Going back

They say you can never go back, but we’ve gone back anyway. Two years in a row.

I sit down by the creek before the party and feel the cool mountain breeze and all that quiet and think I could live here and do this everyday, though we did and I didn’t.

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We drive past our old house before the party, even though I don’t want to. Mind you, I was the kid who used to make my grandmother drive through our old neighborhood every fall. I’d nudge her own lightly sleeping nostalgia awake and we’d drive past my old house and the empty lot next door her and my grandfather had bought for themselves before my mom got sick and died.

You can never go back, they say, but what they mean is it looks different and you have to be ready for that.

Our old house has a building permit in the window or else a crazy warning to keep out. The flower boxes are empty and the house looms a little at the top of the hill. There’s an empty fireworks shell at the end of the driveway. 

An old guy from the house next door leans on a rake at the bottom of his driveway and scowls until we smile and wave. Something loosens in his face; it might be recognition, but I can’t be sure. Our youngest talks about him all the way to the party. We moved before she was born and she doesn’t understand how you can go days without seeing anyone new and how that makes you wary.

The party is the same as last year. I only know the hosts and my family, and smile instead of making small talk. The girls and I retreat to the basement with dessert while my husband sits outside in a circle of chairs with strangers and beer. I discover that with Just Dance 4, all you have to do is move your body wildly in vague imitation of whatever the dancer on screen is doing to score high. My oldest daughter videos me and I watch and laugh and then make sure she deletes it from both folders. We wind up having a good time, even though we have Just Dance 4 and dessert at home.

We take the long way home, driving past old resorts and a part of town I remember feeling nostalgic for whenever we’d return from vacation. Like that feeling you get when you start to see buildings you recognize and your heart quickens to see your pets again and anyone else who might have missed you or even noticed you were gone. I get nostalgic for this nostalgia, though really it’s our old cat I miss, or the belief he would somehow live forever and I’d never have my heart broken by anyone I love.

We keep driving and the tension slips from my body and through the open windows of the car. The air gets hotter and buildings and cars come in thicker clusters, and I breathe easier. We pass derelict houses with ivy growing across windows and I wonder if I’m dreaming because I swear I’ve never noticed detail like that while driving. We stop for ice cream and some joker with a cone tells us on the way in that they ran out and then tries to catch a big drip with his tongue but it clings to his moustache instead.

Later at home I check online and see the guy who bought our old house foreclosed on it a couple of years ago. Our old neighbor sold their ten acre compound for a pittance, and the empty lot across the street is for sale. The listing says Own a piece of Switzerland and talks about the creek and quiet but doesn’t mention how meth head Galen drove his pickup truck into the ravine because he missed the turn for his driveway. It doesn’t say anything about the threatening phone calls we used to get when my husband ran for local office against someone in bed with the local developer.

If you win, let’s get new carpets, I proposed, eyeing up the worn rose pile on the main level that had already been there when we moved in. If you lose, let’s move, and this became our secret pact and I never wished so hard for someone I loved to lose anything.

You can go back, but everything is different. You’re different too.

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