BY ALENA HALL
Walking down my New York City neighborhood street, I inhale the crisp fall air as deeply as I can and slowly let it go. Every touch of anxiety leaves my body as confidence and intention fill the void. God, it feels good to be home again.
Just five days earlier, I expected similar relief as I arrived at my southern childhood home for the Thanksgiving holiday. For years this place brought me a sense of grounding, a reminder of who I was when the insanity of my new urban dwelling deprived me of all energy and understanding. But it seems as though that connection is fading faster than I ever thought possible. Where I'm supposed to feel the most like myself, I now feel the most lost. I'm the stranger standing in my parents' living room desperately connecting with past memories that seem irrelevant in the present to everyone else. I no longer fit into the perfectly framed photograph that is this family. Because I'm the one who left.
As a woman in her mid-to-late twenties, I've rarely worried about time or its ability to change the landscape of my life. In fact, I've always welcomed it. I don't fear aging or adulting or where my future is taking me. I say, "Bring it on. Come at me. Gimme what you've got." But as it's attempting to pull my family apart at the seams, I'm feeling more unraveled than ever.
My personal evolution feels like an accomplishment to me, but it only seems to insult others. My lifestyle doesn't make practical sense. My values have shifted too much. My views on politics are uneducated. My conversation contributions are micromanaging and disruptive. My presence is jarring. My timing is constantly off.
Meanwhile, the family photograph continues to dim. Grandparents are sick and dying. Parents are distracted by their own lives but hold it together for the holiday show. Siblings are missing, now of age to be celebrating with new loved ones. It doesn't look or feel like it once did -- full of life and laughter and frenetic energy. And I feel myself growing increasingly anxious to return to the place that always makes room for me in its blurry lens.
I've spent the past four years building my own life, my own home, and learning to embrace all the beauty and flaws that come with it. Unfortunately for my family and me, it's a home that could not be at more odds with my origins. We think, feel and dream in different dimensions of time. And I have yet to discover a new place where we can intersect, a plane where defensive walls can disappear and we can all share details of our worldly experiences that one another actually wants to hear.
So for now, I'll leave these two homes of mine disjointed. I'll use my best memories of the past to remind me why I should keep trying in the present, and I'll appreciate my world void of my family for what it is: mine.
If you, too, find yourself struggling with family and the surprising pains of growing up this holiday season, take an hour to listen to this mixtape full of not-so-sweet nostalgia. Hold on to your strongest memories, the ones that helped shape who you are today. Then embrace your identity - the one you've worked your ass off for - and never let it go regardless of how much others may disapprove.
The city I was born in I left a long time ago
This house, she’s holding secrets
I’m holding back my tongue
It was cold, you had your hands inside your sleeves
Just cause your heart’s afraid
Don't you know that I'll be around to guide you
I never thought that I'd leave you waiting
Alena Hall is a writer, manager and editor based in New York, NY. She earned her master’s degree in magazine journalism from New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and her bachelor’s degree from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She currently works at Odyssey as a managing editor and is a music columnist for Luna Luna. She is fascinated by the mind-body connection, obsessed with transcendent tunes, curious about any book that helps her perceive the world in a new way, and madly in love with her crazy Siberian cat Fitzgerald. She lives by the motto, "You are what you do, not what you say you'll do. So go do something."