I think sometimes about the life I could have had, if I had done what my parents wanted and moved back to New Jersey after college. I would have gotten my own apartment, a job, a car inherited from another family member. I would have commuted to New York on the train, or driven to an office building in a suburban town. I would have dated a nice man who liked my family, and I would have been liked by his. I would have seen my parents every week, my aunts and uncle, my cousins. This would have been annoying sometimes and comforting at other times. Around the holidays, we would have cut down trees together, at the same Christmas tree farm we have visited since I was eight, and then we would have spent the day decorating it and listening to Christmas music and baking cookies. This is the life I was supposed to have in my parents’ dreams. It is a good life; I can see that.
I never would have known what it is like to live truly on my own. I never would have known what it is like to live with a guy, or decide not to live with him anymore. I never would have found out what it is like to go past all my parents’ rules and boundaries and realize they still love me on the other side. I never would have spent two months straight playing a computer game because there was no one to pull me away from it. I never would have reached the point where I deleted the game myself because I wanted my life back. I never would have returned home and found out I had left for all the right reasons the first time. I never would have chosen where I wanted to live without other people’s obligations weighing on me. I never would have moved across the country with four suitcases and a laptop computer. I never would have learned that I Can Survive. I never would have had space and time to figure out who I really am, without anyone else’s expectations clouding the picture. I never would have walked along the Sunset Strip and realized I hate it. I never would have learned to drive as well as I have. I never would have found my tai chi instructor, or my writing teacher. I never would have known some of my best friends. It would not have been my life.
So when I’m sitting here in my apartment, listening to Christmas music and feeling sad that I don’t have a tree and lights and my family nearby, I can recognize this feeling for what it is — nostalgia — and then go out and buy a tree and call my friends and have dinner with them. I can visit my parents in New Jersey and realize that a visit is exactly what it should be, that I am free, and that I love them even more because of it.