Bill Murphy swore he would never go back to his hometown that was full of abuse and turmoil. But then something unexpected brought him back.
I turned 50 this year. 50. So, I guess it’s the obligatory season to look back and get your past in order.
I was born in and spent considerable parts of my childhood in a small city in central Louisiana. The rest was spent in Los Angeles, California. I could turn this into a compare-and-contrast essay, but that’s not necessary. Spending some of my childhood in California is a factor in the man I turned out to be. It did affect my worldview, but as far as geography being a factor, Louisiana still has the most influence.
My mother’s family is Acadian (Cajun) and are able to trace our roots 500 years to a French town on the Norman-Breton border. My mother’s family is also a large one, both as endomorphs and in number. My mother is one of 11, and I’m the oldest of 30 grandchildren. I have great memories of Granny cooking holiday meals for three days, everything from scratch. When the big day came, there would be so many people in her little house that the family would be reduced to eating on the porch and swing sets because there was no more seating.
I remember going to mass with my Grandfather. I remember family dance parties, where despite our tendency towards the bulky, we were surprisingly light on our feet and could really tear it up on the dance floor. I remember the family intelligence-gathering nets: cousins, great aunts, and whoever else who lived up and down the street, ready to spread the word of any observed bad behaviors. Whatever your indiscretion, was, Granny knew about it. She knew about before you made it home; she’d wait for you at the door, switch in hand. Justice was swift, but so was forgiveness. My family is creative, intelligent, and a little bit off.
I was one of those guys that could not wait to leave my hometown as soon as I could. My immediate family was rocked by addiction and abuse; bruises and blood. I had already seen life in the larger world and I was going to return to that world. I swore I would to go to college, live overseas, explore the sensual world, take spiritual adventures, and then finally, become a father. I have been fortunate enough to have done those things.
The one thing I swore I would not do was to return home.
Because for every memory of crawfishing with chicken necks on the bayou, there was another of seeing my mother hit on the head with a cast-iron skillet. For the memory of my grandfather making us toys in his workshop, the other is having the house set on fire, while we were still in it, by an alcoholic step-parent.
Of course, the inevitable happened: I currently reside in that hometown I swore I’d never return to.
Circumstance and obligation brought me back. My son is here and I’ve spent years driving from wherever I was living to come here to pick him up for the every other weekend and trade-off holiday visits. I tried to create a life in those other places, but always failed. Any fun, or joy, or satisfaction was always flawed because my son wasn’t there. Over time, it became obvious that to be happy I’d rather be in hell with him, than be in heaven without him. And it has pretty much worked out that way.
It wasn’t easy at first. Living in the scene of the crime is difficult, but it’s had some unforeseen benefits. I was no longer able to ignore the past. I’ve had to learn to live with ghosts. I’ve learned to accept what was and not let that interfere with being able to be content in the present. My present, gift and unit of time both, is that my son now lives with me. After work, I come home and see him every evening.
My joy in this is subtle and profound. This is a homecoming I never would have expected.
Photo credit: Flickr/Laity Lodge Youth Camp