Thursday, September 5, 2013

Home is where you . . .

I've just returned from the US. Well, I haven't actually just returned, but I am just now able to think. Jetlag turns me into a walking, blathering carrot. An adorable one, but still a carrot. A blathering one. And by the way this blog post has begun, I guess I'm still a bit jetlagged.

So I was "home" for two weeks. Do you have a strong sense of home, or is home wherever you have the best mattress? My home has been in Germany for the last 18 years, but I have only recently bought a great mattress. Before that, I slept on a cheap bed from the Otto catalog, a borrowed aging sofabed that folded up like an accordion, and a terrifically expensive futon. These places all pretty much felt like home to me. So it's not about the mattress. No, I've come to realize that home is where I don't keep my toiletries in an airplane-approved zip-lock baggie. Home is where I have to mow the lawn. Home is where I clean.

Don't get me wrong. I love the feeling of being on vacation. I often joke that I've been on vacation since 1995. I love the adventure of being somewhere besides home. Home is routine and knuckle-down time. Home is cleaning the kitchen floor at 3:00 a.m. because I can't sleep. And last night I couldn't. On vacation I might risk a walk on the beach or sit on my balcony and wait for the sun to rise. My kitchen floor looked awful this morning at three, so I cleaned. You don't do that anywhere else but home unless you're a bit OCD.

Home in the US
So I cleaned floors at my parents' house while I was there. They're right at the end of a major build-on project, and I just happened to be in the right dusty place at the right dusty time. I actually enjoyed it. It reminded me of when we gutted the house here. Dust everywhere. If you've ever lived in a house under construction, you know the feeling. You get a floor relatively clean, and a worker comes in and tracks dirt all over it again. All this to say, I did feel at home when I was in the States.

While I was there, I had the opportunity to clean out my parents' attic, where I discovered my files from graduate school and an enigmatic certificate that seemed to suggest I was once a member of a mathematics club in junior high. Me: the guy who's often unsure which comes first, 7 or 8. I've long since given up on the times tables. And never ask me to convert miles to kilometers or ask me how many quarts are in a pint, or buckets in a centileter. I will always say "seven". When my students ask me these questions, I stare at the wall and let my eyes roll back in my head as if I'm having a stroke.

In the attic I came across my teacher evaluation forms from some of my first-year composition students when I taught at Middle Tennessee State University, so I'm going to gloat just a bit. If you don't enjoy a bit of gloating, just skip to the next paragraph where the tone is more self-deprecating. They loved me. Apparently, I was motivating and interesting and caring--and I believe one person even said adorable.

I didn't feel very adorable in the attic as I was reading the evaluations, though. Sweat was dripping off my nose, and the attic's insulation was quickly stopping up my lungs. There were boxes and boxes of books, literary journals from 1994, books on grammar and style--all desolate and dusty. But then I finally found a poem that I'd written in 1992. A friend had had it framed and illustrated by a well-known local artist, who was also a friend of mine. It has always been a special gift, which I hadn't seen since 1994 when I moved to Germany. It's home with me now.

Do you live in a place far far away from your childhood home? What's it like going back?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.