The last time I left home, nobody helped me throw my bags in the trunk and nobody stood in the garage driveway and blew me kisses until I turned around the corner. Before I left, I stared at my plate of unfinished toast and the napkin scribbled with “I Love You!” in handwriting unmistakably my mom’s. I used to get notes just like these on my napkins everyday, but I don’t think I ever wanted any of them more than I wanted this one.
I took the old bread and went through the new patio and pulled the toast apart into little edible pieces and set them on top the old brick wall to feed the birds, just like I always used to when I was a little girl. I’m a stranger now, but maybe my mama will come home from work and see the outline of the old bread fragments against the night and remember that this adult and that little girl share the same label of her daughter.
I have never liked coming home, but this time, before the tears slid as I drove past the foothills, I vowed I would come back more often.
Recently I’ve been reading Junot Díaz’s This is How You Lose Her. To describe the moment you realize a relationship is over, he writes, “as soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.” I have never read a more perfect description of the side-effects of nostalgia. But I think Díaz is still missing something. I also think that as soon as you start thinking about the end, it’s the end of the beginning.
Growing up, my parents always told me that my goal should be to leave. They would tell me about how they left their families miles across the country and came to California, and how it was the best thing they ever did. They would think about their time in Brazil and tell me to explore the world, and I can tell they missed Carnaval more than anything. So I left to Berkeley and I left to New York and I left to Spain. And I only come home when I have nowhere else to go.
On top of that, society has always told me that my goal should be independence. In first grade we write an essay about what we want to be when we grow up and in high school we take an aptitude test to find out which life-long career will, according to the algorithm, balance our skills with our happiness. American capitalism lets us believe that we can have everything we want, if we work hard enough and conform enough. So I study too much and I have too many jobs and I try too hard to be successful. And I only come home when I have to rely on someone else to recover.
My whole life I’ve been chasing independence and autonomy, and everytime I come home I think I’ll be welcomed with more open arms and more open pride. But instead, they look at me like I’m more of a stranger.
It’s a melancholic and desperate cycle. I want to live the dream of success they had for their little girl and prove that I am worth investments of tender loving care. I want to be the interesting, influential person that they want to introduce to all their friends, unequivocally content with me, their lives’ trophy. The reason I sometimes seek a higher salary is to give them the most comfortable life they could ever want, and buy them a little villa in Brazil or Portugal. I leave and I work on my self-development because I want to make my family proud. But coming home reminds me they can’t be completely proud of someone they don’t know.
I have always been focused on the end of someday. Someday I’ll reach a point where I am successful, I’ll reach a point where I am at my potential and I’ll reach a point where everything will just fall into place. And then that someday will be the day that I come home and all my expectations are met.
But getting too caught up in chasing the future means that I have neglected the present. I am missing out on many beginnings: the beginning of my sister’s college career, the beginning of my adult relationship with my parents and the beginning of growing old. This is what I mean when I claim that thinking about the end is the end of the beginning.
I don’t like going home because all of these missing beginnings are leaving a gap between the person my family knew and the person they know of. This is how you lose them.
Only recently, after spending my last college summer surrounded by people I love, did I realize that my priorities had gone wrong. American culture and society pressure us to seek better pastures for the ones we love, even if it means leaving behind the ones we love. But I’m sick of missing my family and my community and I’m so sick of forgetting where I come from. It doesn’t have to be like this.
There is no reason that bonds must suffer collateral damage from our race to the top and our search for happiness. Sometimes we need to stop looking up, lower our cavalier chins and look at the people with us now, because they just want us to be there. Nobody is waiting for someday except you.
I vow to be present. And for the first time in a long time, I feel an inkling of pride and success. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I really am coming home.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected.