Monday, January 17, 2011

The Hunger

I don’t know what started it, or where it began—this deep, gnawing in my heart of hearts for family and togetherness. I grew up in a feast of family, raised by an army of mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. Not always functional or healthy or saying the right thing, but every fat man knows that any almost any food eaten in enough quantity will make you full.

I grew up fat—fat with family, fat with love, fat with dysfunction and plenty of painful memories sure, but full. My own family was almost always wonderful. Mom had a way of constantly guarding our hearts—protecting us and calling us great, making home the ultimate safe place— and Dad consistently knew how to say the right thing, calming any storm.

We were encased in this womb of greater community, and at any moment I knew I could go to my Alabama mommy for decorating advice or “What’s the best china?” or the best banana bread this side of the Mississippi; there was strong mommy who was solid and safe and steady, whose house was everybody’s home—I would go to her for relationship advice, questions about how to deal with difficult people, and “What do I do in this weird situation?” Uncle Troy who called me “Lady Jessica” and always teased me about marrying a man shorter than me, and Mommy Gail who gave the best hugs and left the best voicemails and was never, ever unkind…

So you see, I grew up in wealth. And one day, whether very suddenly or very slowly I can’t say, it all changed.

I can’t remember specifically the moment, the hour, the day, when I all of a sudden felt alone, but I know that it was jarring. I know that I was in LA, and I was probably in my car, either driving home after school or Bible study or sitting parked outside my apartment building, when I realized… I’m lonely. It was such a foreign feeling, such an utterly obscene concept to my consistently well-nourished soul, that I must have almost questioned its appearance. “Lonely, you say? Who are you?” But it was true. I was lonely. I had plenty of friends, my social circle was growing every day, but something about it was different, something in me had changed… My soul was alone.

You see, after I moved away from home to go to school, everything about home changed. Mom died: immediate family demolished. Or at least, severely damaged. Church falls apart: my safety net, my resting place, my greater womb of family, disintegrated. It was all gone. And all that was left in its place were little jagged fragments—tiny blocks of ice to cling to, all drifting away from a center where the solid iceberg used to be. Home was gone.

And that’s when Lonely came.

I don’t pretend to think I’m the only person in the world who feels this way, and I’m not arrogant enough to believe that I’m the only 20-something who’s moved away from home and feels alone in the world, but often I think of my friends who are married, or married with children, or people who still live in the small, tight-knit towns that birthed them… I wonder, do they feel the same kind of stark aloneness that I feel? When these women my age fall into bed at night, warmed by their husbands beside them, do their hearts feel as clanging and tinny as mine does as I turn out the light? Or have they simply gone from one meal to the next? Nourished by one family, and on to another of their own making.

If this is so, then I am utterly and insanely jealous.

But if it’s not, then good God what is this? And how do we make it stop?

Recently I moved to what I have now come to believe is the greatest city in the world. I live a life deemed glamorous by some—I work in a high rise on a famous street at a great job, I live in a beautiful apartment I love… What could I possibly need? Please understand, I am so unbelievably blessed and thankful to live where I do and work where I am, but underneath it all there is this vacuum of desire for family, for home. And no amount of fabulous dates or high heels from Bloomingdales or dinners at the Plaza will ever be able to ease it. I just want… home. And some day, God willing, I’ll get it back.