SOMEHOW, I keep coming home. Not just to visit for a weekend, like most of my friends, but to live. Since graduating from college five years ago, I've done this four different times. I can't seem to stay away for good.
The first time I came home to live was right after graduation. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I thought that New York was the only place exciting enough to do it in. I started sending resume after resume to New York companies, hoping to get a response.
I tried to persuade my college roommate to come with me. She said New York was too big and too dirty, and besides, she was enjoying living at home and was saving money to boot.
I finally did get a job offer that sounded perfect. The only hitch was the extraordinarily low salary. Still, it was more than I had ever made before and I was convinced that I would be satisfied with, and even thrive on, just scraping by.
``That's crazy,'' my father said. ``You'll never be able to live on that.''
Still, I went. And four months later I was back. My father was right. It was crazy.
The second time I came home was after living in two different apartments in Boston with the same college roommate. I had decided that soon I would leave my job to go to graduate school, but first I had to save some money.
I packed two years' worth of bedding, kitchen utensils, towels, and curtains into boxes, borrowed a friend's truck, wrangled offers to help from several other friends, and faster than I knew what was happening, I was home.
Into the basement went my things. In the room we call the ``furnace room,'' I stacked the prints that had covered my apartment walls. I stuffed bedding that I wouldn't need into large green trash bags. And I pushed plates and glasses, all carefully wrapped in newspaper, into a corner where they wouldn't be in the way.
My kitchen table, chairs, bed frame, TV, and futon that folds up into a couch are still scattered around the basement. At first I insisted that they all be in one place, so it would be easier to gather everything together when I moved again. But it didn't work out that way.
When I finally left for school a year later, I was moving so far, for such a short time, that it didn't make sense to take anything that didn't fit into a few suitcases and two large duffle bags. I unearthed the bedding and some kitchen utensils, but everything else stayed where it was.
A year and a half later, degree in hand, I again moved back home. I had school loans to repay and felt fortunate to have someplace to live where the rent was reasonable and the landlord equally so.
Now, on weekend mornings, I sometimes lie in bed and look out the window, thinking about the fact that it is the same window I looked out of when I was 12 years old and had just moved into this new home. Though the walls are now covered with cream-colored paint, instead of the hot-pink flowered wallpaper that was here when I arrived, everything else is virtually the same. This fact is both disconcerting and comforting.
I cried for days when my family moved to this house. I had my father drive me past our old home just a mile away and told him that the best years of my life were spent there. Yet only the house had changed back then; my family had stayed the same.
Today that's no longer true. We've added a brother-in-law to the mix, but my father is now gone. My role as the youngest daughter has changed drastically since I was 12. Then, my bedroom was my haven. As my parents worked around the yard and went out to dinner together, I did homework on the floor, had friends sleep over, and worried about whether I would ever have a boyfriend like my sister's.
Now, my mother and I often rent movies together, and it's just the two of us sitting at the family dinner table. I overhear her telling friends that she doesn't know what she would have done if I hadn't been here, and I feel the same way about her. She talks to me about the mortgage and the leak in the basement. I tell her of my concerns about work and my thoughts on marriage. I'm sometimes startled by the fact that the house we live in is exactly the same when everything else in our lives is so different.
I write a check out to my mother each month for rent. As I do it, I think that I'm getting quite a bit for my money: lots of space, enough privacy, plenty of good company, and many memories.
But what I miss about living on my own is contending with unexpected events, like the time one of my roommates locked us out our very first night in our apartment with water boiling on the stove. Fourteen firemen pulled their huge truck into the very small alley, raised a ladder to a the window, climbed in, and shut off the boiling water. We met every single one of our new (and startled) neighbors that night.
I MISS sitting up until far too late at night talking with a group of friends who have stopped by just to say hello. Or getting in equally late and having no one worry. I miss looking around and knowing that no matter how battered the furniture or how dirty the floors, it's all mine.
Yet all the time I was living away, I always knew I could come home, if even for a short visit. Unlike my more daring sister, who packed up everything when she moved out, my bedroom remained virtually untouched when I left.
Now when I stay up late talking, it's usually on the telephone. Most of my friends live a long distance away, in apartments or houses of their own. But there are those who, like me, are talking from their childhood bedrooms. A friend from high school moved home when she started attending graduate school part-time. She moved in across the hall from her older brother, who had never left. We talk about sometime getting an apartment together.
When I was younger and living in this house, our neighbors on either side had children my age. For a while, until we got older and started spending time with different friends, we went to movies together, played out on the street in the afternoon, and ate dinner at each other's houses.
Two of the boys (now men) from those families have moved back home. One is working and the other is in his first year of medical school. We rarely talk, but sometimes we back out of the driveway onto the street at the same time. We wave, smile, and go on our way.