I was about six years old. My dad, who I didn’t live with, and had never lived with, had taken me on an out-of-town trip. He was starting up the United Domestic Worker’s Union, and often left town to do organizing. I loved going with him because it took me out of the routine of being at home. I imagined traveling to far away lands, and the landscapes I got to see during the car ride devoured my imagination.
On this particular trip, we got back to San Diego later than he had anticipated. He asked me if I wanted to stay over his house, but his house was just as unfamiliar as a stranger. I was just getting to know him, his wife, and his kids.My grandmother had met the man I would come to see as my Dad when he started to organize folks, when the idea of a union was just taking shape. They immediately connected, and he began to come over our house. My grandmother became a second mother to him, and somehow my brothers and I got lucky and he became our Dad.
I asked him to please take me home, and asserted that my mom and grandmother would be there waiting for me. It was weird how I was okay to go on long trips with him, but needed the intimacy and familiarity of my home at night. When we pulled up the driveway to my home, I noticed the porch light was on, but everything else was dark – not a good sign. Though he cautioned me that no one was home, I got out of the car and went to knock on the door. I kept knocking and knocking, until he prompted me to get back in the car. But a feeling of desperation took over me – I wanted my family to be home. I wanted to be on the other side of that door. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t home, it was so late. Where could they have gone? Why didn’t they leave a note? Or maybe a key?
I sat on the porch, told my Dad I would wait for my grandmother to come home. There was an emptiness in my stomach, the kind you feel when the elevator comes to an abrupt stop after ascending too quickly. I felt like I was involuntarily ascending up a tunnel with nothing to grab on to, to anchor me. That porch was as close as I could be to home, so I would have slept there if I could have.
I had no option, but to stay at my Dad’s house, though it could have just as well been a stranger’s home. It felt farther away than all the places I had traveled to with him. All night, I felt a yearning for home that I had never felt before – I imagined that’s what it felt like when someone was lost and didn’t know their way back. In retrospect, I should have known that I would be back home with my family the next day. But in my little girl mind, I had no idea when I would see them again; growing up, life was very unpredictable, and there was nothing that could have assured me I would.
I have experienced the same feeling I had that night, many times. It comes when I have lost my way; when the unfamiliarity of life is out of my control (as if anyone of us actually has control of our lives), or when I’m feeling unwillingly vulnerable. I go back to being that six-year-old girl, sitting on the porch, wanting to be on the other side of that door.