Welcome home, Amy

Welcome home, Amy, I say to myself. Look around. This is where you belong, whether or not you want to admit it.

Not ten feet from where I sit is a 16"x20" photo of me in my wedding dress. No such picture exists in my house. It seems to be a common thing in my family—walls filled from floor to ceiling with pictures. From childhood to death, we're all here, frozen in snapshots of time on these paneled walls. Every bad haircut, every bad choice of clothing, preserved here for memory. These are the visions of the expatriate: to come back to a place both loved and hated, to look around and know intimately where you are, to look from house to house as you drive down the road and know the people that live in each of them.

Directly to my right is the Christmas tree. This is the old one, the one that I decorated for years in a row while growing up here. There is an enormous pile of presents underneath this artificial fir tree—green and red and gold and blue and every color and print imaginable in between. How different from my own house, where the gifts were stashed away, unwrapped, in the guest bedroom. Where we've fallen into the easy route of agreeing on one major Christmas present for the two of us, and not having piles of presents to open on Christmas Day.

I am glad I came back; while I can't imagine ever wanting to return here permanently, this particular tiny village holds my roots, my family, and in some ways my soul.

My family looks different every time I see them. My greatest shock was not at my father, but at my sister. Still slender—perhaps she, too, has at last beaten the spectre of weight problems that have plagued us both in the past. Her face is subtly different, as well. It took several minutes of surreptitious glancings for me to understand that the difference in her was age-related. She has lost the twenty-something baby fat she once had in her face. Her features are thinner, sharper somehow. Time has focused itself into the beginnings of crows'-feet around her eyes, and laugh lines—the very same laugh lines I have—pointing down from her nose to the corners of her mouth.

My father is recovering. Slowly. He will show you his scar if you ask. It runs from his breastbone to his groin, a straight, deep line. He says he has grown accustomed to being home and having a normal sleep schedule. His hair is still thinning on top, wispy-white and kink-curled as ever. It resists his halfhearted efforts to lie flat and orderly. He winces when he coughs, or if he moves an abdominal muscle at the wrong time.

Mom looks smaller every time I see her. There is more gray in her hair, but at least she no longer frosts her hair in an attempt to hide this fact.

I have not yet seen my grandmother. I don't know what to think of the sidestepped half-mentions that my family makes. Mom makes vague references to "going downhill" and "no longer out much" and I am afraid of what that may mean.

I look at my grandmother, and then I look back at myself. Then I look back at her again, and the differences become much easier to ignore, the multi-generation gap easier to span, and I see so much similarity between myself and her.

I say sometimes that I don't know what I'd do with my life without Jeff. In her, I see the fullness of that prophecy. She, her generation's culture notwithstanding, was a very independent woman for her time. She came to trust and to depend greatly upon the man she wedded. Since his death four years ago, she has been lost. Anchorless.

I see her quietly drifting away. Not just from me—from all of us. Over the past few years I have noted and chosen, with much selfishness but no malice, to ignore the sadness she carries with her. She has buried so many people in her life, starting first with her baby brother, dead in some nameless battle in Korea. Then her parents, then her spouse of fifty years, then her youngest son, and now several of her siblings and, this year, her best friend.

To look at her honestly is to see a woman who feels that perhaps she has outlived her time. I want to believe that the tally of those still living will outweigh the tally in her heart of those who have already died, because as one of the living, I of course want to cling to her.

But I listen to the quiet hints and preparations that I'm hearing from my family members, and I wonder if perhaps they're trying to prepare me for a day that may be coming sooner than I'd like to admit.

Ouch. It's after one a.m. I'd planned to work on a bit of fiction tonight, but I just don't think it's going to happen. Perhaps tomorrow, then. Jeff needs the computer now, so I should sign off.