Yes, But Why Can’t You Go Home Again?

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.

MyChildhoodBedroom

 [The bedroom where I studied and slept when I was a teenager]

Waiting For All Hallow’s Eve: III: “The Hunchback of 420 Front Street”

“Helen, take the kids inside and lock the door.  He’s back.”

“Who is this guy, Stan, haven’t we seen him around the neighborhood before?”

“Helen, do as I say.  He may be dangerous.  After all, he goes to St. Pat’s School.”

“Remember, lock the door,” Stan shouted over his shoulder as his wife and daughter, Sissy and son, Stanley, Jr. were safely inside.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Stan said, as he cautiously approached the boy in the yard.

“I’m your neighbor, Mr. Harrington.  I…”

“But you’re dressed for Halloween, boy, and that’s six months away.”

“I know.  You see, I’m fascinated with the movie “Hunchback of Notre Dame.”  I’ve seen all the versions.  The Lon Chaney silent one was good, but I lost it over Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo.  When the mob storms the Cathedral after he saves Esmeralda and everyone thinks he’s kidnapped her, he pours molten lead on their heads from the bell tower.  The lead poured out of the mouths of the gargoyles.  Wasn’t that great?  And then when Esmeralda is taken away by the hero, he sits on the parapet, next to one of the gargoyles and says: “Why am I not made of stone like these statues?  I cry every time I see it.  I can feel his pain…his loneliness…his feelings of rejection because of the deformity he was born with…was no fault of his own.”

“Yeah, I guess I’ve seen one of the movies.  I think it was the Anthony Quinn one,” said Stan, his tension easing slightly.  “But what are you doing dressed like that?”

“Well, my brothers were playing Wiffle Ball in our backyard and I climbed out on the back porch roof and pretended I was Quasimodo.  I have an overactive imagination…sometimes.  But, instead of scaring anyone, they laughed at me.  Our neighbor, Mr. Sparks was getting into his car and he saw me on the roof.  He told my father later that he laughed so hard he wet his pants.  I mean the guy is about 52 years old.”

“So, then what happened?”

“My brothers talked me into coming down to the back yard.  My older brother, Denny, wanted to take a picture.  At first I refused but he said he would give me the picture.  He never did.  My other brother, Dan, got a copy of the picture.  He won’t give it back.  He keeps threatening me with it.  He says he’ll pass it around St. Pat’s school if I don’t give him all the Mars bars he wants for the next six months…and then he said he wanted half my Halloween candy, too.”

~~~

So, that’s the true story of how this picture was taken.  I have been terrified for decades about anyone seeing it.  My brother held it over my head.  I lived in a state of panic.  What would my girlfriend say?  She already thinks I’m weird enough.  Now she’ll think I really insane.

Well, all the Self-Help and Life Advice books will tell you to face your fears.  Confront them.  [If you want to get over a fear of flying, you have to take a flight].

So, after being hidden away for longer than I can say… this is the picture that I wanted no one to see.

I wonder.  Does that mean that my brother doesn’t really care about me anymore?  No one cares what I do with the picture.  If no one cares to humiliate me anymore…does that mean no one cares?

MeAsQuasimodo

So, go ahead.  Look at it.  Gaze on it.  Make fun of it.  Tease me. Mock me…maybe then I’ll know you really care.