I returned to the place where I grew up. Everyone I knew has left in search of fairer weather. All that’s left are the faces and the names in faded grade school yearbooks. My past has become a jumbled collection of distant, and often faded memories that feel as if they belonged to someone else in another lifetime.
All the memories seem to center around my parents house; the good times, and the bad. I remember looking at the house, and my mom falling in love with the property and saying to the sellers that it was perfect. I remember the time when we were moving in and the house was empty. While movers were bringing in boxes, I decided it would be a good idea to ride my bicycle through the house. Riding my bicycle inside my parents house was fun, but it certainly wasn’t a good idea. Later that day with both of my parents exhausted, and with boxes throughout the house, I substituted the bicycle for a pair of roller skates, which proved to be a slightly better option.
I remember the good times, and the bad. The walls of my childhood home seemed to echo everything from the lies my father told me, to my teachers hating me and my unnecessary struggles at school. I still remember walking home in third grade after being given a 0 for not understanding a homework assignment, and feeling as if my entire world was coming to an end. It wasn’t that I misunderstood the assignment, I simply wasn’t being challenged enough.
I remember the day I joined the fire department across the street from my house, and the time when the house next door caught fire. I was 18 at the time and was still in high school. Just short of my 21st birthday, it was in my bedroom where I lost my virginity to a friend of mine, while coincidentally, both of our families were on vacation.
This place raised me, and yet one by one, everyone I knew started to leave. It began with my best friend who got himself into drugs and drinking, and ended up in rehab. He went into the army, and I remember him calling me shortly after he finished basic training to tell me that it was either shooting guns or heroin, and that the option he chose would pay for college. It wasn’t long until he returned and we started spending a lot of time together, only for him to return to rehab a short time later. He called me one afternoon from the hospital to tell me that he was sorry, and once he finished rehab for the second time, he simply took off in his car and never returned.
Whenever return to visit my mom, I like to go upstairs to my old bedroom to see that the green paint that covers the wooden trim against the white plaster walls, and in the basement, my name is still written on the wall. I have always had an inexplicable need to make my presence known through adding my name to walls, ever since I was a little kid.
It began at the age of eight, when I wrote my name on the wall in our apartment in New York City, and that same year, when we moved, I wrote my name in the basement of our new house. When I purchased my first house, I wrote my name on the wall of the garage. And even at summer camp, my name is scrawled on the wall of the cabin where I spent the last two summers as a camper.
Home is not a place where one lives, but instead a place where they belong. I once felt as if I belonged at summer camp, though there was always a lingering feeling that one day, I too would have to leave everything behind.
When Amelia and I walked into our home in Vermont, I asked her to write her name below mine on the wall. Somehow, I knew she was the one for me, even though we had known each other less than a year at that point. I never wanted to be someones runner-up, and because Amelia and I don’t keep secrets from one another, I eventually confessed to her that I am absolutely thrilled to call her my wife.
This year, I started writing a list of the places I would never return to, which included my old summer camp, the first house I ever owned, and pretty soon now, the place I called my home town. Compiling a list of places one might never see again is depressing, though it’s inevitably a part of life.
There are threads that bind us together, and we are shaped by moments. And yet, I’ve always been the observer, standing slightly apart, hesitant to jump into the contrived and oftentimes artificial fray of social gatherings and celebrations. My high school reunions passed me by like leaves on the wind, as did the fire department staff parties and reunions at my former places of employment. Now, as the golden hues of summer beckon, I made the conscious choice to finally let my summer camp reunions follow the same path.
To many, this may seem a retreat into solitude, a surrender to loneliness. But, in my heart, I know it’s an embrace of self-reflection and inner peace. It’s not that I believe they wouldn’t value my presence. Rather, it’s the understanding that, sometimes, we find the most profound connections when we look within, and learn to dance to the rhythm of our own souls.
These memories, like soft whispers of a forgotten lullaby, will always reside in the far reaches of my mind. For in the stillness of night and the glow of dawn, they will be my constant, my touchstones, painting my world with colors that once were. This time I won’t keep in touch; it’s too late to call me back, as I’ve disappeared down a one-way track.
August 16, 2023