VSB

I have been here in Hampton, Virginia, with my entire damn family for about a month. My goal here is to get my mind, body, and bank account back on track while competing for the title of America’s Next Top Mama’s Boy. My sister, nieces, the children of countless family friends and I all grew up in this house. Everyone has left and returned at least twice. For the first time in almost a decade, the whole Hardy/Avery clan is living together in our cozy, one-story peach castle.

It’s a very intimate coexistence, to say the least.

Six weeks is the longest I have spent in my hometown since moving to New York in 2006. Since then, I have lived in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Panama City, Panama. I love big cities. That rich diversity of glorious cuisine and menfolk makes all the difference. And because the key to life in Hampton is appreciating simplicity, I lovingly refer to our beloved charmingly passé suburban land of buffets and aggressive confederate mosquitoes as 1998, Virginia. A month into this extended stay, I’m enjoying myself here in yesteryear far more than I anticipated.

I get to watch my nieces have their Girlz II Women moment, which I’m thrilled about. I can’t help but feel like an absentee uncle, having been gone for so many birthdays, recitals, and Back to School Nights. Moving further and further away from home these past few years, I got used to seeing these young magnificents—who are turning 16 and 17 in just over a month—once a year at best. I have missed a lot. They have personalities, pet peeves, and résumés now. I feel like I just changed their diapers last year and these chicks are out here with Poetic Justice braids and luscious “Pleasure Principle” hair, grown as hell. I’m still asking, “Wait, they can read now?” and they’re discussing learner’s permits, college applications, and Beyoncé performances.

It’s a lot to take in.

The thought of being here when they arrive home from school daily and excitedly uncork and rave about their days, their victories and challenges? That does wonders for my soul at a time when I’m in need of every available good feeling.

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All of the anxiety I felt about living with my parents as I backstroke onto the shores of Thirtyland left when I saw my beaming-ass Dad walking towards me in the airport a few weeks back. Before I left Panama, life hit me with an eight-hit combo and suddenly, a taste of that small town slow pace and easy-to-get-stuckness sounded mighty fine to me. This move home was essential to what’s left of my sanity. So, aquí estoy, adjusting to life in 1998 with my entire damn family.

There is much work to be done, personally, professionally, and otherwise. I am moving to New York at some point in the future in an attempt to become A Thing.

However, I’m making sure I take time to just breathe, to enjoy where I am and what I have done in these 29.5 years of Blackness. I’m trying to unlearn this habit of downplaying my achievements, and relearning how to be kind to and gentle with myself. Work in progress, and all that jazz.

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In the meantime, I’m eating heartily, having a Blanche Devereaux moment and enjoying laughing, eating, and drinking with my parents, who are saints and superheroes. Whereas chores were my kryptonite as a child, I now take pleasure in cooking, cleaning, and lightening their load any way I can. Last week, I volunteered to empty out, scrub down, and organize the deep freezer. Yesterday, my mother guided me through her legendary Seasoning Strategy as I turned that chicken out, baking it to juicy perfection. Next week, I will bring order to the family museum that is our living room closet and I will love it. Just like I love hearing my parents’ enthusiastic discussions about recently arrived coupons for meal deals and BOGO bargains.

They have been patient with me while I get my mind right and ease back into life here in ‘Murica. I have finally stopped greeting people in Spanish and have grown fond of exchanging pleasantries with people in stores and gas stations, which I’ve picked up from my Dad, who speaks to everyone in the bank or gas station upon entry.

I am researching low-cost mental health resources and considering job prospects. I am easing into a gym routine. My Mom is going to teach me to sew. After decades of refusal, my grandmother has agreed to let me watch her work her magic in the kitchen. Her patties (empanadas) will someday be incorporated into my Potential Boopiece Deluxe Woo-Pitchin’ Package. This is major. I am looking for salsa lessons and slowly increasing my daily writing output. The highlight of some days is fixing grits, toast, bacon, and tea for my mother in the morning and I’m just fine with that. Life is mostly good right now.

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Compared to a month ago, I feel much better mentally. I enjoy finding joy in the mundane, like starting my day with delicious homophobic chicken biscuits and tater tots from Chick-Fil-A in the morning. Yes, this journey will be challenging, but it will be much easier, fortified by Mom’s cooking and Dad’s coolness. As much as I worried beforehand, there is nowhere else I would rather be right now than here in 1998.