It’s a cliché. It’s a meme. It’s been repeated a hundred billion times by three hundred billion people.
“You can’t go home again”
I’ve read Thomas Wolfe’s book by the same name. It was a long time ago. I may be wrong (correct me if I am), but I do not recall Wolfe ever saying exactly why that fact is true. I’m sure it was part of the subtext, but it got by me when I was nineteen.
I’m writing a book (a short memoir) of my childhood memories of our family home in Owego, NY. Perhaps that’s why this question is on my mind these days. Or, maybe it’s because I’m looking hard into the eyes of my 68th birthday.
Nearly everyone I know has this same feeling. There are a few people I know that continue to live in the house where they grew up. For them, there may not be the sea-change like those that do leave.
They wait for a turn on the swing set. They dress for a prom. They turn around and they are telling their children where the peanut butter jar is located. They go into the kitchen to get a cup of tea or a beer and they return to find six grandchildren.
And on it goes.
I’ve lived through my own “you can’t go home again” moment, but I’m at a loss to explain the small details.
Exactly when did that moment occur when I realized it was not my home anymore…just my parents house where I could spend the weekend?
When did that moment enter my mind?
How long do you have to be away before the comfort and magic of home become only a room to find a bed among storage boxes?
Is it a month? Six months? A tour of duty? A year at college? Getting married and buying a home of your own?
When did you cross that line?
I realize I’m speaking only to those who have (or had) a home in the first place. I’ve never been homeless in America or lived in a shanty-town, like so many of people of the Third World.
I can’t speak to that. I had loving parents and siblings. I had a fireplace to warm myself in a drafty house. I had stairs to climb, in tears when I knew I would not be able to fall asleep. Those stairs were there when I was carried in the arms of my father when I fell asleep…exhausted from the heat of play in the heat of summer, or worn out by rolling a giant snowman in January.
Often I feel cursed by the fact that I live so deeply in the past. Memories keep me awake at night.
I worry about whether someone I haven’t seen in fifty years, still thinks good thoughts about me.
In the end, I still don’t comprehend when the moment comes when the home fires go out, and the living room where I fell asleep on the floor (and my mother covers me with a blanket), is now empty.
The laughter has stopped, the crying had ended and the arguments are over.
The bedroom I slept in while I struggled through my teenage years is empty now and waiting for someone else.
If a child gets to use that room…someday in the distant future…they will move away and then come back to visit.
Then they too will know that you can’t come home again.
[The bedroom where I studied and slept when I was a teenager]