Home Is Where the Heart Is.
by Bitter B
Thereís an old saying that goes ďyou can never go home againĒ and thereís another that says ďthereís no place like homeĒ. I agree with both. Once you have been out in the world and you return home, you are different and home feels like a sweater thatís gotten a little too tight, but itís still comfortable. I recently returned home to bury the only man who I can say ever truly loved me unconditionally - my grandfather. It was a very painful experience but I enjoyed being home, back in my old neighborhood of East Palo Alto, California. It was great to walk down the street and have a connection with so many people, old and young. It took me almost an hour to get to the end of the block because there were so many people that I knew that stopped to greet me either at their homes or while they were driving down the street. I was happy to be back in their presence no matter what avenue they chose to follow in life. The guy that used to fix the flats on my bikes and cars, who uses crack is just as welcome a sight as the lady who used to tell me to watch both ways when I crossed the street. I sat on the porch every morning in the same chair that my daddy used to sit in and watched my neighborhood wake up. Nothing had changed, there were the same sounds that I remember as a kid. I looked down into the flowerbed and saw hella' cigarette butts where there should be flowers this time of year. I made sure that I planted a lot of flowers before I left, just the way granddad taught me to.
Just as it was wonderful to be home again after being in Atlanta for 5 years, it was hard to be home again too. Iíve learned that rarely do we shed the reputation that we have built for ourselves or inherit when we are children. Unconsciously, we slip back into those roles as soon as we are in the presence of family. It doesnít matter what you have become in life; successful, educated, or attractive, family has the ability to trivialize our accomplishments and in my case, make us feel like we never left home.
I donít know how it happened, and I am sure that very few of you would be hard pressed to believe that I am the "black sheep" of my family, both immediate family and the family in general. I am not the only one, there are a few of us that blemish our otherwise sparkling flock. I like to think that we give the family character, sometimes a character that our family would not care to be associated with, but character none the less. We are just an ordinary blue/white collar black middle class family. Iíve been a pioneer of sorts in my family. Setting a record of Ďfirstsí that I canít say that I am exactly proud of. As much as I tried to hold on to my Ďnew identityí as a wife, mother, homeowner, writer, employee, artist, etc. - these lifestyle changes ceased to exist. I was reminded that I was the first to be arrested in the family, the first unwed mother at the age of 20, and the first college drop-out. I am a renowned family hell raiser, Iíve always been accused of being spoiled, and can be evil as Satan himself when I want to be. I was also constantly compared to my other female cousins my age, who either have more than me or are thought to have married better than me. (Does anyone marry Ďwellí anymore? If you can get married and stay married, then you are doing some shit.) And just when I thought I would make it through the 3 weeks without any major insults, I was told ďyou were never as pretty as the rest of Ďthemí but you were always the smartest.Ē I had to laugh myself.
Funny how things donít seem to bother you anymore, or perhaps they do bother you more than you care to admit, hence this essay. Although I didnít fit their description of who I was anymore, I tried my best to live up to their expectations because I truly didnít know if they were ready to deal with who I am today. Donít get me wrong, I am all of those things that I was described as and itís because I am all of those things that I am who I am today. I realize that all of these Ďthingsí that my family wonít let me live down are the reasons why I make the choices that I make and say the things I say.
Regardless, I love each one of my family members. We are family and nothing can change that . What is a family anyway, but a group of people with issues that are related by blood that can never truly be rid of one another. Since you know some things never change - Uncle Bobby is going to continue to drink, Aunt Peaches will never stop being the family informant, Cousin Chris will never get a damn job or move out of Aunt Ke-Keís house, and Aunt Louise really is crazy - itís just better to love them anyway despite their annoying habits. After a while, it doesnít pay to respond in anger - family, collectively, canít help the way they are or they way they function.
It was also good to be back on the block after being gone for so long. I got a chance to see home-girls and old boyfriends. I was asked about 10 times everyday ,ďHow is the ATL?Ē I told them the truth. Itís OK. Itís not the black Mecca it was and the opportunities have dried up in my opinion. Itís not the "land of milk and honey" or even "Chocolate City" anymore. Yes, there are a lot of black people, some are doing well and some not so well, but everyone is trying to survive. When asked about the club scene, I had to be honest again. I donít club anymore - in my spare time I plant flowers (the crowd gasps). Yes flowers got-dammit! I write every chance I get and I play my acoustic guitar and sing to my 2-year old son. Thatís the type of shit that I do. So Iím sure that my personal revelations really disappointed some, but I think others could see that it is what it is. Life happens to you and you either accept it or run from it. Not much has changed where Iím from. Those that sold drugs, still sell them. Those that used drugs, still do. Some "boost" for a living and have managed to survive that way for years now. Thatís cool with me because no matter where I go or what I achieve we will continue to be cool. I donít make judgments about their lives because I know that it could have easily been me or it used to be me. These are the same people that have helped me when I was a young mother needing to make some quick money, pay a bill, or buy my kid something that I couldnít afford but had promised.
Itís because I grew up with all kinds of people that I can be compassionate where I live now. I know that there is more to the crack junkie or the prostitute, the young drug dealer - shit they have a history, a family, and a name too. They come from somewhere. Knowing people who are in the streets renders me unable to discuss Ďhoodratsí with female co-workers who want to put these sistas down. I canít sit back and agree with that bullshit that Bill Cosby has been spouting off because I know a whole lot better than he does what they really need and it ainít good grammar and pants that fit snugly. Itís money dammit ,and that money needs to go towards real programs for real people, not a program designed for less than 1% of the population. There needs to be programs for those of us in the middle who are trying to have something. Not a handout, but access. Thatís what Bill missed. But I wonít even start bagging on his old ass because Eyecalone did an excellent job and broke that shit down much better than I care to.
It was good to see old friends and kick it with my crazy ass family but after 3 weeks, I was ready to go home. Iím still a little homesick and I hella' miss my daddy. But I feel renewed inside. I feel loved and I feel connected to something bigger than myself, my job, or my kids. I didnít know that I missed home that much but Iím glad that I do miss it. It means that Iím not so far removed that I canít connect with my past anymore. It means that Iím still me and people know it. It means that you can still do well in life but you donít have to change or lose yourself to obtain it. Iím not considered successful by any means, most of the people reading my pieces make more money than I do, but I say Iím doing well because Iím happy. And the only thing that I truly gained by leaving home, was the ability to be happy by doing something different. Being out of the critical and watchful eyes of my family and friends allowed me to try things that I would have never tried because of negative feedback. Living away from home, means I never have to explain, but I can always go back when I need to.
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