Once a year, from the age of five to seventeen, I escaped the Texas heat and traveled to a magical place. The trees were taller, the air was a sweet mix of cool rain and wet soil, and every night was lit with fireflies.
This magical place was Michigan.
I know. Not exactly what most people would consider to be a gateway to another world, but as a child, there was magic across the Wolverine State. I used to think there were mermaids in The Great Lakes, fairies in the never ending forests, and when we went up to my grandmother’s cabin, the loons were singing to me and no one else. I loved, and still love, Texas, but there was something about Michigan that made me feel like I was home.
And then I went back as an adult.
As I rode from the airport to my grandmother’s house, I waited for that magical feeling. Even into my late teens, I felt it the second I was on Midwestern soil, but the more I looked around this time, the more I felt like I was seeing through the glamour. The sidewalks were cracked, the roads covered with litter, and worse of all my grandmother’s smiling face, a face that never seemed to age, was worn.
I thought maybe the dread would go away the longer I was there, but it didn’t. The places of my childhood were closed, or replaced with something new. The cabin now could only be visited once a year, and they had gone earlier without me. The magic was gone.
It was like someone ripped away a blanket I had been hiding under. I realized that the feeling of home I longed for in my adulthood was gone, and in that moment, I saw things for how they really were. The map of my childhood had been thrown away, replaced with the reality that those roads had changed and now I was lost.
I guess everyone goes through this in their late twenties. You begin to realize that the way you saw things when you were younger, while maybe not a lie, was a beautiful retelling of the truth. You become more aware of the family politics, of why people are the way they are, and you realize your heroes and idols are just as flawed as you are.
Maybe it’s just me? Maybe I was a child who saw things that weren’t there, and now I’m finally having to face reality? But one thing I know is that sometimes you can never go home. You have to build it elsewhere, and hopefully the foundations are stronger. Your walls need to be made out of stone instead of gingerbread, and the next time someone or something tries to knock it down, they’ll stand firm.
Or maybe that’s all life really is? One knocking down after another, and learning how to grow from it? Home is, after all, just a construct we build to make ourselves feel safe. Once that’s gone, and the net is pulled away, maybe that’s when we can really start living?