I went home for Christmas this year. Man - the house looked like a fairy tale, like it always does - Mom had decorated the inside, and Dad went overboard on the lights outside, like always. Teensy lights twinkled on every bush and architectural detail, and dripped like icicles from the eaves, which had been sprayed white with fake snow, just in case. The tree was perfect - Mom couldn't help herself, she was like Martha Stewart, only even more creative and tasteful, if you can believe it. I stood outside for a moment, gaping at the work they'd put into it, before Dad came out to meet me in the driveway and pull me inside.
Everything smelled like apple cider and fruitcake. Rum punch sat on the counter, and my four brothers and two sisters were already gathered around, smiling and imbibing. Cheeks were pink with good cheer and booze, the talk was light and full of laughter - once again, I just stood and stared. Someone pressed a glass into my hand, and standing, I smiled automatically and said "Cheers!" to much clapping. I'd been away for much too long, I felt out of place, but I still tossed back the punch. Then I mumbled something about putting my bags away and headed for my old room. It hadn't changed much - the little room in the attic with just enough room for a twin bed and a desk. As the youngest, I was the only child who hadn't had to share, but I got the tiniest room in exchange. It was only fair. I plunked down on my bed for a minute, looking around. Not luxurious, but by my current standards, plenty nice enough. Mom had left a holiday card on the pillow - it said something seasonally appropriate, of course. Nothing was ever out of place with my parents. I tucked it back under the pillow, then after sitting a moment longer, I retrieved it and started making a paper airplane out of it. After testing it's flight characteristics a few times, I left it on the floor and went back downstairs.
Everyone cheered again when I came back down, and someone had refilled my glass. I took it again, but this time didn't drink.
"How was Africa?", my oldest brother asked, beaming.
"Um - it was great. Medical Teams International did a great job of placing us wherever there was the most need. I really enjoyed it."
Mom and Dad nodded in approval, and Dad held out his glass in commendation of my work. "We're so proud of you, honey!", Mom piped in, wiping a tear from her eye. Dad put his arm around her waist, blinking his own tears away as he smiled even wider.
I looked around again, smelling the food, hearing the CD of classic Christmas tunes wafting from the living room. Seeing the smiles, the tidiness, the lack of humanity everywhere. The faces looking at me, waiting for me to re-prescribe those meds that kept them from going off the deep end....Africa had been a relief to me.
Tom Wolfe was wrong - you CAN go home again. But you shouldn't.