The years fly by. Piling up behind me and reminding me that home is always far off. For many of the years, I didn’t think I would ever return. I’m standing at the doorstep of the house that built me and the family that reworked me, but my eyes have run dry. All I had done for the last seven and a half years was cry. Now, I had nothing left.
My mother comes to the door, standing beyond the screen with a cigarette in one hand and a half-eaten hamburger in the other. She smiles. Laughs. She can’t believe it. The daughter she had cast away, frankensteined into an altered version of herself, is standing at her doorstep.
I smile back.
She invites me inside like I don’t live here anymore. I suppose that she’s right. I haven’t lived here for years. I ask her about dad and she says that he is at work. I don’t recognize the company that he works for; it doesn’t matter because I’m sure that the company would change again next week.
She asks me how I am. She doesn’t ask about the pile of prescription pills in my purse and the bruises on my wrist. She mentions how long my hair is. It has grown to be a long thin waterfall of blonde over the last seven and a half years. Of course, they had cut it on occasion. But they were not hairdressers. They were nurses.
I want to go to my room to see what my parents have done to it. My mother tries to convince me that this is a bad idea, but I run up the stairs before she can stop me. She is overweight and slow; she will never catch me. I open the door.
My bed is gone, replaced by a pile of manila-coloured boxes and newspapers. There are no more posters on the walls. The boxes and papers are piled so high that they cover the window so the morning light no longer casts through the blinds. I pick up some of the papers. They are nonsense. My father’s failed business ventures, and my mother’s horse race bets.
There is a scent.
Cat piss and indifference. It no longer smells of my apple body spray that I had coated on before high school dances. It is no longer my space. Just like everything else in my life, it belongs to my mother and father. And if they hadn’t locked me away, if they hadn’t announced to the world that my mind was no longer balanced, perhaps I would forgive them for the state of my childhood bedroom. There is no forgiveness left. The seventh-year beat out any mercy that I once had, leaving me only with pity and anger.
I pity them severely. As I am rounding the corner in life towards some type of resolution, they are spiralling downwards into the same insanity that they had locked me away for. The paranoia. The irrational anger. Downstairs, mother had put the coffee pot back in the machine eighteen times before she had been satisfied with its position. The same things that mother and father had threatened me with and berated me for.
I am changed. They are stagnant.
With the medication, I can clearly see the manipulation, the gaslighting that had forced me into the van and out the door. I see the government-issued disability checks that they cash. I see the time ticking away on their health, reminding them of how little they have left and I am happy with this.
I did not come home for revenge. I did not return from the psychiatric centre just to yell at or scold my mother and father. I came back for what is rightfully mine.
I go back down the stairs where my mother is pacing. Her ankles are swollen, and she has a hard time going upstairs now. I make note of the empty KFC buckets sitting by the door. My mother says that she is sorry, and I say nothing back. I cross the house and enter the living room, the TV is droning about a pill that is guaranteed to make you lose weight in 14 days or you get your money back. I take a multitude of pills that make me lose and gain weight at a seemingly equal pace so I can stay skinny and stay medicated. Every little girl's dream. My mother follows me into the living room and gets immediately ensnared by the images on TV. Her eyes follow the offer and the temptation across the screen, licking her lips and considering the money in her bank account.
I ask her where he is but she says she doesn’t know. She says that he could be upstairs, piled up behind the boxes or underneath one of the beds. Hiding. If that was true, he was smarter than I remember. I hid under the bed when my mother would come home drunk and when my father would have his idiot friends over. The dust was safe and quiet. The darkness was secure. The hospital had that same quality of isolated security.
I walk out of the living room and into the backyard. The yard is littered with junk, several over-turned bikes, black garbage bags stretched to their max, more manila boxes and newspapers and all of my old clothes. I take a step out onto the concrete pad that would be a deck if it wasn’t covered in stuff and my sneaker hits something hard. I look down and see my high school diploma, smothered with something that looks and smells like shit.
I turn to my mother, but she is still staring at the TV in the living room.
I call for him but there is no response. Cars buzz on the distant freeway, the neighbours scream at each other, the wind fruitlessly rustles through the piles upon piles of garbage, but it’s not able to pick up anything aside from the putrid smell. It’s too heavy.
I go back inside, pass my mother and go back up the stairs. The carpet is too soft against my sneakers after countless hours of hard, sterile tile. I call for him, clicking my teeth. This time, I hear something.
I enter my parent’s bedroom that is surprisingly clean compared to the rest of the house. The bed is made. The drawers of the dresser, where I had hit my head as a toddler and had to get stitches, were all closed and parallel. There were no boxes or papers in here because this was a space they cared about. So unlike the room across the hall, the yard outside. So unlike me.
I hear him again and I get down on my knees to peer under my mother and father’s bed. He meows at me and pins his ears back. He hisses. I remind him of who I am by reaching out my hand, stretching into the dust and darkness. I feel the short gusts of air from his nose, smelling and scrutinizing my fingers. I wouldn’t blame him if he hated me. I had abandoned him. I had left him here to rot, and I see the ramifications in his matted fur and in the missing chunks of his ears.
The soft bumps of his tongue lick my fingers. He is safe. He is relieved. I grab him and he meows several times as I pull him into my chest, a sensation that neither he nor I had felt in years. His warmth calms the anxious pounding of my heart. He reminds me of cool spring days, purring and heating my lap because mother and father refused to turn the furnace back on.
I gather up his orange and white paws, and I head down the stairs.
My mother says, “You found him.”
“He was under the bed,” I reply and she nods. She steps from one foot to the other, looking to the door, unsure of what to say.
I do not say goodbye. I do not curse at her. I do not tell her the details of the hospital and how it had been a better experience than the entirety of my childhood. I take my cat, and I exit the front door.
I have nothing left.
This house is not my home.
Home is always far off but at least, I am moving in the right direction. At least, I have my family.
This story was written in response to the ReedsyPrompts Contest #44 based on the prompt "write a story that starts with someone returning from a trip."