You Can’t Go Home Again

It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you. — F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am home.

Every morning my eyes open to a different dark than the one I left behind. The dawn light in this room is weaker, grayer, because my bedroom window faces the west instead of the east. I moved my life 250 miles in one direction, and when my alarm goes off my view on the world is pointing back the other way.

I face the storms now. Glorious storms of green and black and round purple, rolling over my river town, pulling up moisture from the two arteries of this country, the Missouri and the Mississippi. The droplets coalesce into stacked thunderheads that boil and swell like angry giants before they roar out sheets of furious rain. Creeks flood in a flash of minutes. Rivers, in days. Living in the dry heat of eastern Kansas for seventeen long years, I had completely forgotten what immense power a summer thunderstorm, fattened on river humidity, holds over the world below.

Despite its unfamiliarity, its raw newness, this place is not new. It’s old to me, as old as my memory. This is where I came up, where I learned to be a girl, a woman, a wife. My high school is 30 miles from my house. The woods where I played, that I betrayed, that I vowed I would never belong to again, are  accessible now. They are only as far away now as a quick decision to take a drive.

The memories consume me.

One part of me, the part of me that drives this body-animal, goes about her transplanted life. Makes appointments. Pulls up that pizza place on a map. Plans outings. Fights unfamiliar traffic patterns to sit in an unfamiliar cubicle around unfamiliar people in a fugue of culture shock as painful as if I’d moved to Beijing. I don’t know the language here. The norms confuse me. I want to constantly scream, Look at me! I am one of you. I belong here. Don’t you recognize my sameness?

But I am not the same. I have been Away for too long. Over There clings to me like a whiff of dogshit. There is something about me, the way I hold my head or how I arrange my sentences, that makes integration, re-integration, impossible. Until they decide to accept me, I am The Outsider.

This is fine. I remember, you see. I remember how the highway used to look before the fancy exits and wider lanes. How we used to turn left to go to that grungy movie theater, instead of right now because that new strip mall sits in the old flow of traffic. I remember flower fields where there are houses, their boxy whiteness, like rows of teeth, chewing the graceful hillside into looping terraces of cul de sacs and lawn.

I live in those memories. I crawl inside them and lose time. I look around me and see a transparent overlay of The World That Was covering reality. I am 44, I am 16, I am 26, I am 10. I am here, yes, but I am not quite here – there, but not quite there. I have left pieces of the person I used to be scattered like seeds all over this place, and those seeds grew into strange trees, unrecognizable in species and form. I think about my uncles, my grandparents, of being a child in their lap, and of the vague cloudiness of their eyes when they’d start a story with, “Remember when … “

I am them, now. I am the Rememberer.

The cliché is: You can’t go home again.

I say: You can go home again, but not as the same You.

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