I have a stack of books to read, and I was noticing a similarity in the next two. One is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It is described as being about a middle-age man who returns to his childhood home. The next in line is Thomas Wolfe’s book, You Can’t Go Home Again. And while I’m wondering about this, I’ve noticed how I’ve spent so much time on Facebook recently, connecting with friends from my past, when my home has been somewhere else than it is now… sometimes Baltimore, sometimes Florida, and occasionally places I thought I had forgotten. Places I’ve gone back to, and others from which I’ve stayed away.
So what is this place called “home?” Is it a place I used to be – where I come from? Is it where I am now? Is it a mental state that includes the memory of old friends or is it where I enjoy the comfort of my new friends? Is home a place, or is it a place in time?
When I go back as far as I can, it seems as if I’ve lived most of my childhood in black and white, because that’s what the photos look like that I used for reference points. After that I remember most of the memories involve milestones or accomplishments as I was growing up: graduations, my Army days, creating my first oil painting, college, getting married, and just recently writing my first novel.
And in between those milestones is much darkness – watching my family members age and die, one by one, until I no longer even had parents to share these important things with. I had become an orphan in my mid-fifties, making my “home” that much emptier.
There is a place I live now, and it is quite tangible, but it doesn’t always feel like home to me. It seems more like a current address on a line in a job application. Maybe this “home” thing is where I dream I’d like to be, on top of Lookout Mountain in the middle of a dense forest.
But if I could find out what home is, and finally go there, I wonder what it would look like. What people would be there? Which pets? What decade? It wouldn’t be the seventies, for sure. Too much bad hair, weird politics, and disco balls. Things got much too real in the nineties, and little has changed ever since. The fifties and sixties, apparently, only existed in black and white and a few shades of gray. That wouldn’t do at all.
I guess that leaves the eighties. That decade included graduation from college, incredible friends and great times in Atlanta, and moving to Florida where I met the woman I would spend my life with. A very good decade, indeed.
So maybe the question isn’t so much about being able to go home again, as Wolfe and Gaiman ponder it. Perhaps it’s much different than that. I think the bigger issue is figuring out what “home” really is, and then figuring out a way to take it with you. Just pack it up, feelings and memories and scents and visions, and make a conscious decision on carrying it with you for the rest of your days.
Every time you leave the house.