to those who lived in Virginia for most of their lives. Why wasn’t I one of those girls that married locally and had kids and stayed in Virginia? Why couldn’t my narrative follow the ones like the girls I graduated high school with? Why would my father ever introduce me to New York City when I was 17?
And why would this be the closest thing to home I would ever feel?
I turn around and look at the multiple suitcases, opened and ready to be packed. I sigh, wishing I was already done with this phase of packing up my life and leaving for another country.
I remember the night Morgan called my cell phone, letting me know that I passed the audition and got chosen to be a part of the dance production in Ulsan. It was also the night I almost threw away my sobriety, which in a couple of days would make it a year since being sober. If anything, this opportunity was the only thing keeping me from going down the rabbit hole of self-destruction. Spending the holidays with my family this year was something I haven’t done in a long time either. It felt good to be around my parents, to spend all this time with Willow, and to enjoy my time before saying goodbye for the next year.
I notice my mom walk into the room I’m staying in with a pile of folded clothes. She placed them on the bed and smiled at me.
“These bags aren’t going to pack themselves, sweetie,” my mom said as she placed the folded clothes into one of the suitcases. “You are catching a red eye tonight.”
“I know, mom,” I answered. “I’m trying to decide what to bring and what I could live without. Saves me money on the additional luggage fees.”
“Grace,” my mom says as she laughs. “It’s either you pack what you need or you’ll end up buying way too many things while you’re there.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I answered, not really paying attention to my mother. She could tell my head is in another place. She walks over to me and looks at me before she says anything.
“What’s going on?” she simply asked. “Are you having second thoughts about going?” I look at my mother’s face, trying to read her emotion before I say anything. I wonder if she looked at me with that same look when she left to further her career when I was a baby. Did she know that she was about to make one of the biggest decisions of her life, potentially leaving her home behind to possibly find one elsewhere? For some reason, I feel like I am now wearing that same face she wore when she was around my age.
“Did you go abroad because you didn’t feel at home anymore either?” I asked. My mom scrunched her face, not expecting me to ask such a deep-rooted question. She sat me down on the edge of the bed alongside her; I instantly regret letting my curiosity ask this stupid question.
“I didn’t feel like I belonged in the home I had,” she honestly answered. “And it wasn’t until I was away from home to realize I did. You and your father were always home for me, but I realized that later in life and-“
“No,” I interrupted her. “I mean did you leave because you tried everything in your power to make this place your home, but nothing ever worked?” My mom tilted her head to the side, which gave me the answer without her saying anything. Why the hell were we so alike?
“Between us, Grace,” my mom began. “It was very hard for me to stay put in one spot at your age. One inconvenience made me believe that I wasn’t the right person for anyone; not for your father, and not for you. And I think that’s something inevitable; something just in our DNA that we couldn’t ever fight against. I know home for you isn’t the people around you.”
“I don’t feel bad for leaving Willow here in New York,” I admitted. I sound like the world’s shittiest mother, but I’ve grown to learn that I will always love Willow. She will always bring out a part of me that I never knew even existed. Even trying to be even the slightest of what a mother is to a child, I know Willow will be just fine. Willow’s home doesn’t involve me in it, and I learned that on the days when I went to visit her and she simply didn’t cry whenever I had to leave. “New York and Max and Miriam are her home.” My mother nodded; I think she understood where I was coming from. “Does that make me a shitty person? Being a mom but not being a part of your child’s home?”
“Do you feel like a shitty person?” my mom asked back. She already knew the answer; I didn’t have to answer that for her. “You are doing what a lot of people are too afraid to do. That doesn’t make you a shitty person and you and I both know you are not.” My mother was one of the hardest, yet easiest people to talk to. She would tell you what was on her mind, but she also knew what was on yours; specifically on mine. It makes these hard conversations easier to have; nothing too hard-to-swallow really needed to be said out loud into the universe. She smiled back and got up from the bed. “I expect nothing but pictures sent to me during your time there though.”
“I’ll try to be better at doing that,” I laughed as I started to help my mom put things into the suitcases.
I was worried that my flight would get canceled when it started to snow in the city. I almost read it as a sign that I shouldn’t go and that maybe the universe was telling me to stay in New York. I fought with the thought ever since coming back for the audition. When I first came back to New York at the end of the summer, I questioned if I should just stay here and go back to the academy. It made the most sense to just stay in New York, run the dance academy, clock in and out, and go home to start all over again the following morning. Being in California should’ve been the realization that New York was always meant to be my home.
But it was walking by the cafe that would break my heart. I saw the cafe and felt the hollowness in the shell that my body is. It’s like I could still hear the laughs and the flipping sound of paperwork while sitting at the table closest to the front door. I could still smell the Mocha Iced Latte I would get to keep me up during the late nights trying to wrap up the case I was working on when I was a lawyer. I swear sometimes I can smell his cologne when I walk past this cafe. I thought maybe if I stopped walking past the cafe I would feel better about being back in New York, but even being in Brooklyn in Emerson and Cami’s apartment I could remember the game nights the four of us would have together. Even walking through Bryant Park made me remember that this was the place where I decided to introduce my home to a complete stranger, who I then started to trust. A stranger who I just met, but began to fall in love with.
I realized early on that New York City was only home when he was here with me. I still remember his words back in California when he explained how home was what he made it whenever he traveled. I wonder if he felt like he was home when he was in New York City? Something deep down tells me that he did, because then this fucking city wouldn’t feel so empty without him here. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like he ruined the chances of me ever living here without him here.
How do you lose your home after building it and living in it for almost half of your life in a city? When you allow people who can’t stay to become a part of your home.
“Flight 427 to Incheon International Airport is now ready for boarding,” the announcement stated. I let out a sigh, getting up from my seat and rolling my bags to my terminal with the rest of the production team.
Let’s try to build a home in Korea for the next year, Grace.