I went writing with a friend last weekend and he gave me a quick short story prompt: "A woman returns home to her family reunion to make amends." This is what I came up with.
Even if it’s where you need to be, to me, returning home always feels like defeat. That you were never able to find your own way. Starting in college, going home—back to the nest—was a sign of weakness. Several times, several timezones away from my parents, homesickness spilled from my eyes. I couldn’t stop it. Everyone else seemed to though. What was wrong with me? I never figured that out. But I do remember the day my tears stopped—it was the same day I killed my brother.
I hadn’t been invited to the family reunion in a decade...and for my family, that’s a big deal. We’re Greek. Family is more important than breathing. Family. Food. God. Always in that order. Then, one morning when I couldn’t disentangle from my bed, the mailman slipped a rain-puckered letter beneath my door.
“A la porte,” the postman called, knocking, before moving to the next door.
Now, I never get letters. I hardly even get emails. Who would send them? My family was afraid of me. My friends, well, I was afraid of them. That’s why I left. To Agen, France.
My great-grandparents had started their new lives in the new world, so why couldn’t I grow old in the old world? And like them, I got a job as an au pair. Sounds much better than a “nanny,” doesn’t it? Most expressions in French usually do. Anyways, that’s what I was for a somewhat-wealthy-almost-upper-middle-class family in the land of Amelie. I was cheap and they didn’t ask too many questions. It was a match made in cash. So, for years, I dropped off/picked up the kids, cooked/cleaned, and a quarter million other job-slash-jobs in my romantic bid to escape what I had done.
After ten years and probably a pastry truck-load of croissants log-jammed into my arteries, this little letter arrives. The water-logged words read:
“THALMASTROS FAMILY REUNION. APRIL 24TH. YOU KNOW THE PLACE.”
I did. You never forget the place that you grow up, try though you might. Mine was the most basic definition of a town. Nothing ever happened there, it was just a place where people lived.
But why the hell did my family send me this letter now?
After a hasty lie to my French employers—”My visa finally expired!”—I found myself in a rental car rolling through my hometown where I knew every street and all the people who lived there. And they all knew me. Especially after what happened.
Sure, I had gotten a bit puff-pastry from all the croissants, but beneath those buttery layers, I really did look the same. Guess that’s just what happens when you get older. You’re young, you’re skinny, all of your dreams float feather-light above you. Then you get old, and all those un-came-true dreams sink and solidify around your belly button. Yeah, that sounds more scientifically accurate.
So picture me, a bit post-dream chubby, a French decade older, and creeping up to my family reunion in the park. Even from a distance, through the rental’s dirty windows, I could identify everyone in my family by their silhouette. Mom. Dad. Sister. Uncle. Gay-Aunt. Other Gay-Aunt. Dozens more cousins.
The only one missing was my brother.
But you know what? It wasn’t at all like I feared. The moment I got out of the car, my parents, sister and family swept me up in a multi-generational embrace. I said I was sorry. So did they. Tears and acceptance. A Hollywood ending.
What actually happened when I emerged into the familiar scent of home was much different. This time, there was no hug. No tears. No acceptance. Just zombie-blank stares back at me. Bewilderment.
“What the hell is she doing here?” my sister asked my parents. Before anyone could answer, I raised the envelope.
“Got a letter. But now I get the message,” I said.
I turned to leave when my father said, “I sent it.”
“You did?” my mother replied, her face stuck with shock. Dad nodded. “Why didn’t you—”
“Because I knew this is how you would react,” he said. “She’s our daughter—”
“She’s a murderer,” snapped my sister, dumping her plate of spanakopeta into the trash. “I’m not hungry anymore. I’m going home.”
I felt like a wedge. No matter how far I fled, or how many times I apologized, I just drove my family further apart. Split them into smaller and smaller pieces until we were only crumbs. And crumbs aren’t enough to feed a family.
They all expected me to say something. Anything. To repent. To break down. But I didn’t say a single word. My dad was the only one who came up to me. He hugged me tight. Seemed to hug all the way through me.
That was the last day I saw him or any of my family ever again. I kept running. Kept driving a wedge through my own life.
Returning home felt like defeat, but some battles you just can’t win.