Being There

This past week made me realize that, besides being a perennial shopping derby, Christmas is a mad rush for place. Being home on the 25th is all-important, and getting home is a process that I never fully appreciated because I live in the place where I was born and grew up; for me, going home never meant anything more than a 30-minute drive across town. No freeways necessary.

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My siblings did the same thing, and I long took for granted that on the holidays we'd all be present and accounted for when we gathered at my parents' house in Inglewood. Even the fact that one brother moved to North Carolina several years ago didn't disturb that expectation: each year, he came. It was never a question. I felt sorry for all those folks who had to scramble to make plans every year to go somewhere. The Aubrys already had a plan that never needed updating. I also couldn't help but feel a bit demographically superior to all those travelers- my home happened to be the destination of choice for anybody wanting to escape the rest of the country, especially in winter. Coming here wasn't a family obligation, it was a vacation. It was an escape.

That changed this year. A couple of weeks ago, my brother in Charlotte admitted that he wasn't coming home for Christmas. Money was tight, he said. He added that he didn't like flying, and he didn't like the crowds at airports. He'd visit us later, like January. I was shocked. I know my brother had good reasons, but I couldn't believe that L.A. had suddenly lost its gravitational pull for him, even in an economic crisis. To pass on coming home felt like he was passing on Podunk, Iowa, or any other place whose sole charm was that people were born there and they returned occasionally on a pilgrimage. L.A. was a mecca unto itself, a north star year-round. If he said no to it, what else would he say no to?

I held out hope that my brother would change his mind at the last minute - L.A. can work that kind of magic. He didn't. But there wound up being a kind of counter-story. My brother's girlfriend, an L.A. native like us, had flown here from North Carolina in the middle of the month to visit a sick relative. She came on a special pass that required her to fly standby for the trip back to Charlotte. No big deal, she thought. But as Christmas approached, it got harder and harder to get out of town; by the 23rd, she was afraid she wouldn't make it back in time. She worried about my brother being entirely alone for the holiday. I assured her things would turn out alright.

I was right. Teri made it out at 2 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and landed in Charlotte at 6 on Christmas morning. When I talked to her on the phone, she sounded exhausted but happy. It had taken her more than 12 hours and several stops in towns she couldn't recount at the moment, but it had worked out. She was home.

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