The Girl in the Woman Suit

I’m 22 years old, but I’m 12. I’m 5’4″ and shop at J. Crew, but I’m 4’8″ and the only clothes that fit me are sold at Abercrombie Kids. I cry when I read that ISIS has beheaded another hostage, but I laugh at Adventure Time. Somewhere along the way I grew up, and I’m not sure how.

For the last spring break of my academic career, I went to visit my mom’s parents in St. Louis. I used to drive the two hours (but really the hour-and-a-half because I took the highways at 85) there from Mizzou on weekends when I needed a refuge. I’d spent summers at their house since I was three, and the piney, sweet smell of their walls meant I was safe and happy and there would be a dark chocolate Hershey’s Kiss waiting for me on my pillow. I used their creaky old home as a refuge; spending time there was like floating in an impenetrable bubble 10 feet off the ground. Nothing could touch me.

In a mad dash toward that feeling, I took a plane from Laguardia to Lambert and was relieved to find my grandparents waiting, open-armed and unchanged. The same fragrance filled their old house, the same bed was mine, and the same chocolate awaited me just where I knew I’d find it. Familiarity breeds content, and I’ve never been one for surprises.

I had almost five days there to hide from my commitments in New York. My mom drove up from Texas and was there to greet me too. She took me underwear shopping. Then it was my birthday, and I could have anything I wanted. We went to the restaurant that had been my favorite when I was six, and I ordered the same spaghetti and meatballs I’d ordered every visit since my first, except the recipe for the marinara sauce was different.

Then, disaster: It was going to snow in New York Friday, and my flight that afternoon was canceled. I panicked and called Southwest. Was there any other flight to Laguardia that day? No, but there was one Thursday night. Tonight. In an effort to eek more time out of my last day in St. Louis, I had already packed.

Time was ripped away from me as my mother and I sped in her sequoia–the car I’d crashed at 16 just after I got my licensee and have to heave myself into to this day because we never replaced the running boards–to the airport. The end of the end of breaks had arrived too soon.

Before you’re released into the real world, you have a concrete concept of home. It’s where your parents are, where your bed is still made in the sheets you chose, and your walls are still painted poinsettia red. It’s where your mom lives, and your books, and your aging cat, the one you picked out at age seven and named after a character in a “Boxcar Children” book. But then you’re 22 and home isn’t that anymore. It’s of your own making. It’s the place to which you return, exhausted, after work every evening. It’s where you’ve stored extra food in the freezer just in case, and where your own cat waits, meowing to be fed.

It’s not the cushy respite of your parent’s house, where you’re loved and welcomed and where you can take a break for a bit from the crushing world. It’s where you pay the bills, because this is adulthood or bust.

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The Girl in the Woman Suit

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