July 31, 2010

A House Is Not A Home

For anyone that's Facebook friends with me (and I welcome anyone to add me or message me if you just want to talk), you know that I was recently trying to find a plane ticket back home to good ol' Columbus, GA. My mom has been begging me to come back home for some time now and I can't finding reasons why I can't. However, this time, I had no excuses. So I start searching for plane tickets home only to find out that the cheapest one I could find was about $250. This made me happy to no end. I was not going to pay that much money to go home for only a week and I know my mom wouldn't want me to do it either. I think that was the happiest moment I've had in a long time. Here's why.

I hate going back to Columbus, GA. Nothing good came from me living in that city. From the time I entered high school, I always dreamed of leaving that den of misery and going somewhere else where I could just be free and happy to live my life the way I pleased. There's not much to do in Columbus. You can only go to the movies, bowling, or the skating rink so many times before it grows old. Most clubs downtown were 21 and up. Mom wouldn't let me go to one anyway. There was no potential for me to go anywhere with my life. If I didn't get out of there, I knew that I would be trapped in the vicious cycle that has trapped so many other members of my family. I would spend hours on the back porch just sitting, daydreaming, waiting for the day that I would be free. I knew why the caged bird sang. I knew because I sang the same tune.

My family did not help the situation. Being a bastard in the literal meaning of the word, I only knew my mom's side of the family. My Y-chromosome donor's family had it's own problems and I was just another one that ended up swept under the rug. If that wasn't enough family division for one family, my mom's family was also split in two by my grandmother's divorce to my biological grandfather after having a few kids and then marrying my step-grandfather and having more children. The two factions, differentiated by last name, grew to bicker with each other about which kids were true "insert last name" and which ones were just outsiders and who the real siblings were and who the step- or half-siblings were. Both sides began to hate each other and banded together against the other. My mother, being the middle child, tried to find the middle ground the best she could but she only suffered worse for not picking a side. Thanksgiving quickly became my least favorite holiday. The tension at dinner was easier to cut than the turkey my mom cooked. Eventually, I grew used to it and could basically time when drama when break out and who would get drunk and dig up old bones that were thinly covered in an inch of dirt. I kept my little cousins occupied to distract them from the feuding going on down the hallway. My older cousins were old enough to go do their own thing so I was left to watch the youngins. Oddly enough, I was everyone's favorite. Both factions loved me and would give me almost anything I wanted (probably only because I put up with them trash-talking the opposite faction). Somehow, I became the center of everything with everyone pulling me towards their side.

To make matters worse, the entire family is very strict about their religious beliefs. My step-grandfather was a minister until he passed away. I have two uncles that are ministers. My mom taught me to read using the Bible. Everyone in my family was baptized, attended church every Sunday, and was active in the church in some way. I was in the young adult choir. It wasn't long into my middle school years when I realized that something was different about me. I never flirted with the girls. I just became good friends with them. I never tried to kiss them. But there was always some guy that would catch my attention. One of the boys that I just had this longing desire to be around. It wasn't long before I fully knew and realized what that meant. This revelation shook the foundations of my life. Several times, I heard my family say how "those gays" deserve to go to hell and burn for their perverted lifestyles. "It's sickening. They're not natural. They're freaks. God's going to punish them." They're me is what I thought to myself. The star of the family, the one that everyone loved was also the thing they most hated.

School was my only escape. I didn't come out until high school. I had to. I was going insane not being able to tell anyone about who I really was. At school, I could be myself around my friends and not care. I could join the girls in talking about how hot the new guy was or about who really deserved the most attractive guy senior superlative. I was happy for a time. Until I had to go home and face reality. Face the truth, that I did not live in a world where I would be so openly accepted as I was at school (for the most part. There were some exceptions of course). Senior year came and I felt my friends and I growing apart already. We were all going separate ways. I knew I was leaving with no attention of coming back anytime soon. Ready to leave this life behind me and move on to a happier time in my life.

And so, that is why I was ecstatic when I received a call from my mom this morning saying that she didn't want me to pay for a ticket home. I've found my happiness here at Duke. I can finally be free to just live MY life, free of restraints from the family, free of the family drama, free to live and be happy. All of this struck me this morning as I was walking into work and noticed how beautiful the morning was. I wanted to sit down on the ground and just stay there and never move. I used to feel horrible about not going home because I know it's killing my mom. I love her so much and I know she loves me, too, but I just can't put myself through that misery again. I've had my darkest moments back home. I've had my most disturbing thoughts back home.

That's when I realized, that a house is not a home. Just because I spent all of my life in Columbus, GA before coming to Duke, doesn't mean that it's home for me. It's not. It's where I'm from. It's where my family is. It's where I grew up. But it is not my home. Home is where the heart is (yeah, cliche I know, but so fitting here) and my heart is here at Duke. The Duke community here makes me feel so comfortable, so loved, so free. I know I won't be in this amazing Duke bubble forever and don't expect to find anything like this again, but for now, I'm going to enjoy it as much as I can. I guess that I've just learned to not let myself get caught up in the notion that I should want to go home. I've grown pass that. In my mind, I'm already home.

(PS: Sorry this is so long. I started writing and couldn't stop. I hope it wasn't too big of a waste of time for you :P)


  1. This is definitely in the top 3 posts I've ever read on the blog...and I think I've read them all. (: I feel like I learned a lot about you.

  2. AJ, I'm ecstatic to be part of your home :)

  3. Oh AJ, first of all, I love you. Second of all, you know that I would read any of your posts, no matter how long!

    I love how honest you are about your family and I truly empathize with you. I'm glad you've found your place at Duke and I'm glad I can share in it, no matter how small.

    If you truly feel bad for your mother and love her, try to see if you can get her up to Duke for a little bit. Just to see what an amazing life you live and what wonderful people you fill it with. Maybe it's not really possible (I don't know how much she knows or accepts you), but it would be a good way to see her without having to be home.

  4. awww, this was awesomely honest and so relatable. I agree with Brandy, Andrew and Swati from above! just so you know, I can completely relate about finding support and community outside of your literal home. I feel like this is so normal. Thanks so much for posting this! :D

  5. I think this post will resonate with a LOT of people AJ. I know it did with me. Thank you for sharing all of this with us!

  6. I don't know you, but you are a wonderful writer and have great things to say. Thank you for your wonderful piece.

  7. AJ, we've never met, but this was moving. Thank you for a powerful reminder of the distinction between house and home.

  8. I'm glad to hear that the Duke community has been such a welcoming place for you. I'm sorry to hear that home is stereotypically difficult. Our generation must fight and endure certain wrongs so that future generations don't have to.

  9. AJ, I can completely relate to what you're going through. Being at home all summer was uncomfortable to say the least. Can't wait to see you in the Fall!