In the middle of the cool Oregon night, I stepped into my Aunt Pam's house. Gaby and I quietly carried our exhausted little ones past the grandfather clock by the front door and up the winding staircase to the cluster of bedrooms on the second floor. My older sister and her children slept within one room, my younger sister in another. We had planned to each travel from our homes and meet here, in Portland, on this particular day, in this yellow-painted four-story home. And we had all made it.
Gaby and I collapsed into the bed of the master bedroom, or what had once been the master when I lived in this house twenty some years ago. I looked around at the walls, so familiar, yet almost from a dream. The slightly woody, slightly savory scent in the air was one I knew instinctually from my childhood, a mix of the old house's walls and of freshly cooked food. I made my way downstairs to fix a bottle for Biet, who, even as thoroughly exhausted as she was from the flight, still refused to go to sleep without her customary almond milk. As I made my way downstairs in the dark, I realized that my feet knew each step and each curve in the wall. Yet my mind was surprised at how small the staircase was. These stairs I used to chase my sisters up as a four year old, and slide down as a five year old, were, in my memories, a castle-like cascade of steps. But now they were just another set of stairs, albeit a set of stairs upon which many a great woman had walked.
When the babes had drifted into their dreams, Gaby and I lied upon the big bed and whispered. With the windows cracked, you could hear and smell the Oregon breeze drifting in, tainted with notes of trees and flowers and the faintest smell of the ocean. An odd feeling, of calm and excitement at the same time, began to creep up from my stomach, and yet I could not place it. Over the next week we would be here with family, away from the city, away from the noise, away from the internet, in a place of love and warmth and history.
After my mother passed, but before we were swept away into the unsteady world of foster care, this is where my sisters and I lived. My mother's sister Pam opened her heart to us in the most unreserved way, and we became part of her family. Here, we healed. Here, we bonded. Here, we shed the layers of turmoil and became children again, for a little while. Here, I learned to believe in magic again. And I learned to cook. And garden. And, through example, to mother. And now I had finally made my way back, with both of my sisters, as was meant to be. And I had made it back as a mother. Full circle.
Over the next few days in Portland with my aunt & uncle & sisters & cousins & nephews & husband & children, we lovingly made family memories for the next generation, for our children, to keep. And I slowly learned what that feeling in my belly was. It was a feeling I had not felt since I stepped off the plane upon moving to New York City. It was the feeling of coming home.