Embracing a changing definition of being home

By KATHERINE GILLIS | November 1, 2018

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USDA/cc BY-SA 2.0 Home is where you can have chocolate milk at dinner without shame.

I went home to visit my family this past weekend. We went out to dinner Saturday night, and I ordered a chicken enchilada and a chocolate milk. Before ordering, I debated in my head whether or not to get my favorite drink. I’m 19. I’m an adult. Adults don’t typically order sweetened dairy products in restaurants, but I figured that, since I was with my family, I might as well be a kid. 

After the waitress left, my dad laughed and said, “You regress so quickly. Quicker than anyone I’ve ever seen.” My mom tried to defend me, but I didn’t mind; I am quick to fall back into old patterns when I go home. 

It’s a comfortable place, but that comfort can border on suffocation. In my experience, sometimes the easiest way to cope is just to steer into the skid and drink some chocolate milk.

Maybe it’s because I had a lackluster teendom: I moved twice, struggled with being gay in a Catholic household, tried and rejected a number of antidepressants. At least for the first half of high school, my happiest moments were the times I could just sit in my room, alone, watching movies on my computer. 

Later on I made real friends and fell in love and even performed in a medieval show choir (if you want to see pictures, they’re probably still on Facebook somewhere). But my happy place was still the same: In my room, knowing my family was just down the hall.

Freshman year of college was really, really hard. I had never been away from home before, and my homesickness coupled with my unrealistically high expectation of immediately forming lifelong friendships made me want more than anything to be a kid again. Every time I went home, I sensed the unspoken tension between the well-adjusted student I was supposed to be and the insecure mess I felt like. 

In my absence, my room had become a vacuum-sealed shrine to the teenage, live-at-home version of me, a persona I felt simultaneously forced to inhabit and discouraged from reverting to. I acted so bratty, unsure of whether to force myself to grow up or allow myself to be cared for. 

That conflict was tinged with my desire to transfer schools, a wish my parents felt was immature and short-sighted. It turns out they were sort of right, but that didn’t stop me from fighting with them for the entire month of January. 

This year, once again, things are different. I can “regress” without feeling as uncomfortable as I used to about doing so because that’s what home is — a place where you can be yourself, and that self can be in between things.

It’s a place where you can order chocolate milk at a restaurant one night and have a glass of wine with dinner the next, where you can feel like you’re playing the role of an adult while simultaneously playing the role of a kid because, for now, you’re neither, and that’s okay. It’s where you can tell people how you feel, and they’ll try to understand, even if it’s hard for them.

On Saturday my dad asked me how I was doing, and I told him the truth: That I was freaking out a little, and that sometimes I get really sad and that those rushes of emotion happen for no real reason. 

He said, “I think I finally understand that about depression: there’s not really a cause. It’s different from what I’ve felt.” It seems like kind of a stupid revelation, but for me it was a big step toward a better understanding. 

Last year, I had a hard time navigating between school and home, figuring out who I was with new experiences, in unfamiliar contexts. I felt like a baby horse, eyes too big and legs too thin, only capable of taking small steps at a time. 

This year, I feel less like a baby horse on new legs and more like a regular horse with really prominent knees. In this metaphor, the knees are my insecurities, I guess? They’re prominent, but not debilitating. Maybe someday I’ll be a Clydesdale. 

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