Leaving Home: Dreams vs. Family Illness

On this Motivational Monday, we bring you an original piece from Staff Writer, Liz Grear. While her father endures long-term illness, Liz remembers his words of wisdom about leaving home for college in another state.

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When my older brother and I were kids waiting in line at a grocery store, my dad would take us to the quarter machines that spit out tiny football helmets.

“Ready?” he’d ask. “Whatever team this is—that’s the city we’re moving to next.” We’d lean in and giggle; we were never upset or nervous. Of course, this wasn’t the real reason we moved around, but because we moved so much, these games were fun.

Toy vending machines
(Photo by Halfrain)

My dad sold tires, and as his territory changed and he earned promotions, we gathered our belongings into boxes and poured out our lives somewhere new. I was born in New Jersey, then went to Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and finally, Illinois. All our houses were rented.

Rented houses feel worn in by other families. We never hung pictures or painted, because the walls were never really ours. One day, my dad took us down the street from the Illinois house we were living in, and almost spontaneously combusted as he told us his work position was permanent, and that this street was permanent. He said we were buying this house, and we would stay there. So, we unfolded our lives into this new home. Because it was ours, we painted the walls and hung photos, and didn’t worry about the holes they left.

Three years later, Dad’s health began to mysteriously decline. Seizures, strokes, loss of weight, loss of appetite. All the doctors could do was scratch their heads. They’d say, “It must be the sign of something bigger.” My parents made trips to the Mayo Clinic and appointments with specialists. My summers were spent on the Jersey shore with extended family, Mommom and Poppop. Spring and fall were spent in Chicago at Columbia College, studying creative writing and learning about the world. Chicago: where buildings stand shoulder to shoulder, and you can learn a million things from a stranger.

One day, Mom walked home from work to find a pink piece of paper with the words ”Eviction Notice” spread across the top like red icing. How silent the house was. My mom sat at the dining table, her shoulders heaving up and down so slightly it looked like she was laughing. When she heard me moving behind her, she told me we had to move. The wrinkles stretched from her eyes like loose thread; her nose looked like rug burn. She told me that we had been scammed, that we were being evicted tomorrow morning. My dad was out of town, so she, my brother, and I packed everything.

Leaving Home - A New Day in 3D by CesarLeaving Home – A New Day in 3D
(Photo by Cesar)

I imagined, when I was younger, that leaving home would be easy. That moving long distance was no problem. Like my dad, I have a traveler’s heart that never hesitates for adventure and longs for change. I did not imagine leaving home looked like this: scrambling around, shoving things into boxes like a giant game of tetrus. I did not imagine that leaving home also meant leaving my father, who seemed to be deteriorating. I did not imagine that leaving home meant choosing between my dreams and my family.

As I sat under the tree on our front lawn that day, I knew the choice I would have to make at the summer’s end, when the new semester started. My family – my sick father – would be in New Jersey, and I would be alone in Chicago. The grass scratched my skin. I swatted flies away. My dad pulled in the driveway after abruptly leaving a meeting. He walked over, knelt down with me. I could smell his familiar shaving cream. He placed his arm around me.

“It’ll be ok,” he said. “I promise.” His raspy words said aloud; I believed him. For the first time since the eviction, I was not scared or confused. The weight of his arm on my shoulder brought me to a time when I sat on his lap and ate cereal, watching early-morning Ren and Stimpy. It felt as though I hadn’t embraced him in a long time. His arm gave me a sense of comfort so strong, I felt silly for freaking out.

“Where are we going?” I asked. The movers pushed our couch into the bed of a truck.
“I don’t know yet. We will take it day by day.”
“But, what about right now? All our things…”
“Our things are going into storage. Until we figure out our next step.”
“Are we moving to Jersey?” My voice cracked. I coughed to cover it.
“We don’t know,” he stood up. I bit my lip and nodded. “But whatever we do, remember: it isn’t permanent. Nothing is permanent. This is only part of your life. Not all of it. Change what you need to.”

I sat on that lawn. Cars slowed down, and drivers stared at our belongings strewn across the grass like a yard sale. The fourth moving truck rumbled down the street. I remembered my father’s words: nothing is permanent. Today, right now, I replay that conversation and smile. Once, long ago, to me, hanging a picture on a wall represented permanence.

About Liz Grear

Liz Greer, MFA, teaches creative writing, tutors students, and dabbles in ballroom dancing, book binding, paper making, and playing hopscotch between Chicago and New Jersey. She dreams of running a writing workshop in a prison, because she believes words can change things. Maybe not all things. But enough things.

One Comment

  1. virginia.ilda@gmail.com'
    Virginia Baker

    Love this! Thanks so much, Liz. It’s always hard for me to leave home and live so far from the family I love so much.

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