Columns, Opinion

DONNELLY: Home is where the fleeting sense of belonging is

Upon crossing your hometown’s threshold for the first time in awhile, it takes a seasoned set of eyes to successfully power through your homely seventh grade choral director’s decade-later rendition of ‘I Touch Myself’ at its lone dive bar. The odds are compacted against you when her solo on Whipper Snappers’s tiny stage condenses into a sopping wet film on the arch of her back that no amount of Bud Light Golden Wheat can twist or shape into something endurable.

The morning after, in preparation of reunion with relatives, a more patient and wiser temperament is crucial in locating sugar-free Werthers for your diabetic grandfather in a freshly restructured corner store. Sure, Riddle’s decision to move milk into the refrigerator was certainly a step in the right direction, but the sign describing the condition of a dozen eggs was a pinch more credible in 2006 when the word fresh wasn’t in quotations.

Returning to the comforts of home as a newly liberated college freshman means a chance to trash talk your high school graduating class’ high and mighty salutatorian over casual basement ping pong and a flat two-liter bottle of Sprite Remix. Trekking back for the final collegiate Thanksgiving break rests on the staples of several beers-deep walks (and rejections) through Wendy’s late-night drive-thru and mulling over the recent engagement of your Little League’s consummate right fielder. Yes, he used to be afraid of diving boards and drew Sonic the Hedgehog torture chambers on oak tag during recess, but his girlfriend sports a cool 6K on her ring finger and your thumb has knuckle-to-knuckle traces of Annie’s White Cheddar from your 7:15 p.m. lunch on a beanbag.

When being published in your college newspaper and using your debit card have finally lost their superlative sense of majesty to family members, returning home from school loses its celebrity appeal and starts feeling more like an extension of real life. So wave that 91 percent on your Intro to Nutrition exam in your mother’s face as long as you can, wide-eyed freshman, because a few years down the road you’ll have to scrub the hell out of your cat’s mudroom puke stain regardless of your encyclopedic understanding of riboflavin or cantaloupe slices.’

It was around the time that my friend Jamie told me via text last week that her family had been uninvited from Thanksgiving up north that I felt like a functioning adult, and it wasn’t the result of a concurring dispassion or scoured-down investment in solving family feuds. It was the follow-up message that read: ‘could have been worse. . . waitress’ gum fell out of her mouth but missed my juice. . . movies tonight?’ and my reflexive nodding along through the conclusion of ‘Snoopy, Come Home’ on ABC Family.

The run-of-the-mill mood extended unto our once-ceremonial trip to Wal-Mart for cheap undershirts and living subjects of punch lines yet to come. Jamie set the wallpaper of the LG Chocolate 3 on display to her cleavage without missing a beat, I pointed out that the ‘Son of God’ subhead on the Jesus action figures was unnecessary and tacit, but the pursuits were contrived. We were grasping at straws when we tried on hats that said ‘Karate Prom,’ and neither of us could muster up the energy to self-checkout in Spanish. We had made our mark on southern New Hampshire, and the magic couldn’t be recreated.

And maybe it was time. There were only so many monkey bars left to re-climb and so many younger siblings to lock out of the house when we didn’t want them around. They started rusting and bringing spares, respectively. It hit us like a ton of bricks.

I had this idea that when I could start using vulgarities conversationally with my mother without getting backhanded into the dining room that I would be well on my way to an attractive career and desirable salary. My city apartment would be lavish and my keychain wouldn’t have a flamingo bottle opener.

When I mustered up the courage to say ‘damn’ last Wednesday upon a self-inflicted toe stub, she simply asked me to quiet down for Oprah and continued kneading experimental criss-cross piecrust. Days later, I came back to Allston and my Toyota dealership-adjacent basement apartment to find my Magic Bullet was missing its puree blade and a Dunder Mifflin refrigerator magnet was noticeably askew. It was back to reality.

Visiting home has finally devolved into the chore I hoped it wouldn’t become. Bringing bucketfuls of undone laundry through the front door might soon be considered tactless and discussion over 401ks and market value is a quickly approaching standard. As we inch closer to Christmas, there is nothing more I could use than that ineffable connection to home and sense of marvel in memories already made. But if Sam Adams Winter Ale is the cheapest thing in a parent’s fridge, then things could certainly be worse.

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