Thomas Wolfe’s famous 1940 novel argues that You Can’t Go Home Again. But I found some great reasons to go home again!
Reason One: Back to weather that your body remembers.
I was born in a small coal-mining town near Pittsburgh, but I have lived through thirty-four summers of the surreal heat of Phoenix. Last week, driving around in an afternoon temp of 118, I was afraid my ear wax was starting to melt and trickle out of my ear like liquefied butter. (Actually, I think it was just sweat, but the ear wax theory did give me pause!) Pittsburgh summers can be hot and humid, but during my visit there last week, it was unseasonably cool and often rainy…not the dramatic, sometimes-frighteningly intense Phoenix monsoon rain, but light, lovely rain with comfortingly low, rumbling thunder going on for hours. In the middle of crossing a street, I lowered my umbrella and raised my face to the sky and yelled with delight, “It is FUCKING RAINING!” Women huddled under their umbrellas looked at me a bit fearfully, and my friend Marnie called out to them in reassurance, “ She’s fine! She’s just been living in a different place.”
Reason Two: Back to memories you grew up with.
For many years, the department store Kaufmann’s sprawled a few city blocks in downtown Pittsburgh. At one corner, high up on the building, stood “the Kaufmann’s Clock” –a large, opalescent moon with old-fashioned numbers. When I was a little girl, I remember my very fashionable mother shopping there, me timidly tagging after her, and then meeting my father “Under the Clock.” If it was December, my mother and I admired the beautiful animated Christmas displays in the huge windows before meeting Daddy Under the Clock. In the basement of the store was an eatery “The Tic-Toc Room.” When I shared a grilled cheese sandwich with my mother there, my mom being in an elevated mood after some good purchases, I felt less intimidated by her than usual and more hopeful that someday I would be a pretty lady like her. Kaufmann’s was where I got my first summer job, and I always chose to enter by merging with the throngs through the door Under the Clock than any of the other, closer entrances. Well, in my visit last week, as my friend Anna drove us on a midnight tour of the city, I discovered that Macy’s had bought Kaufmann’s, and Macy’s name was scrolled over the store’s many awnings. But when I saw that Macy’s had kept the ancient Kaufmann’s clock, glowing against the night, I couldn’t help but clap my hands together like a little kid…which for a moment I was.
Reason Three: Back to re-unite with old friends. Best reason of all!
I don’t even know why I had lost touch with four dear friends from Pittsburgh. I had no family left in Pittsburgh, so perhaps that was part of the gap. Was it also because I was lazy, or because I was a frantic young mom, or just because I was self-absorbed with my new life in Phoenix? Did my friends fall out of contact with me because I had accidentally stirred up some hurt feelings? I don’t know why, I don’t need to know why, and I don’t even want to know why. I only know I wanted it to be different. Social psychologists note that a healthy part of aging well is a “life review,” a re-visiting and an acceptance on a deep level of the good and the challenging parts of life and all the gifts you have received from your mixed experiences. It seems to me, too, that women need sustenance from present and past relationships even more than men. Edging into my sixties, I knew I desperately wanted contact with the women of Pittsburgh who had been so important to me in my young adult years. One of these women now lives in CA, and one in Amsterdam. Three of my friends and I were able to plan a rendez-vous in Pittsburgh this summer. And so I got to indulge myself again in their wonderful humor, insight, wildness, gentleness, authenticity, and generousity. For reasons I can’t even articulate, being back in close contact with them has made me feel less afraid of the future and more whole.
And One Reason Not to: Little bumps into the past.
Marnie has been happily married to Mark for about five years; Mark happens to be an old acquaintance from my Carnegie Mellon days. Mark was always likable and handsome, but we were never a couple. At a dinner in a lovely Pittsburgh restaurant, we all met again together. Lindsay, my friend from Amsterdam, had had an intense but harmless crush on Mark since college days, which I would never would have shared with Mark, but Lindsay – with her characteristic combination of naivite, hilarity, and embarrassment—did bring it up to him. Mark’s beautiful, confident wife Marnie was not upset at all by my friend’s revelation, and laughed with Lindsay and Mark as they shared memories. Then Mark remarked casually,” You know, Debra and I once made out together—“ I was so shocked that I suddenly spit out the water I was drinking. I froze. Lindsay offered helpfully, ““Well, maybe you were just drunk? ” I shook my head no. I had honestly repressed what was—maybe — a five second kiss, a decade before I was to meet my husband and decades before Mark was to meet Marnie, but an event which I had never mentioned to Marnie. Had I done wrong not to disclose it? I forced my gaze up to meet her eyes, and she smiled, and I could see she was not fazed in the least. But I still couldn’t talk. Anna, eyes locked with mine in empathy, pushed a glass of wine towards me and gently advised: “Take a big gulp.” I did. And, within ten minutes, secure that none of my friends was upset with me, I was fine.
So, despite a few possibly unforeseen consequences, I most heartily believe that we CAN go home again! Sometimes, if we are lucky, we can repair relationships. And, regardless, we can always send love to all the people who impacted our lives. For all of us, I wish Happy Homecomings!