Hathaway Brown School
Instructor: Erin Dockery
Wrapped in the Branches of Home
Wrapped in the Branches of Home
I stepped off the train, blinking in the afternoon sun, and was home for the first time in years. Of course, I had visited for holidays and weekends, but this time it was different. I was back for real this time, or at least until things were better. I left home six years ago and finally felt free from my old life. I got caught up in my busy world miles away from my old town, and I realized I missed being back at my real home, the place where it all started.
The fresh air of the lake swirled in the breeze and I took a deep breath, releasing a weight I didn't realize I was carrying. I wandered down the pier, not wanting to get home too soon because that meant facing reality. I walked past the ice cream stand, the ferry stop, and the old lighthouse, and with each, I remembered my old life. One time my friend and I walked three miles from our block to the ice cream shop even though we had no money, just because we were bored, taking the long way through the park so I could finish the story I was telling him. I remembered the hours and hours I spent on the pier with dad, learning how to tie knots and haul the boats ashore. That night when I waited and waited, and when he finally returned the stars were already twinkling to life across the sky. My heart pounding when he carried me up the creaky lighthouse stairs, showing me the best way to spot the constellations, reassuring me that I wouldn't fall and that he would always protect me.
Except for one day, he never did come home. I remember it like it was yesterday, but it feels like a dream. He went out to deliver the mail that afternoon like he always did, picking up a few friends for company. He took them down the shore to the little pub they went to every Thursday because it was $1 burger day and the old man that worked there loved their company. That old man later told us that Dad had left at dusk, right when the sky began to darken and the streetlights came on, blurred by the foggy rain. He always noticed those little details, and I realized he was similar to my dad in that way. No one knows what happened after that, but the lake that Dad loved so much proved to be disloyal, and the sky we stared into together took him away from me forever.
It was never the same at home after he died. That's why I ran so far once I had the chance. I couldn't bear to look at the lake every day and think my dad was out there, couldn't imagine staring at the white brick of our house every day, knowing that he would never be back to retouch the paint or clear the gutters, clogged with leaves from the old oak out front. My sister ran from home too, off to Boston to make her own life. My brother was still in high school, and I hadn't heard from him much since I left. We were always close as kids, but all of us were busy with our own things and I have been caught up in my own little world, pushing away everything that reminded me of home.
I was jolted back to reality as I reached the end of the pier, and I dragged myself down the street, turning the last corner to the bus stop. I still remembered the bus schedule all these years later and had five minutes till the evening bus arrived. I wondered what I would even say when I got home, stepping inside the house I grew up in, in the town I used to love but learned to resent. The bus pulled up, and I was lost in my thoughts as we made our way through the town, crawling to a stop at the end of my childhood block. That night was all a blur, I went inside and said hello to everyone, dinner was served and we talked and shared stories late into the night. Curled up in the big armchair in the corner, I was wrapped in the comforting embrace of the house and the warmth of the family I hadn't seen in ages, settling back into a life I used to know.
The sun beaming through the slats of the shades woke me up in the morning, and I was reminded of the feeling you get on a snow day as a kid, a feeling I hadn't known for a long time. The stairs creaked under someone's quiet steps, and I remembered how much there was to do. Mom asked me to keep track of the family mail station while I was here, and I had to go collect and deliver the mail. I was glad for the chance to go out on the lake; I had always loved floating out there with Dad and meeting all the friends he ran into on his deliveries. On the way to the pier, I stopped for some hot tea at the local cafe, wishing I could stay and soak up the morning sun or wander through the town, but I had to get to work.
The post office on the water was a second home to me; I spent so much time there with Dad and his coworkers, sorting and sending the mail where it needed to go. The office was right in the center of town, so there was always a quiet bustle of people passing through, dropping things off, or just stopping to say hello. My favorite part of helping with the mail was going out on the delivery boat, and I remember the first time I got to go with Dad like it was yesterday. I had begged and begged to go with him on one of his morning deliveries, before the sun came up and when the lake was quiet. He finally let me come one late summer day, and I made sure to remember everything he taught me, everything I could possibly help with. He taught me how to rig up the boat, tie all the knots, read the delivery labels, and all the little parts of his job he loved so much. I thought all those memories were lost when I left, but it all came back to me that morning I was home. Turns out I held all that knowledge next to my memories of him, woven in with my love for my home.
It was like riding a bike, once you do it once, you always remember how to drive the boat. We could have upgraded from our old barge, but Dad always loved how easy the little boat was to navigate. I climbed on the barge for the first time in 6 years and stumbled when a wave rocked it against the pier, but quickly regained my footing. My legs remembered the soft rocking of the waves and I easily stepped to the front of the boat, sinking into the familiarity of being on the lake. The morning sun was just climbing above the trees in the distance, and staring out at my old town, I was home.
I sank into the worn chair my dad sat in every day and took a deep breath for the first time in forever, and I realized that all this time away from home brought me farther and farther from who I wanted to be. I ran because I couldn't stay there, trapped in a place that reminded me of better times, and I thought leaving my home would leave those memories behind. I ran so far from the place I used to call home, the path of escape led me right back to where I started, home to figure out who I was and who I wanted to become. Finally, I had the chance to reclaim the town I used to call home, explore where I used to live, and remember who I used to be. I gazed out the front of the boat, and woven in the branches of the trees, the rail of the old lighthouse, and the gentle rock of the waves, I caught a glimpse of my heart and soul, dancing in the sun.