I am weary, and the house is dark. Humidity takes over my baby hairs, creating a mini halo of curls and frizz. It’s hardly my bedtime, but all I want is to close my eyes and sleep for a week and a half. Instead, I tiptoe through the hallway, past my sweet dog, trying to remember which part of the floor creaks in the living room, finally making my way down the cool stairs to the basement. I flip the switch, and after a brief flicker I’m looking at my belongings, clothes and housewares I’ve not seen in months.
I am in Indiana.
This is a crazy busy trip back to the homeland, if you can call it that. I landed at MDW at 1 am local time, flying above wild storms and below a full moon. Close friends rescued me from the airport and gallivanted with me around my favorite city all day Sunday, letting me soak up the humidity and brilliant sun and microbrews and my favorite burger joint and every single little thing that I yearn for in California.
You must understand, the Bay is where I belong. But Chicago will always be home.
After seeing my closest friends for the first time in a year, I boarded the South Shore with my mother, a long-standing ritual from my toddler-hood. I felt so relieved to be back in familiar territory, but could almost feel my face begin to fall as the train passed back into the Region. Was it just exhaustion? Or was it that I truly found where I belong? The madness of the summer had collected in my mind and wouldn’t allow me to get my thoughts straight. I continued to stare out the window, saying, “Hi Grammy’s house,” with my mom as we saw a brief glimpse of a gray house from the tracks, where my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother had lived. The sky and trees seem to vibrate with color and swirl together.
Okay, maybe it was exhaustion.
We get off at our stop- a train ride that takes an hour and twenty minutes from Millennium Station- and we’re in the car driving down 49, a twisted highway in Porter County that leads to the Indiana Dunes. This time we’re heading south, to my parents’ house, away from the dunes. The landscape is familiar, yes- but I am not at home. This is not my home. I do not feel at home. And to be honest it is the biggest relief to have those thoughts flying through my mind.
I think one of the big struggles for many young people starting out on their own, especially starting out far away from their childhood homes, is figuring out if where you’ve landed is a place where you belong. Along with that comes the concern of being more at home in the place you’ve always known, where your family and your favorite restaurant and your go-to gas station and every little thing you’re familiar with is. Sometimes, when the challenges don’t go away (a truth of everyday adult life that we don’t quite realize until we are living it), we just want what’s familiar. We crave that stability. And we contemplate whether we’re just going through a rough patch, or if that feeling of unease is because we don’t belong where we live. And with my recent bout of homesickness, that paranoia lingered in the back of my mind until I reached my home state.
This was no longer my home. Thank god! Indiana is no longer my home.
(Naturally part of me will always long for it, but I am comforted by the fact that I will never belong there.)
There were parts of The Region I’d missed. Those clear starry nights. Fireflies dancing in our garden. Sunkissed raspberries, straight from the bush, right into my mouth. Reliably damn good gyros. (My friends and coworkers and roommates can vouch for me when I say I’ve been bitching about not really finding true, authentic, perfectly greasy gyros in the Bay Area.) And, of course, my things.
My mother has been a godsend for getting so many of my personal belongings to me, things that are really important- family photos, clothes that I wear most frequently, books, housewares that have already been worn with love in my new home. But some things are a bit too difficult to ship and not always worth shipping. Heavy items, like my personal files, or my bigger books, or my beloved cast iron skillet.
But finally I’m back, if only for a flash, to go through my things once more and gather what I can to bring to my real home. And you best believe I packed my cast iron skillet.
I received it a few years back as a gift from my uncle’s family outside of Indy. Weirdly enough, I’d never used a traditional cast-iron skillet before. Mom has some pieces from Le Creuset but nothing that looks like it belongs in some kind of historical re-enactment sketch. This skillet is heavy. I need to use both handles to carry it when it’s hot. For being possibly my heaviest kitchen item it seems to have gotten the most use, short of my pasta pot (long live the pasta pot). The cast iron skillet is the birthplace of my sex potatoes, after all.
And yes, I’ll be writing about those when I make them again soon. I only regret I won’t be able to make them for the original folks who created the nickname for my potatoes.
My skillet is now in my hands and I’m suddenly back in my room, rummaging through my clothes and knick-knacks and finally putting the skillet on a pile of things to be taken back to California. I sleep better than I have in weeks, even without a full night’s sleep.
My few days in Indiana escape me and suddenly it’s Wednesday night. Nothing of mine is actually packed. I leave the next day. I panic, sort of. I knew this would happen- too many things scheduled to actually make time to do what I flew home to do- but oh well. If nothing else I’m taking that skillet with me. And because I attempt to be a responsible all-American citizen and flyer, I do what I assume is the right thing and check the TSA site for cast iron skillets. (Doesn’t that just seem like a silly thing to type? Or read? Or say out loud?) And in case you were ever wondering or needing to travel with your cast iron skillet, you should know that while there are no explicit rules against putting it in your carry-on, there have been enough questions from the airport people that they had to say skillets should only be checked.
I really wonder what happened at the airports to have that be listed in TSA carry-on/checked FAQs. I also can’t help but wonder how many skillets the TSA has confiscated. And how many people packed skillets to easily injure other people. Honestly when I think of people packing cast iron skillets into their carry-ons, I’m not thinking they’ll try to injure family with a giant heavy metal object. I’m thinking they’ll try to take out their passive aggressive manipulation on their daughters-in-law. Definitely not the case for me.
The skillet rests in my giant red duffle, wrapped in a newly purchased and worn Kuma’s Corner t-shirt (THANKS LIZZIE I LOVE YOU), with my crepe pan wrapped in yet another shirt resting inside of it. It’s way too late. I pass out for one last night in Indiana, wishing I had more time.
And that’s really it, isn’t it? We all just wish we had more time. Time enough to get our affairs in order, time enough to organize our thoughts and actions, just more time. On my trip back to MDW my mind continuously swirled with every little thing that still needed to be done, not that my mind hadn’t been overwhelmed with the amount of work I had to do while visiting the Midwest. I flew back knowing there simply would never be enough time, no matter how long I could’ve stayed.
My travels back to the Bay took too long. I wanted to be home. I just wanted to be home in my bed messaging my roommate who is in the next room. I missed how the lights flickered briefly before coming fully on, and how we always leave the light on under the microwave, and our rocky driveway, and my messy bed.
The Bay Area is my home. Thinking these things, writing them down, I realize that the Bay really is my home. So why did I have my doubts when I initially left?
I am overjoyed to see my roommate at SFO waiting for me as I limped my way to her car with luggage, yelling and complaining at her while she opens her trunk, laughing hysterically. It’s 11 pm, and Catherine is a saint for saving me from the airport. (Saint Catherine, patron saint of airport pick up services, quesadillas, and eternal patience.) We laugh and gossip on the road back to our home on my sweet little island. All is well. As I drag all of my things into the front hallway I immediately rip open my duffle and wave my cast iron skillet in her face. “WE’RE GONNA COOK SO MANY THINGS!” I quietly squeal to Catherine, since it’s midnight and Anthony, our other roommate, is asleep. I had been researching bacon fat recipes while in Indiana and sent quite a few of them to her. Bacon fat pie crust will be happening soon. We continued to talk through the night.
I arose the next day- don’t remember when, everything was woozy and sleepy and warm- and don’t remember how I got my legs and feet to function in such a manner that I ended up downstairs, but I do recall consciously hugging my cast iron skillet and smiling like a damn fool.
I said I’d found my home before, and I did. But now I have my most important tools with me. I left my doubts in Indiana. Now I really feel at home.
I’m hoping to be cooking with my skillet very soon. Scheduling to feed people has been tough, as I just got through my first week back at work from my bizarro trip back to Indiana and also have not been able to coordinate timing with friends. But as I experiment more and more I’m hoping to document more of what I’m doing and chatting about with friends.
Also if you want to take photos of me cooking while hanging out PLEASE DO. I need more photos. Better photos. All of the above. You get what I mean.
Only good things and great adventures.