The visiting hours and funeral mass were terribly hard. It was like sailing directly into a storm, knowing how turbulent and terrifying the waters would be. Much crying. Much reminiscing and talking. My cousins have all grown up (of course they did, they are all around my age). It was good to see them and their families, and I definitely wish I had more personal history with them over the years.
I love going home to Rochester. Miami, Florida, where I unquestionably spent formative years, will never ever be home to me. I lived there, yes, but HOME is where I am from, and that is in upstate New York. Even though it has been years since I lived in or near there, it still feels like home. My mom grew up there, and while we had some free time this week, we drove around the area where she lived and went to school and had her first jobs. It was fantastic.
I thought about what it would be like to move back there, with my family now, where the snowfall is measured in feet during the winter, and spring doesn't come til April or May. I thought about what it would have been like to live there all my life, and not have spent the last nine years of my childhood in Miami. Granted, I had opportunities there that I likely would not have had in NY, but the trade-off was that I lost so many things that matter so much NOW.
Both of my parents grew up in Rochester, so both sides of my extended family are there, mostly. Of my mom's immediate family, my uncle John and aunt Pam had four children: Ron, Craig, Brian and Kim. Mom's sister had three children: Anita Jean, John, and Steven. They lived in Pennsylvania, but came often to NY. On my dad's side, his sister had a son, Frank, and his brother had two girls, Emily and Megan. So in total, that is ten first cousins in my family, seven of whom lived in Rochester. They range in age from 26 to 46, and I have memories of all of them as kids and teens.
As a 41 year old adult, I feel incredibly cheated out of being able to grow up with my first cousins. I realized recently that I am angry we had to move to Florida. I was angry as a nine year old going away from home and friends and family to live in pretty much a foreign country, and while over the last 30 years, it really hasn't mattered that much, I realize now that I am supremely angry. I don't understand, and I never will, why in the world my dad had to decide that living in Florida, so freaking far away, was so much better than being surrounded by family.
As an adult, I get the lack of money and opportunity. I understand about taxes, and politics and seeking new horizons. But I feel shattered by the loss of all that time with people who are close branches on my family tree, people I loved as a child and who I got along with and hoped to grow up with. I know, I could have done more myself to keep up with all of them, to stay close, to go back and visit. But we really rarely ever went back to Rochester, not unless someone died or got married or whatever. We never went there to vacation, or to visit people. I can count on one hand the number of times we were in Rochester during the period of 1979 through my high school graduation in 1988 -- four. A funeral, a wedding, a stay at my grandma's one summer, and a trip to check out colleges in the spring of 1988.
THAT, I will never understand. Why we never went home to visit.
There are things that I know: that my dad hated the snow, that he vacationed in Florida as a child and loved it, that he was a bank teller in my early life and I guess that path wasn't leading where he thought it would go quickly enough. My mom was a recently-graduated registered nurse. I don't know how she felt about the snow, or Florida, or even if she had ever been there before that spring in 1979 when my parents left my brother and I at my grandparents' house in Binghamton for a week while they went down to Miami to find a house for us.
I hated the house when I saw the Polaroids my parents brought back. No stairs. Concrete block. It had a pool, and that was exotic and interesting, but I am not sure if it was enough. I remember getting down there and hating how ridiculously hot it was. My eyes burned. We had to sleep on inflatable pool floats for a while because the moving van did not arrive as it was supposed to with our furniture. I cried for my friends, who were all going to the gifted program in fourth grade. My fourth-grade teacher at my new school was scary as hell, and the classes were huge and the hallways were all outside and it was HOT as the surface of the damned sun. I was harassed by the Cuban immigrant kids who were brought to our school for whatever reason (education? To learn English?) following the Mariel Boatlift in 1980. My nine-year-old rage was probably expressed more as silence.
Eventually, I adjusted. I attended a well-respected dance studio, got into the gifted program, made some friends and life went on. When time for college came, I absolutely knew that I had to go back home. And so I did, applying to SUNY-Brockport and SUNY-Geneseo, and ultimately choosing my beloved Geneseo.
By then though, everyone had moved on -- to college, to other lives and other places. Picking up the threads of childhood relationships wasn't possible, and my 18 year old self had plenty of living and experiencing and hopefully studying to do, too. Now that I am 41, though, I see just how important it is to me to have those connections in my family, as I see my cousins close to their siblings and to each other. I wish I could have been a part of that. I wish I could have had that for myself and for my family -- the history and the depth of family relations that exists, but that I am now peripherally a part of.
Am I really, truly angry at my parents? No. Not really. They were young and they made choices they probably felt were the right ones. It can't be undone, and wishing for it to be different is unproductive. I have built a terrific life here in Virginia, specifically in Richmond, with my husband and three children, and pulling up stakes for my ridiculous nostalgia and longing would be stupid and potentially damaging. As my kids are getting older, though, I find myself looking for reasons to go back and show them where I come from. Had I not had to go back this month for the funeral, I think a Spring Break trip would have been terrific. Maybe this summer. Or next year, since we have a Disney odyssey planned for this fall.
But I want to go back. Part of me wishes I'd never left.