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Going Home This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   Thewarm spring breeze is sneaking into my kitchen through our screen door. It hasbeen pushed slightly open by my cat, who is now drinking out of my dog's bowl.Baby, the rightful owner of the water bowl, is quite annoyed. My dad is workingon his crossword puzzle at our kitchen table; he always uses a pen because henever needs to make corrections. My mom is shuffling in and out of the kitchen.In a cheerful tone, she asks my father to give her some of his crossword clues.She is in one of those moods. Dinner will be ready at 11:30 tonight. She ispreparing a delicious stuffed turkey with mashed potatoes, cranberries, dressingand gravy. It's my favorite dinner in the whole world. She's running right onschedule as she puts some Chieftains on the stereo and dances around. Our kitchentable is clear of clutter. There has been much less clutter on the table since Ihaven't been home.

***

I was out a little too late last night, soafter grabbing my mail, I pick up a mocha to caffeinate me into higher spirits. Ireach into my purse and dig around for my ticket. I can't remember what pocketit's in. There. I run my fingers across the the little envelope and ponder mylong afternoon of traveling. I could have bought my ticket from the conductors,but they're always crabby about that. They will be happy to see me today.

It's been a long time since they've seen me. Way more than a month. I'msupposed to travel once a month, but it has been too hard to leave school. No, Ican always leave school. It's been hard for me to give up weekends. I used to bebetter about it, but things have changed.

As I walk past the Rock, Inotice the track team has painted over the political ravings of yesterday. Anearby window gives me a quick peek at my reflection. My appearance pleases me:my hair is pinned barely up, but I remembered to put on some mascara. As I strollalong, my sandals slap the sidewalk and my skirt waves to my fellow students. Iwas lucky to sneak in a nap this morning after my eight o'clock class. I'mimagining sleeping on the train as I spot my lovely roommate leaning against thearch. She wishes me good luck and gives me a card. Her 11 o'clock is over and shecomes back with me to our room, where I grab my bag. I dig through my cluttereddesk and find a small, wrapped gift. She offers to walk me to the station, but Itell her I could use the time to think, and wish her well. I can tell by thedarkness under her eyes that she could use a nap, too.

I tuck the gift inmy backpack and duck out the door. I'll be back soon enough. I can't helpstopping to talk as I exit the hall; everyone seems to have a story to tell. Bythe time I'm back at the arch, I realize I might have to pick up my pace. Iquickly make it downtown, passing by my favorite shops and cafés.

My mind flashes to last spring. My parents and I had come downtown tocheck it out. We went in Walgreen's and bought little plastic bags full ofdrinking water. My mother thought they were amazing, and they entertained thethree of us for some time. I remember that morning well. I was so scared. I canrecall walking across the street with my parents, and realizing that theywouldn't be here with me. I felt so alone, even though they were right next tome.

My mother and I window-shopped at all the boutiques looking forprom jewelry. I can't even remember what the prom song was. Oh, Frank Sinatra. Ofcourse. I remember now. I ended up wearing her jewelry. It made me feel beautifuland safe. I steal another glance at my reflection, expecting to see a high-schoolsenior trailing behind her parents, but they aren't here, and I sigh and push mypinned hair aside with ringed fingers.

The train station is busy onSaturdays. A boy from my French class stands by the vending machines; our eyesmeet. We are boarding different trains, so I give him a kiss on the cheek andwish him bon boyage. He seems interested in when I'm coming back home. I find itinteresting that he said "home." He's mistaken: I am going backhome.

***

My mother has decided that lunch will consist of leftoverturkey sandwiches. She doesn't like having all the leftovers. It isn't familiarto have so many leftovers, especially turkey. She wonders what her daughter atefor dinner last night, but decides she doesn't want to know. Mary calls and askswhen they're leaving. Soon. The train comes in at 3 p.m. My poppy is getting gasand beverages, my mumsy stretches her head around the table top to see if theskateboard is by the door. She doesn't see it, and scolds my cat for trying tobreak in again. Mary says they're busy at the Dari, but she got the night off forChinese food with us. My dad pulls in the driveway and parks next to the porch.He grabs a turkey sandwich, chips and a beer. He will refuse any sandwich ifthere aren't potato chips to accompany it. The skateboard reappears by thedoor.

***

The train is crowded. I sit on the upper level and gazeout the window. The conductor comes to punch my ticket and I recognize himimmediately. He punched my first ticket home. It was the second weekend after Ihad left. He sat with me and told me not to be too homesick. His name was Thomas.He told me about his son who had left home a few years back. He never came homeafter the first month. I could see how upset it made him. Thomas was probablysuch a devoted father. I remember promising myself I would never be like that. Ashe punches my ticket I attempt to forget that I haven't been home since winterbreak. I try to get his attention to chat, but he's too busy. Like I'm too busyto go home. I lean back and think of my mother. She would like Thomas. Shewouldn't have let him go past her without saying hello. I quickly sit up and leanover the banister as he walks back past me. I holler a brave hello and give awink. His warm smile settles my quickened heartbeat. It was so unlike me to yelllike that, but I was becoming more and more unlike me. He asks if I'm going homeand I say yes. He seems proud of me and continues with his work.

Outsidethe window, the city flashes before my eyes. I see the buildings of the campusdisappear. The skyscrapers of Chicago decorate the horizon outside the otherwindows. The sun is bright and reflects off Lake Michigan. The beams of lightdance across the ceiling of the train car. In my bag I find the tattered copy ofThe Catcher in the Rye. My favorite teacher once told me that I would understandit better every time I read it. He couldn't have been more right. I flip thepages to one of my favorite parts. Soon, I grow restless and look up. Across thecar, I catch a young man looking at me. He is about my age, but I don't recognizehim. I feel my cheeks redden, so I go back to reading.

The stops aretedious: every five minutes the train lurches to a halt and thecomputer-generated voice informs us where we've arrived. I close my eyes andremember two winters ago, when my family rode the train into the city to the ArtInstitute. There was an amazing Van Gogh and Gauguin exhibit. My best friend,Ashley, had been visiting. We had such a wonderful time. We rented headphones sowe could listen to the calming voice of the art expert tell us everything wecould ever want to know about Van Gogh and Gauguin. One of the "RealWorld" members had been on the tour with us, and we were all excited to tryand meet him. We were too scared, though, and our headphones all ended upbreaking before the end of the exhibit, so it was really a waste. Then my fatherhad tried to sneak us back into the other parts of the museum, even though theemployees kept telling us it was closed. He is always doing funny, crazy stufflike that. The train lurches to another stop and I open my eyes to see the boyfrom across the train standing next to me.

He asks if I have any batterieshe can borrow for his CD player. I do, and hand them over. He is very attractive,and I try desperately to think of something really amazing to say to him thatwill knock him to the floor, but that has never been my specialty. I smile anddumbly ask where he is going, and, with my good fortune, he says Antioch. Me,too! Maybe I accidentally get too excited. I often do that. He laughs at me. Hislaugh is great: all his teeth show and his eyes get all squinty. I invite him tosit with me, and he tells me he will after the next stop. He wants to grab hisstuff. Whatever.

I soon have a travel companion. His name is forgettable,and so is most of our conversation. We chat about school for a while, but hedoesn't go, so that doesn't work out too well. He's going to visit hisgrandmother, which is charming, but he doesn't seem too happy about it. I tellhim I am going home to be with my family. He tells me I look too excited. Is hebeing sarcastic? Is that an insult? I am excited, and don't care if it makes me adork. I ask to look at his CDs, which is a really risky move because I'm alwaystoo judgmental about people's tastes in music. Much to my delight, he seems tohave impeccable ears. I stop and stare at a Ben Fold's Five album. My mindflashes immediately to my brother, Gabe.

Gabe gets to drive. My motherdoesn't like the idea. She can't see why my father just won't drive. Because:Gabe's 16, plus he's a better driver. He still doesn't have his license, but Ididn't have mine until three months after my birthday, so he is still beating meby a lot. My father puts in the familiar sounds of some rock piano. My brotherdoes a great job driving. I can't tell this yet, but he's even taller and more

handsome than he was at Christmas. He never fails to impress me. Heshoves his uncut hair out of his eyes and squints at the stoplight ahead. My momworries about his quick stop, so he reminds her of his horrible vision and of howlong he has needed glasses. She hushes. My father jokingly tells him that he'lllook too spazzy with glasses. They both laugh aloud. My mother yells at them toconcentrate on the road, and something about not wanting to die.

Yesterdaywas Gabe's birthday. I wanted to be home for it, and I really tried, but Icouldn't skip my lecture this morning. I called him yesterday and sang to him.His laughter at my horrid singing was enough to warm my heart. He emails me alot.

I look over at my new friend and see that he has become occupiedwith Holden Caulfield, so I carefully unfold Gabe's last e-mail. He tells me somenews about his friend Travis, and some of my favorite high-school teachers. He'salso filling me in on his love life. I'm looking forward to swappingstories with him.

My mother once told me that she and I were goingto communicate mostly through email this year. She tried really hard for a fewmonths, but then gave up. I was very happy when she started calling again. Hervoice is better than her letters.

My friend stops reading and asks aboutmy necklace. I touch the hemp and glass beads, and think about my guru. What agood friend she has been to me. I imagine her sitting in her dorm up in Milwaukeemaking my new necklace. I smile and think about seeing her. She is coming homethis weekend. Everyone is coming home to see me this weekend. I decided to takeoff Monday's classes to be with them. I can't spend a significant amount of timewith both my family and my friends in one night. I know this; balancingthe two was a problem all senior year.

Now it doesn'teven seem like a problem at all. My mind flashes to all my friends from highschool. My guru is bringing two others with her, and Ashley will be joining usfrom Madison. I almost went to school there to be with her, but we still talkseveral times a week. I think about my last conversation with her, and know thatI made the right decision.

The train stops again and Mr. Good-Lookingnotes that we only have three stops left. My heart skips a beat.

I lookagain into my bag to tuck away Gabe's letter. I see his gift. I pull it out andsmooth the wrinkles. I found him some really hip piano music at an Evanston musicstore. I hope he likes it. I even found some Ben Fold's sheet music. I relive thenight we drove home from work together and he told me how badly he wanted some.He thought it didn't exist. He will be delighted. The train lurchesagain.

***

My family arrives early, which is quite a rarity. Iwould often cause us to be late. They sit in the car and drink soda until 2:45.My mother doesn't want to be in the car when I get there. She wants to be rightoutside the door of the train. She has been struggling not to take it personallythat I haven't been home for so long. She digs through her purse for some bottledwater. 2:55. My father stands up like a giant and peers down the tracks for thefirst glance of his Erty.

I bid farewell to my lust-worthy friend a stopearly. Not even the best-looking man in the whole world could interfere with myreunion. I don't want him anywhere near. I just want it to be me and them: alonein the universe. The familiar quaint town of Antioch appears outside the windows.It seemed a city to me once, but not after a year in Chicago. I grip the strapsof my book bag, and step onto the platform.

My mum looks so beautiful. Mybrother looks so mature. My poppy looks so happy. I look so different. We grabeach other and just stand there with our arms intertwined. I'm crying again,dammit. I see my friend meet his grandmother out of the corner of my eye as Iclimb into our car. It smells like wood shavings because of my dad's tools. Iforce Gabe to open his birthday present. He is sitting in back with me, and Ithink I can smell cologne on him. I would mock him for it, but he likes his giftso I get excited and lose my train of thought. He even seems pleased with thecard my roommate chose for him.

I suddenly feel I'm myself again, for thefirst time in months. New friends, professors and midterms melt from my mind as Iask about Baby and my cat. They ask about school even though they talk to mealmost every day. I tell them a new story about my crazy biology lab partner. Welaugh. I dig through my purse for something, imagining how nicely its jammedcontents will clutter my kitchen table.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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