"Home is a place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in"
--
Robert Frost



My mother had this line from Frost's "The Death of the Hired Man" written in calligraphy and framed to hang on the wall in our living room. She placed it right next to the family photos and school pictures above my father's rocking chair. I don't remember exactly when it first appeared there-- sometime after my brother graduated and moved out of the house, when I was six or seven. However, I do remember when I first understood what it really meant.

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The day after I graduated from high school, I packed a duffel bag full of clothes and walked out the front door of my parents' rural house. I was eighteen and I was tired. I was tired of the farm, tired of my parents' rules, tired of being bored to tears in a small town. I had the trunk of my Chevrolet Cavalier loaded down with objects I had collected over the years spent in this home, as well as necessities-- a blanket, a pillow, more clothes, and a cooler with some sandwiches and sodas.

In the months previous, while I had been planning my escape, my parents had been just as I always remembered them. My father was a man of few words. The only times I heard his voice involved being punished or hard words of his own life's lessons. My mother, though well-intentioned, was a constant stream of general nit-picking and nagging. I, of course, having been raised by an overprotective mother and a silent father, was full of rebellion, angst, and wander-lust. I was frequently coming home late-- later and later and my senior year progressed. I never adapted to my mother's complaints about my attitude, hygiene, and schoolwork and felt that I had the right to talk back to her as a reward for putting up with her for eighteen years.

However, I was not immune to my father's stern gaze or the anger that grew inside with every punishment that he gave me to correct my deviant and defiant behavior in an effort to install discipline and respect in me.

They loved me, as any parent loves their child. They loved me in spite of my attitude, just as I loved them in spite of all the flaws I saw in them. They loved me, but that does not imply that we got along or that they were the best parents in the world. They were strict and unaffectionate. So when I saw my chance to leave after graduation, I readily took it, knowing I would not be the first child they lost to the world. My older brother had moved out and married soon after high school. My sister ran off to follow a band on tour. My parents hated the idea of us all leaving the way we did, but we all found their roof impossible to live under for our own reasons.

The last few weeks were terrible. My mother felt that it was her duty to make me stay. My father simply told me that I was not yet a man and only grown adults amount to good things in the real world. I laughed them off, ignoring their rules and their attempts to make me change my mind and stay.

Who were they to tell me that I wasn't doing the best thing? It's not like they made the best life for themselves. And my siblings had left home at my age, and they've turned out okay, although I'm sure they endured the same arguments over leaving as I had. And besides, it's not like my parents hadn't made the same choice. The day my mother turned eighteen, they ran across the state border to get hitched. At least I wasn't tying myself down and forfeiting my youth by starting a family. I was going to experience things-- people, the city, the world, life. So who were they to judge what was right and what was wrong for me?

All of the tension building up my entire senior year between my parents and I, as well as my own anticipation and desire to leave town, culminated on graduation day. While most of my classmates were out to supper with their families after getting their diplomas, I was staring at the pictures on the wall behind my father's chair. As most of my peers were shaking hands and being congratulated, I was shaking my fists and being chastised.

Finally, I had had enough of the argument and yelled at my mother.

"Shut the fuck up already!"

And then everything was in slow motion as I saw the heartbreak in my mother's eyes, and my fathers palm closing in on the side of my face. As the sting on my cheek registered as pain, my mind raced and the dull thud of a father's flesh against the flesh of his son echoed in my ears.

That moment struck me harder that my father's hands ever had. There was no doubt then, I was leaving the next day--for good.

And so I tossed my duffel bag in my back seat and pulled out of the driveway. My father stood on the porch, shouting about the mistake I was making. My mother stood by my father's side, for once silent, in awe.

I never thought I would look back.

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The day after Allison kicked me out, I found myself lost in my own mind, trying to figure out where I went wrong.

Seven long years in the city, three of them spent with her, and suddenly, it just didn't make sense anymore.

I had a good job as assistant manager at the record shop down on Ninth Street. I had a group of friends that took care of me and provided me a chance to laugh, drink, and play pool anytime I wanted. I had had a wonderful girlfriend about whom I had been contemplating making my wife. I had shared an accommodating apartment with her, but now I was being made to pack all my belongings and move out. I had seen London and taken a train ride across the American country side, coast to coast, just to see what it all looked like. I had done everything I had wanted to do, I had fulfilled all my dreams. I had no regrets, not even over losing the girl.

But still, something was amiss. Something gave me an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach and I could never figure out what it was. I stood in the apartment, nearly bare since all of my belongings were in boxes, looking around, knowing that I would never stand here again.

I noticed that hanging above the television set was a picture frame with colorful words artfully scribed on a white piece of paper.

It was a gift from my mother, sent through the mail, on the Christmas before the last. When the package arrived, I attempted to simply throw it away, but Allison rescued it from the garbage and opened it to find the framed quote inside. She thought the writing was beautiful, and the quote so elegantly crafted by such a brilliant poet. And so she pounded a nail into the wall, between a Nirvana poster and a Led Zeppelin poster, and hung my mother's gift upon the wall.

I thought for a moment about the day my mother's gift had arrived. It had been the only time Allison and I ever spoke of my parents. It was the only time I told her of the circumstances I left under, why I hadn't spoken to them in years, and why I never planned on going back.

And now, I was leaving again. She would be home in an hour, and I was to have my things packed and be gone by the time she got there. The apartment was hers and now I was no longer welcome. I had lived there for three years and then in the blink of an eye, I no longer had the girl or the home I had shared with her.

I read the words in the frame out loud to myself as I turned out the lights in the apartment.

"Home is a place....where....they....have to take me in."

And then suddenly, I found myself on the highway, driving into the dark of night. The trunk of my black Jetta was loaded up and my back seat was full of boxes. And riding shotgun was a framed line of a Robert Frost poem that told me it was finally okay to go home again.

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It had been seven years since I had stepped on this property. It had been seven years since my parents heard my voice or saw my face. The moment I turned off the engine, my father stepped out on to the porch. He was holding a little girl, who looked confused as to why her grandfather had interrupted story time to meet this stranger in the driveway.

I could tell that time had changed us both. Time gave me the chance to have the youth I wanted to have and time took his youth. He was old, gray, worn, and tired. His silence was exchanged for a warm hearted smile and laughter that he shared with his grandchildren. The grandkids were the product of my sister and her wanna-be hippie husband. He sat the girl down on the porch swing as my mother emerged from the house. The sun hit her eyes relentlessly as she tried to block the light with her hand. Her salt-and-pepper hair shone in the glistening rays of sun. She stood by my father's side and stared in awe.

I approached the porch and I noticed them reviewing me. I had grown a slight stubble from spending two days on the road without a chance to shave or shower. My hair was short, not even a shadow of the shaggy chin-length locks that formerly consumed my head. The bridge of my nose was crooked, different from how they remembered, after a brawl at a nightclub a few years ago. Most striking, however, was the look in my eyes and the body language that came to me when I finally became a man.

The child on the swing jumped up and raced across the yard to catch up to her older brother who had gone to the tree-house near the field fence upon my arrival.

I stepped on to the porch, my body tingling, mind racing, and my eyes locked into a stare with my father that paralled that stare down that we had the day I had left home. The difference now was that I was no longer angry at this man, and hoped he was no longer angry at me.

And as suddenly as every other event in my life had happened, I found myself being embraced by my father, our arms wrapping around each others bodies, and feeling rushing through my body that I had never known before.

"I'm sorry, Dad."

"Welcome home, son."

"Welcome home," my mother repeated. The shrill, annoying voice that had driven me crazy for years had changed into a soft, soothing voice of a woman broken and built again.

The boy that left their house seven years ago had changed. He had seen the world, he had experienced what he thought was life. He had loved, and consequently, had his heart broken. But he survived and he had learned. And he was yet to make a tragic mistake that he had been warned about and told that he would make. After all of that, the boy had grown into a man. Now the man was coming home to rebuild the relationships and the life that the boy had left so long ago.

Robert Frost said they had to take me in, they had to let me come home. But the pounding from my father's chest beating against my chest as we hugged said that they didn't have to take me in. They simply wanted to.

I was welcomed home.

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