Homecoming. It is a concept that has been calling to me for years now, through changing seasons, through movement in the spiritual corners of my being, through eyes that are ever opening, through the voices of the mothers who have come before me. What does it mean when a woman comes home to herself? What power does she wield? Where does she exhale? What space can she fill with the ease of her being? These are the questions I have been asking myself and in turn, have been asking the women who have agreed to be part of my Homecoming Project.
I met Allison on a dock in Berkley, CA. The air and water were uncomfortably cold. The sun was quickly setting and she wasted no time stripping down and plunging into the dark water. Her words and images tell her story of coming home to herself.
"When I was 8 years old, I failed Beginning Swim at the YMCA three times before my mom decided I could quit. I remember shivering in the back of our station wagon, my eyes red from chlorine and crying—humiliated at the thought of taking the class again. I could tread water till the end of time, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not master the timing of freestyle, or any of the strokes. The graceful windmill of arms, kicks, and side breaths eluded me, turning into a limb-flailing, water-choking mess every time. My mom looked at me—like she knew exactly what I was made of—and said, “Allison, you’re a very strong girl. You’re not going to drown. Are you? I told her, with confidence, that I wouldn’t. I never took another lesson.
Since then, more trouble and heartache has found me than I ever thought possible. I lost a lifelong love to a freak accident. I lost a pregnancy late in the second trimester. I lost my faith—a devastating process. It took all that loss to face the reality that this is all there is. Eyelids flutter open and shut, tiny hearts beat, and then they don’t. No intention or prayer or bargaining brings them back. There is no heaven, no eternal life. Just this very fleeting and fragile one.
Swimming in open water feels like the closest thing I have to believing in a higher power again. When I jump in the ocean, I can’t feel anything. My mind goes blank. The shock of the water erases everything I have ever felt, or could feel again. It wipes the slate clean. The weight of the last 42 years—the years I wish I could forget, the ones I’m shouldering right now, that I’m not sure I’m strong enough to lift anymore—vanishes. I think only about how happy I am to be alive.
Some days, when the waters are rough, I don’t want to come back in to shore. I stay out, surrounded by the waves, until I am dangerously cold. The only warm place I can still feel is deep in my chest. I ask myself the old question, “You’re not going to drown, are you?” With confidence, I tell myself I’m strong enough to make it. I surrender to the current and let it take me in."