Home for the Break by Amanda Smiley

The familiar smell of oak wood and leather swallows you as you lug your suitcase through the garage door and into the living room. Up the mini flight of stairs, Mom’s slightly bent figure hunches over her cutting board of vegetables, and the fluorescent lights of the kitchen flicker. You can smell searing peppers on the stovetop.

“Hello!” Mom’s voice rings, and you can’t help but smile at the way she starts to come towards you with open arms. Your massive beast of a dog barrels through the hallway to make her appearance.

“How was your flight?” Your senses are slowly absorbing the scene you left just four months ago. You know life went on in this house after you’d gone away to college, but for some reason, you wanted to believe life had just remained frozen still here until the day you returned. You wanted to be the one to push “pause” and “play.”

“It was fine. Didn’t have much trouble,” you say with a sigh. Kenai, your dog, is panting at your feet. Mom smells like she always does – lavender lotion and clean laundry. Dad’s already resumed his spot on the living room couch, having picked you up from the airport and gotten you home you home just in time for the football game on ESPN.

You take a seat on the kitchen bar stool, exhausted. What had you done all day except sit on an airplane and sit in the car? You guess the feeling of home just makes you relaxed, like you’re sinking, oozing deeper into a bean bag chair, and you can’t climb out.

“So tell me about your day. Do you have a lot of homework over break?” Mom’s questions echo through your ears as you watch her resume her cooking. The smell of the coconut rice on the stove and the marinating chicken on the counter spark a sudden ache in your stomach. You realize you’re really hungry.

“What’s for dinner?” you inquire, at this point not really caring if that’s a rude thing to ask. Kenai trots around the perimeter, sniffing for forgotten scraps of food on the floor.

“That rice and chicken dish I make a lot,” says Mom. You wish you made that back at school in your shoebox of a kitchen. You’re pretty good about staying healthy at school and avoiding the dangerous temptations of college life pizzas and Canes’ fried chicken and late night ice creams runs. But you don’t make Mom’s chicken and rice recipe at school. No, you make mediocre veggie burgers warmed on the stove and partially browned avocado toast and maybe, maybe a salad with bland quinoa – you know, the easy stuff.

And for the first time in so many months, you don’t have to make or worry about your dinner. Your own personal chef is standing right in front of you, chopping vegetables with a smile on her face, inquiring about your day because she actually wants to know, and even asking you if you want a glass of wine while you wait. You’ve suddenly been thrown back into this world where everything is done for you, or everything does itself, and you’re not Mrs. Independent anymore. You’re Ms. Dependent.

You’d recognize those footsteps anywhere. The heel hits the stair first with a thud, and then comes the flap of the toe. It sounds like a two-beat heart is coming quickly down the stairs.

Brooke hugs you from behind. You turn around to see a face that looks a lot like yours – blue eyes, blonde hair, wide grin.

“Hey Brookie. How are you?” You hug her tightly. Your little sister has been ruling the house for the last two years since your brother left for college, and then you remember the word you had nearly forgotten.

Sharing. Now you’ll share a bathroom sink with your siblings. You’ll share a shower; you’ll share a hallway of doors and a house of voices; and you’ll share the very clothes on your back.

Actually, your sister will borrow the shirt hanging in your closet and the shoes you like to wear. When Trent, your brother, comes home, he’ll borrow your shower towel when he forgets to grab his. Brooke will borrow your hairbrush, your makeup, the bag of pretzels and box of La Croix you buy from the store. Yes, you’ll have to share again, and “sibling sharing” is far from easy.

Sibling sharing is not like splitting the cost of printer ink with your roommates at school. It’s not like sharing a laundry machine and having to remind Annie to take her clothes out of the dryer. It’s not at all like sharing a living room with a roommate who kindly asks you, “Is it okay if I turn on the TV?”

Sibling-sharing sounds like “Brooke, hurry up! I wanna use the bathroom!” and looking over at your sister wearing your shirt as she says, “Is it okay if I wear this?” and sharing your breakfast with your brother because yes, he is running late again, and he forgot to eat his own.

But nothing is like sharing a car. At school, your car is your car. You drive it to work, to doctors appointments, to the grocery store. Your little blue Toyota Corolla waits for you at home every day like an obedient pet. “I’m here when you need me,” it says.

And then you come home to a house full of happy parents and delicious smelling meals and a real pet to wait to greet you at the door, and you don’t have your car. You have the kids’ car – the one that three young adult children with young adult lives need to share. You want to hang out with your friends tonight? Ask your siblings if they’re using the car. You want to drive to the gym? Ask your siblings if they can drop you off. You want anything to do with the feeling of having control, the powerful rush you get when you’re in the driver’s seat and an open road in front of you with the windows down and “Something ‘Bout You” by Sir Roosevelt blasting through your speakers? Ask your siblings.

And although staying at home feels so sweet in a kitchen of good food and a bed of freshly made sheets, you can’t help but feel your independence slip away. It’s as if you’re spiraling back in time to your high school self when you sat in your purple-painted bedroom and read William Faulkner’s words over and over, when hanging out with your friends meant having a sleepover at someone’s house and watching scary movies, and when you had a designated parking spot in your high school parking lot. It’s as if you’re suddenly reliving everything of your adolescent self and you’re forgetting what the last few years of college have taught you: how to adult.

At school, you cook your own meals. You do your own grocery shopping. You do your own laundry. You don’t receive texts from mom that say “text me when you’re there” as you head to a party, to a job interview. At school, you don’t come home to a wiggling Malamute dog or the sound of ESPN on the TV.

You’ve learned to live for you, to live like an “adult” as they say. But slowly you realize that you may not be as much of an adult as you think you are. When Mom asks, “You got any laundry? I’m starting a load,” you begin to say yes, but then you hesitate. You do your own laundry now so that no one can mess it up. “No thanks,” you say. “I’ll do it.”

And as the warm hugs and steaming meals and lazy days of break blend with laughs you share with your siblings or the peace you find with your dog sitting on your bed, you remember that eventually you must go back to school. After just a few days at home, you must go back to Adult Land where you re-marry independence with a vow of necessity. Mrs. Independent.

You give your Mom and Dad one last hug as you roll your suitcase towards the airport gliding doors. Mom’s crying a little, like she usually does. Dad gives you a sincere wave and a smile. “Have a good flight,” they say.

A sense of agitation tingles your skin. The nostalgia of home fades as your make your way through security, through the airport terminal. You remember the first time you flew by yourself – you were scared, afraid you’d not be able to read the signs all of a sudden or that you wouldn’t be able to find your flight.

You know what you’re doing this time, though. You’ve done it a hundred times. As you take your seat on the plane next to a stranger, you take one last glimpse of the familiar out the plane’s window. The stagnant air you breathe feels foreign. You don’t know the people around you.

Once again, you’re on your own.

Your phone buzzes. It’s from your mom.

“Text me when you land. Love you.”