I’ve been living in Cincinnati for fourteen years now. Nearly a decade and a half spent on crowded streets, at the foot of skyscrapers. Streetlamps are my nightlights, the sound of passing cars my lullaby. And I am happy. Every single day of the year…with perhaps one or two exceptions.
For several years now, I’ve adopted something of a tradition: every year, on the night before Thanksgiving, I make my way to my favorite bar, the Brass Tap, and have a glass of beer. Just one. It’s a rather eclectic brew: an annual offering from Fifty West, one of our local brewers. It’s made with sweet potatoes, accented with spices that call to mind a holiday meal.
It’s called “Home Sweet Home”.
Last year, it was almost a grim irony; work and other things prevented me from going anywhere for a holiday that actually claims the song “We Gather Together” as its anthem. For me, my pre-Thanksgiving glass of sweet potatoes and cinnamon was a strange sort of self-inflicted propaganda: this is home. And for many years, for almost as long as I’ve been here, Cincinnati has been my home. I love this place, and knowing I could never go back, when I got here I made this place my home. I read the Enquirer. I got up to speed on the local goings-on. I watched the Bengals (which wasn’t fun). I watched the Reds (which was only slightly more fun at the time). I ate goetta and eggs for breakfast. I had late-night coneys at Skyline. After college, I got an apartment, got a job. I paid taxes, I voted. I went to Oktoberfest every year. And when I visited my family, I talked about heading back to Cincinnati as “going home”.
And yet, despite all of that, it may be said that you never truly know where home is until you’re not there on Thanksgiving.
Before Cincinnati, my home was Sharon, Pennsylvania. It’s a sleepy old coal-mining town where the coal dried up, an old industrial city where the industry dried up, too. So it’s not much different from a multitude of other small cities and towns littered across Pennsylvania, as though they were sprinkled across the hills and pooled in the valleys. There’s very little that’s special about Sharon, very little that’s interesting. Its sole contribution to the world at large may be the Quaker Steak and Lube restaurant chain. Not that Quaker Steak is anything to sneeze at, mind you.
But while Sharon might not be special or interesting to most, it’s special to me. Not all of it, mind you. But even now, after all these years, there’s a two-story red brick house that remains at the center of my world.
It’s a beautiful house. Not because it’s so different from all the other 1920s brick houses that litter Sharon’s streets beneath the tired sycamores, but because of what’s inside. Beyond that blue front door is a place of comfort, a place two wonderful people filled with all the love there is to have in the world. And though here in Cincinnati I feel engaged, welcome, entertained, appreciated…it was there, behind that big bay window, where I felt truly loved. It was there that I truly felt safe.
This world of ours is an uncertain place. Watching the pace of change today can feel as though watching a delta form on fast-forward. We’re swept up in the current, and we paddle and struggle and fight to keep from being carried out to sea. We build our lives, we get apartments and pay bills, get good jobs and work to build careers, and too often we lose ourselves in the bustle. But through everything, whether it’s stress at work or the struggle of being a writer or the pressure of “adulting” as we like to say, we all need a grounding wire. We need an anchor, something we stay tethered to.
I love Cincinnati. I love my life here. I love my apartment, usually. I love my job…sometimes. I love my friends and the special person I’ve given my heart to. I love it here. Most days.
But it’s not home.
I try so hard to act like I don’t miss it, but holidays have a way of melting away the shells we grow to shield ourselves from the weight of the world. Over these past six months, my project at work has worn me down more than I like to admit. I don’t like to complain. I try not to burden others with my stress, my uncertainty, my insecurities. And in a manner more self-defeating than anything, because of this I stopped talking to the two people on this Earth who always help, who always have. Whether they realize it or not.
Thus, I’ve been putting off talking to my parents. I’ve put it off for weeks. I kept telling myself it was because they couldn’t possibly want to see me after not hearing from me for so long, but deep down, I know that’s not true. I just hate what these past six months have done to me. I hate the way they’ve worn me down, and how insular I’ve grown as a result. And I hate that I cut off those most eager to offer their support.
But now, I’m ready. I’m going to write that email. I’m going to do it because admitting how badly I’ve been worn down will hurt so much less than spending another Thanksgiving alone, far from the red brick house filled with love. I’m ready, because it’s time I admitted that the wonderful people who still live in that house will miss me every bit as much as I miss them.
I have a long drive ahead of me tomorrow. It will be cold. I’ll need coffee. But in the end it will be worth it.
Because for the first time in almost a year, I’m going home.