In just sixteen days, I will fly from San Francisco to Albuquerque and then on to Boston to reunite with dear college friends and see two of them get married, though not to each other. One wedding in the southwest, and one in Vermont. The red, dry deserts and the towering thunderhead strewn skies of the southwest hold their own sweet sentiment and draw for my soul. My thoughts are drifting toward the green hills and winding roads of western New England, and that is an entirely different field of memory and emotion.
I will also revisit my seaside hometown for the first time since 2008, and say goodbye to my childhood home, possibly for the last time as it belongs to my family. This is the house in which I was born and spent the better (sometimes worst) part of my first 19 years. My parents are finally, after nearly 13 years of back and forth and many proclamations of “eventually” and “some day,” putting the house on the market with the hopes of a quick sale. This time for real, to sell most likely to some unknown strangers, so far as I know. A little piece of me would be delighted if someone with whom I had some acquaintance came to know and love that house. And it would remain the quirky treasure that it is, interpreted and transformed and loved in a completely new way. A little part of me wishes I could do that for it myself. My father has painted much of the downstairs walls white, and looking at photos he had taken to show me the “progress” a while back, I couldn’t help but think it was like a fresh canvas just waiting to be etched upon and splashed with new color. Perhaps he kindly and thoughtfully intended it that way. For a while, my sister had talked about buying it from them. But for now, it seems she, like me, is to be a Californian, and at least on her part, that may not change for a fairly long time, things being as they are.
Although there are many formative memories in that house, and especially the yard, I know that time has all but passed. The neighborhood looks less untamed than it did when I was small, though part of that has to do with age and time and getting just a bit taller. Zooming out. The fields behind my house have been shaved and neatly groomed, built up with slick, modern, and sometimes unfriendly mansions, imposing and seemingly empty in stature and construction. The wild, scraggly, vine-encased woods, in which my sister and our friends played as children, tapped maple trees for sap, sledded and cross country skied in the winter time, and discovered artifacts and antique glass from an old turn of the century barn’s ruin, have mostly been wiped clean as well, making room for yet more housing complexes – perhaps simply an extension of the one that abuts my back yard. Developments, as they are called there.
I am more excited than wistful or sad about all of it, the returning at least, although it probably doesn’t entirely seem that way. Times have changed, and I don’t have a strong desire to spend more than tentative moments in my hometown, most of the time. It reminds me more recently of less than enjoyable or proud moments in my life, regrettably, even though I have so many fond memories there too. Maybe it mostly reminds me of a person I hope I no longer am, as well as a person I still wish I could be, and I cannot erase the former nor inhabit the latter. The idea of being seen or recognized or even simply recognizing people I’d rather not encounter there causes a shallow wave of anxiety to wash over me.
How ridiculous, that I should still feel touched by recollected judgments, near expired in their age, and the values of people whose lives resemble and signify generally nothing I want. Yet some how, I let myself become either full of fear or full of righteous indignation. I feel momentarily despairing at the idea of going back and re-experiencing rejection, or even unfriendliness, from people known or unknown. If they are people I know, at least it would seem somehow familiar. If unknown, things would just feel cold and sad and forever altered.
Although the valley in which I live can truly be stifling and claustrophobia-inducing in that the community is so small and closely interwoven, I cannot go through town here without seeing a friendly smile or a familiar face, and having a heartfelt conversation with someone. There is something about that kind of interaction which brings vitality to the day. Frustrations over certain clashes of values and occasional malaise aside, there are so many wonderful, kind-hearted people here, and I’m just realizing now that part of me is actually afraid to leave this soft, gentle bubble to go back home where attitudes and accents can be equally abrasive. Living in the mountain west and on the west coast has somehow managed to soften some of my sharper edges, to lower some of my ingrained defenses, and I like that.
I’m looking forward to forging ahead, kicking off the summer by embracing dear old and oldish friends, and looking upon familiar landscapes and buildings with perhaps a new perspective. It will be a series of time warps, I’m sure. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my twin size childhood bed, the thought of which simply fills me with a full sense of utter relaxation. This time around, I am going back alone. The obligations of job and five furry “children” keep the boyfriend back home in Mendocino. This time, I think I like it better that way, although if he could come I’d be equally delighted at the opportunity. I might also feel like I had an ally and someone to help remind me of the other side of things. I suppose that sounds like a selfish reason to bring someone you love. It has been so long since I’ve been back, I am looking forward to re-experiencing it as only me in it, as it was when I first left, and not to see it through another person’s eyes quite or through the experience I’m hoping for them and perhaps grooming them to have.