On my flight home for Thanksgiving, I got to read Neil Gaiman’s new novel “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”, which is also about man returning home to a childhood farm. Once there, he remembers childhood adventures that give him pause to reevaluate where his life has gone. While I get to often see family when they come out to California, it has been almost 2 years since I last came home and slept in my childhood bed.
When you move out on your own, the past can start feeling unreal. I am lucky I can return to my past. Since I left, the suburbs of D.C. have continued to expand, the downtown metro now runs beyond my parents house. New paintings are hanging on the wall (my mom and sister are professional artists). Even though I thought I had stopped growing a long time ago, things still seems smaller – at least the bathroom counters feel lower. Yet the house is still there. Even my bedroom is in indefinite stasis full of high-school swimming trophies and stacks of old sci-fi magazines. No matter what I am doing in California, the same tiny stream keeps carving its way through my parent’s backyard. If I look across the ocean, the same waves keep crashing against the English beaches where my grandparents once lived. The amazing thing is that in a world so big, you can still fly back in to all these places in just a few hours. Skype gives me a little video window, but that is nothing like the sensory shift of traveling from urban, sunny Los Angeles to chilly, wooded Virginia. Most of all it is the smells – the smokey fireplace, the musty basement, the undefinable smells that bring you home.
There is also a mental split. At night, when it actually gets dark and quiet, I can sense a shadow of that young insecure teenager I once was. Here are the closets where I would borrow my Mom’s clothes. In these old 70s style bathroom mirrors, I could see a glimpse of a young, confused, messy girl staring back at me. I never knew what I was doing back then. I was too full of both thrill and guilt. As much as the rooms have stayed the same, I know I’ve changed. I can now reluctantly admit that I am an adult. Research has shown that almost all the cells in your body are replaced every 10 years so literally I am a new person. Mentally, I may not be smarter but I am more confident.
Yet I still can’t image my newer female side coming back here to visit just like I could never imaging her going back to visit my grandparents. For some of my transgender friends, that would be the ultimate acceptance, finally integrating family with a new identity. I don’t fear rejection (most of my already family know), but to me I would be intruding on my childhood. The worlds are too far apart. Part of going home is going back to how you were. When you are with family it is so easy to fall into old mannerisms and habits. That young boy is still there inside me, even inside Val. To quote Neil Gaiman.
Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups either. Outside they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.