Sara stepped onto the front porch and could hear them even before she opened the door. Her father's booming laugh. Her brother's football game. Her sisters placing forks and spoons and knives beside the plates and bowls on the table.
She turned the handle on the door of her childhood home and stepped softly inside, her shoulders rising up and her head tilting down, as if it something might fall.
As if it might fall on her.
She removed her jacket and shoes, placed them neatly beside the others, then walked gingerly toward her family. The game and the laughing and the clinking of the silverware got louder and she could smell the cranberry sauce and see the loose bun at the nape of her mother's neck, beautiful and strong and capable.
Not like Sara.
She stood quietly watching them then, knowing that they didn't see her and being at once sorry and relieved by that, by their not seeing. It was the same as when she was a teenager and this all started, her family like a well practiced dance team, each one knowing all of the parts and performing them perfectly. Only Sara never knew. She never knew her part and she never knew if she was really a dancer either.
Then suddenly her father turns and he sees her and everything stops. The laughter and the game and the clinking silverware and even her mother's bun. Even her mother's bun seems to stop.
"Sare-bear," her dad whispers. "Sare."
"Hi daddy," she says to him and they both step forward and then she is in his arms and he is holding onto her so tightly that his love is leaking right through him and into Sara and she feels it so strongly and she remembers. She remembers that this love was always there for her. It was always there. It was never that they didn't love her.
It was that she could not receive it. She just could not receive it.
When Sara pulls her face from her dad's chest she sees her mother standing there, feels the soft hand on her back, and remembers.
"You are not welcome in this house again Sara Lynn, until those beautiful arms I gave you are not full of fresh marks. Do you understand me? This is it. You cannot come here until you come as you are, as you were made. Not with a head and a heart full of venom."
Sara lets go of her dad and turns to her mom. It is cold outside, but Sara's sleeves are short and she lets the insides of her arms spin toward her mother and her mother looks, but only for a beat of Sara's heart. Then she meets Sara's eyes, her mother does. She looks right into Sara and she knows. She knows that not only are her arms clean, but so is everything else. It is her daughter before her, flawed and scared and maybe still needing, but raw too. It is her daughter as she was made.
"I hope it's OK that I'm back Mom," Sara whispers.
"Oh Sara," her mother says. "You were never gone."