In the 1940’s, Thomas Wolf wrote a book called You Can’t Go Home Again, in which protagonist George Webber quips, You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.
Since that time, the phrase has proved profound enough that it has worked itself into the American lexicon. And though I myself have returned to the place of my birth a scant several times in the forty plus years I’ve remained in absentia, I have purposely avoided it.
My excuse is that this location lies in a metropolitan area, and I possess a sensitive rural soul, one that threatens to bail from my body when entering the conditions of chaos cities invariably thrive upon. And yet. Something draws me thither, as if somehow I could return to gather fragments of that lost girl and transport them, faerie-like, back to my forest dwelling; stitching them together and reattaching them to my physical template with sticky invisible threads. Then somehow I could breathe that long, jagged sigh, fathomless as the ocean’s depths and as broad – while the psychic dust settles me into a renewed sense of wholeness.
Fantasy: I return, ambling alone through the gentrified older part of downtown, popping in here and there, smelling and sensing textures and aromas wafting from the many stylish boutiques. Complimenting restored buildings that used to house the retailers of my youth, I fasten upon architectural flairs missed while young. Energy generated by pedestrians fills me with kinship for humanity. Strolling aimlessly, I tuck into an Indian café for hot chai, then surprisingly find myself on the east side of town, having walked the full ten miles I once accomplished with ease. Popping into a bistro to enjoy a hearty meal, I phone a cab to return me back where I began. Then driving along the wide boulevards, I recall a time when Japanese gardeners punctuated landscapes of the wealthy, transforming lawns and trees into lovely zen-like gardens. Stopping at a now famous art museum, my vision is catapulted by colors and textures skillfully manipulated by the artists’ hands.
Reality: I enter the city from the west end, trying to find a parking garage in the crush of madness that is Old Town. Women my age cover grey with dyed blond that is pickup stick-straight, echoing shapeless hips and too much plastic surgery. I feel as though I’ve entered an alien world. Once I exit the garage, I’m aware that parking will cost me at least twenty dollars for a couple of hours, so I’d better scuttle along. Boys skateboard through carport puddles, cigarettes hanging from mouths tender as unbroken horses. I am jostled and swept past like a ghost, snatching glimpses of storefronts now bearing identical names to those in Any downtown, Anywhere. The old structures of my youth remain, but tacky awnings in primary colors yank them out of time and into a cookie-cutter present. I’m so depressed and deflated, I return to my car, panicked that I might not discover a stretch of grass or trees where I can sit and recharge. And where on earth is the bathroom?
And if you ever want to know what song runs through my head as I ponder this post, it’s Can’t Go Home, by Brewer & Shipley. Unfortunately, copyright infringement prevents me from linking you to this lovely ballad via You Tube. Sorry ’bout that 😦