It was while sitting in Beth’s office during a hastily made counseling appointment, Charlotte first acknowledged what was missing in her life. In the middle of trying to describe the habitual ache that periodically took up residence in her heart, Charlotte tearfully divulged, “I don’t know what’s bothering me. It’s almost as if I’m homesick for a place I don’t know, and it’s not as a Christian longs for Heaven. I’m not that good a person.” As the last words left her lips, Charlotte felt relieved and sucker punched all at once. Being homesick made sense, but it wasn’t the stuff of quick fixes. She felt cheated out of a home, and she wondered if she had passed the same rootlessness on to her children. She speculated her homesickness began when she and her husband moved to Macon 14 years earlier. Ironically, Charlotte had lived in Macon longer than she had lived anywhere, but she never referred to it as home. Since her husband’s startling departure, Charlotte had considered her life to be in transition, and was poised to move whenever the opportunity presented itself. So far, no plausible escape had manifested. Beth, Charlotte’s counselor, for 13 and a half years had been assisting Charlotte, at first with emotional triage and later with periodic wound care.
During their hour session, Beth listened as Charlotte tried to wrap her mind around the idea of being figuratively homeless. Usually during their meetings, Charlotte worked her way around to finding enough humor to buoy herself while she navigated the thoughts threatening to weigh her down. Try as she might, Charlotte couldn’t shake the overwhelming melancholia, and for the first time, she left Beth’s office feeling worse than when she arrived. Getting ready to back her car out of her parking space, she mumbled, “Time to go home, but where?” Hearing the words resulted in several minutes of heaving sobs and good nose blows. Thankfully she had the parking lot to herself.
After a good cry, Charlotte drove the 20 minutes to her house wondering what her definition of home was. Like most of her ideals, her vision of home was steeped in literary references and black and white movies. It was a strange mix of It’s a Wonderful Life meets Jane Eyre. No wonder Charlotte was conflicted! She also had grown up in a loving home being prepped to leave and in turn, establish her own home. For a while that is what she had done. The move to Macon had led her family to a beautiful house built in 1888 situated on an oak lined brick paved street. The house was perfect for decorating and hosting friends and family. She had had one Christmas of magnolia leave swags on the porch and stair rail under her belt before her diaspora began. Neither George Bailey nor Mr. Rochester had abandoned their homes for the allure of toned women and lost youth. Had they, Charlotte might have been prepared for the next stage of her life.
By the time her husband was walking out of their beautifully appointed home in her mind, Charlotte had pulled into the driveway of her 1940’s bungalow and her heart sank all over again. Her “new” affordable house had become an albatross. She had fantasies of it being struck by lightning or blown away in a tornado, but no such luck. She was pretty sure her neighbors harbored the same fantasies. Turning the key in the front door, Charlotte resolved to be more positive.
The rest of her week hadn’t held any answers for Charlotte, and by the end of school on Friday, all she wanted to do was cocoon herself in her room and wait for the funk to lift. Sitting in her office, she heard her principal and friend, Karen, call for her to come to the front office. Karen asked Charlotte to sit.
Sarah, another of Charlotte’s friends smiled and said, “We thought you needed to know what’s getting ready to happen.” Charlotte must have looked ill because she quickly added, “It’s nothing bad. I promise.”
Karen proceeded to tell Charlotte how her husband, Ben passed her house every day and couldn’t bear how overgrown the yard was. He knew Charlotte couldn’t afford to do much with it and wasn’t able to do it on her own, so he had assembled a crew of her coworkers and their husbands to descend on her yard in the morning. “And you were supposed to be in Atlanta at your brother’s, but Sarah just told me you weren’t going anymore.”
“We knew you’d want a head’s up. There will be a lot of people in your yard at 8:00 ready to work.” Sarah said.
Both touched and embarrassed, Charlotte was unable to speak at first. When she found her voice she managed, “Thank you. I’m overwhelmed by your kindness. There’s no way I can repay y’all.”
Both Karen and Sarah told her not to worry about repayment. They assured Charlotte everyone wanted to help her. Charlotte panicked, realizing if she were home, she’d have to face her friends as they took on her unruly yard. She knew she’d be a blubbering, apologetic mess. It also dawned on her; they’d be waiting on her front porch as she struggled to open her front door that had swollen in the Georgia humidity, making it a chore for her arthritic hands to open in the morning. She didn’t want to seem more pathetic than she must already and run the risk of becoming a cautionary tale. That’s why she asked,” Would it be okay if I’m not there? I don’t mind the work, but I don’t think I’m evolved enough to swallow my pride as you see just how bad things are.”
“Of course it would be okay. We had been planning on surprising you, and we understand completely.” Charlotte wasn’t sure if it was Sarah or Karen who had answered, but she was relieved. She gave them both a hug and left school feeling more hopeful than she had in quite some time.
The next morning Charlotte woke up very early and shoveled the dog poop from her yard, disposed of it, then hurriedly grabbed her camera and drove off before the sun rose. She spent the next several hours exploring the Georgia countryside and thanking God for the love that was being shown her. When Sarah texted the “all clear, “Charlotte was on her way back to Macon. Pulling into her driveway, she could hardly believe the transformation that had taken place. Her house no longer looked like Boo Radley’s house from To Kill a Mockingbird. Charlotte hopped out of her car and took a picture. She wished she had taken one before leaving that morning for comparison, but perhaps it was for the best that there wasn’t any photographic evidence.
It wasn’t until a week later during Father’s homily at an all school mass that she was made aware of the price her friends had paid. Without naming Charlotte, Father told the student body, “We must be prepared to enter the chaos of another’s life. Just this week some of your teachers braved poison ivy to enter into the chaos of a friend’s life as they cleaned up her yard.” Charlotte was humbled by her chaos and shocked to know she had poison ivy growing in her yard. She wondered if she should rub up against some in solidarity.
It dawned on Charlotte she might be homesick, but she was surrounded by friends who cared enough to sit with her until she made it home. They had entered into her chaos without question, and were still talking to her and not in the hushed tones of pity. Not only had they given her the gift of their labor, but they had also given her the opportunity to accept help. They hadn’t seen her as weak or fragile, but as someone who couldn’t manage doing it all on her own.
Charlotte had become stuck. Her pride had tethered her to a life she didn’t want. Perhaps by accepting the help of those who cared for her, she’d begun her journey home. Love would lead her there. In a way, she’d had her own George Bailey moment, so her definition of home might not be too off base after all.