Yesterday, I stepped out the door of my childhood home for the final time. I moved there in early 1978 (I distinctly recall thinking at the time how long ago that was), and apart from a 14 month sojourn in London, stayed there through the early 1990s, apart from when I was away at college. I’ve lived many other places, but that house, or home if you want to be all Oprah about it, was the chief setting of my little life: a central and abiding fact of my existence.
And now, to be factual and melodramatic at once, I will never return. Which isn’t all bad, by any stretch. As Arthur Miller wrote, “Life is a casting off.” I had spent the last few years back in an apartment on my parents’ property – because I’m exactly that cool – and it had long since been time for me to move on. Besides, as people in their 70s living in the suburbs of New York, my parents are required under penalty of the law to move to Florida. So the writing was on the wall that the movers nicked a few times getting my couch out.
But as I walked through my old home’s rooms after they’d been freshly hollowed out, and every step or sound was thrown back in shrill echoes, I once again found myself a victim of my crippling nostalgia.
I mean, let’s face it: not every memory there is a happy one. That’s hardly surprising for a relationship that lasted nearly half a century. But I know that my children, and I think my father, and perhaps even myself, always had a vague ghostly notion that the property would stay in the family somehow. Life had other plans, like always (life can be a dick that way). But the fact remains, regardless of what happens in my remaining time above ground, I will have spent the bulk of my life in the emotional and pragmatic orbit of that home.
My children still live nearby (for now, when they aren’t in school), and I won’t be too far away, either, so I’ll have ample chance to drive by. But I don’t see that happening. I have a sentimental weakness for having a sentimental weakness, so that trip would puncture too big a hole in my balloon-thin facade of stoicism. Perhaps I’m more affected by this than I think I should be (even more than I’m letting on, which, considering this whole post is centered around how much this is affecting me, is probably quite a bit) because in my formative years, the corporate ladder my father climbed had rungs in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York once again, London, and then New York for good. All of them ascended before I turned 12. It’s probably why I’ve lacked the geographic restlessness so many of my friends have had.
It’s been an interesting few days. Scrambling to move is often a bit of an emotional and logistical trial, and this one really leaned into that aspect. On the plus side, I did set a new sea-level record for putting down a roll of packing tape only to be unable to find it 10 seconds later. Watching my parents leave the house for their final time, my mother without so much as a look back (my mother’s photo, accompanied by her statement, “I’m not a sentimental person” is now the Oxford English Dictionary’s official definition for the word “Understatement”), my father worrying over practical details as ever, I was struck by how unlike their attitudes mine is. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Maybe I’m just a bit of a wuss; it’s quite possibly both. Definitely the second one plays some role.
Either way, to quote my second playwright of this post (Kushner, Tony), “The world only spins forward.” And while I have some quibbles with that cosmic plan, God isn’t returning my texts these days. So, while my two dogs and I wait out my nearby move into our new home (hard to tell which of the three of us feels most unsettled), at an Air B and B 15 miles to the east of my family’s no-longer home, I am using my time in isolation to improve at something I have no gift for: looking ahead without resisting the urge to rent a boat and row against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. That was a pretty good line I just wrote, no? Don’t Google it. Anyway, it’s out of copyright.
For once, my actual environs match my inner ones: dislocation. It’s probably good for me. Perhaps it builds character, which is something stupid people say when they’re trying, but not really trying especially hard, to pretend an objectively awful thing isn’t objectively awful.
So, if the moment calls for a little wallowing, I’ll probably indulge in a wallow or two. This certainly counts as one. But it’s always good to know that ultimately you can carry things with you and still move forward. Or, I as I wrote in a song I composed this morning, “You and I have memories/Longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” Good, no? Don’t Google it.