I returned from home to a place that wasn’t. This contagion of constantly having to leave, to wander aimlessly is a family thing. I learned it from studying the genealogy. I think this is an inherited trait from the maternal grandfather’s line. I discovered his parents went from Brooklyn to Ames, Iowa, in the 1880s, and suddenly reappeared in Brooklyn in time for the 1890 census.
My mother went from New York City, to New Jersey, to South Texas, Cheyenne, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, back to Texas, then North Carolina, and finally two cities in Texas. Coast-to-coast and to the middle thrice.
She is buried in Tyler. I visited the grave shortly before 9/11. I remember looking out the window while flying into LaGuardia, and staring out the window at the Twin Towers at my right.
A little more than a week later, both were gone. History redirected its course, and life changed.
I was conceived in Vegas, born in a charity hospital in LA, and according to my then-teenaged half-sister, my grandmother arrived at the door, train tickets in hand, to take the three of us to East Texas.
My father had left. Men usually say they’re going for a pack of cigarettes. Dad said he was going to get a job, and never returned.
Never met him. Mom burned all the pictures in a bonfire in the backyard of the house in East Texas. I was told he had sandy hair, and an olive complexion. I inherited the skin, Maddie—my daughter—got both, until the sandy transformed to my brunette in the time my hair went slowly gray.
I moved from Texas to North Carolina and back to Texas again. When I saw an opportunity, I moved to the big city: New York. I believed in the fantasy, and made most, but not all of it, real.
Now older, somewhat wiser, and less of a wanderer except in the confines of imagination. No place is home except for the uneven bed I sleep in.
Maggie travels a lot. Italy three times, college in Tennessee. She’s been to Spain. I live in Manhattan, and go to Brooklyn on occasion. Did venture on the Hudson line to a used bookstore in Hastings-on-Hudson, and had lunch in a café. Aside from that, not much for the wanderer except when I sleep. I go places in my dreams, and write about them when I have the time in the morning.
I do not have a real sense of home. This is hard to if all you are doing is paying the rent.
We took a taxi to JFK. Airports seem to be comforting, along with the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Penn Station. Starting on and returning from journeys, I realize now, is the family way. That’s home. Who we are.
I bid Maggie off to a graduate program in South Carolina. She will be gone for three months. I return by subway, and re-enter the apartment, feed the cat and make my way to the futon in the living room.
I lie down. Close eyes. Dream of the concept of home.
Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist and photographer based in New York City. Fiction in Eunoia Review, Easy Street, Bop Dead City, The Ampersand Review, Paraphilia Magazine, The Airgonaut, Sensitive Skin, Reservoir, The Avenue and others. Photographs currently exhibiting at Art Thou Gallery in Berkeley, California, and a group show at Darkroom Gallery, curated by Bruce Gilden.