Living Madly – The Road Home
This past November, I attended my 30th high school class reunion. It was in the town where I grew up, a suburb along Boston’s southwestern border. Although the town is somewhat affluent today, when I lived there it was home to many working-class families, most of them first- or second-generation Irish, Polish, Lebanese and Italian immigrants. The town’s politics tended to be conservative. Sports were important, especially football. Many of the kids I grew up with came from large families.
Although it was the only home I knew, from the time I was in kindergarten I had the distinct feeling that I didn’t fit in. This might have been because my family was different than most: We were white-collar Democrats. My parents grew up in Michigan, and they were divorced. I had only one sibling. I had no idea what pierogi were or where to find County Mayo on a map.
It didn’t help that I was a weird kid. In elementary school, I was painfully shy, hopelessly introverted and socially awkward. I wore the same pink sweater almost every day, and preferred reading a book at my desk to going outside at recess. I was miserable at sports of any kind, and was often the last person chosen for the kickball team in gym class. I was also quite tall for my age, making me a favorite target of the school’s bullies. In fifth and sixth grade, I was enrolled in a special program for gifted children. I loved the class and the work, but it made me feel even more like an outsider.
I eventually made good friends in junior high and high school — people I’m still in touch with today. But the feeling that I didn’t belong never really went away, eventually prompting a yearslong search for a place that felt more like home.
I began to find what I was looking for in college. There, I met several people with whom I had a lot in common, including my future husband, Rob. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could be myself. When I graduated, I moved to Boston and decided to never look back. Although I’ve never left Massachusetts, the number of times I’ve been back to my hometown since then barely reaches into the double digits.
In the nearly 24 years we’ve been married, Rob and I have worked hard to make all the places we’ve lived feel like home. This is especially true of Lowell, where we raised our daughter, now 21, and where we have lived for more than 20 years. For reasons I’ll never be able to explain, I felt I belonged in Lowell the day we moved into our first apartment. Today, our Colonial Revival house in the city’s Belvidere neighborhood and the family we have built together make up the home I longed for as a kid.
When I arrived at my class reunion, I was met by a roomful of familiar, smiling faces. Every person I talked to greeted me with a hug and had a nice memory about me to share. I saw two people I have known since I was 5, one of whom lived in the house next door the whole time I was growing up. People offered to buy me drinks. Several of my old classmates had read my book or had bought a copy for their kids. Many are also regular readers of my articles online. Everyone I spoke with said they were happy I decided to come.
An old Irish proverb says, “The longest road out is the shortest road home.”
As much as I tried to completely leave my hometown behind, part of me still exists there among the people I grew up with. And although I don’t like to admit it, I carry the place — and many of the people I knew there — with me all the time.
Home isn’t always a town or a house or a family. Sometimes it’s more like a mosaic, painstakingly constructed from thousands of tiny pieces to create an image of our own choosing. If you’re willing to shift its parts around once in a while, home can be flexible. It can adapt to most situations, and exist almost anywhere. Best of all, it can sometimes appear in places you least expect to find it.
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