There are two kinds of people: those that move away and those that don't. And of those who do, there are those who stay close, satellite their hometowns and sometimes their mom does their laundry, and then there are those that put half a country between their branches and their roots.
Almost every time I've moved, I was fleeing from something rather than to something, seeking geographical cures. And if I'm going to run, I'm going to run far and fast and stop when I hit an ocean. There are no geographical cures, of course, and despite moving, my marriage fell apart. So I looked back home for comfort.
There's something about a place or time that contains a lot of your firsts. DeKalb, Illinois (population: some) is the place I first drove a car, the place I lost my virginity, first fell in love, first got punched, first drank in the morning, first cried at sunup, first bought a record, first wrote a song, first saw a funeral and first wrote a poem. It's also a dying ember, tragically close to Chicago. That was great when it came to field trips to the Shedd Aquarium but it meant a steady trickle of my friends and loved ones moving to the city (the type that orbit their old bedrooms and high schools).
While the bathtub slowly drained, I banged the drum and tried to keep the band together. But eventually, I too left for greener pastures and by the time I returned, there was so little left. Just a few of the type who doesn't leave and the remains of my family tree, wood rot and all. Growing up, most of my family also left for greener pastures, leaving me to be raised by my mother. Our relationship remains complicated and sort of poisonous and here I was, going back to her at my weakest.
She was weak, too. She had me, a tiny bastard, at seventeen years young. She didn't know what she was doing for the first thirty-four years of my life. And at the time of my divorce, she had recently been hospitalized for heart and lung problems. They opened her ribs like a cabinet and she had a 85% chance to make it. That sounds like a lot but I've rolled enough ones, twos and threes in Dungeons and Dragons to know that it's not. She made it and briefly, we were closer than we'd been in years. When she was in the hospital, she saw Spider-Man on the buildings across the street.
“Look Gary! Spider-Man!”
So, anyway, I visited home about a year after death combed her hair and went out one night with my few remaining friends and I came back home to find her drunk. It took seventeen different medications to keep her alive and she added one more. She passed out and I got scared and called an ambulance. The paramedic demanded to know which medications she was taking and I threw my hands up like I was in a stage play and while they carried her out she woke up and gave me a look of pure hatred, the likes of which I have never seen before or since.
At the hospital, she dressed me down, a torrent of abuse. She accused me of doing this to punish her, of being stupid and cruel, of moving away to kill her. This went on for hours. The doctor wouldn't release her until they had done the necessary tests and she demanded I get her out of there. Eventually, the doctor handed me a clipboard and, I'm not kidding, it said, “Possible consequences of early release: Death.” And, puzzlebox heart, I signed it.
The next morning she cried and claimed amnesia, she said, “Let's just forget this ever happened” and I said, “I will never forget this.”
This obviously bummed me out pretty good, not just because of the damage it did to my relationship with my only remaining family but also because it seemed to calcify that old cliché that you can't go home again. DeKalb is the location of amazing memories. All-night house party concerts, stapling zines for imaginary deadlines and walking on train tracks in the early morning. This event seemed to tell me: those times are dead and you'll never resurrect them. There are two kinds of people: those that have that in their lives and those who don't. This is the past and you're not welcome here.
Here is the thing that I had to realize: my memories, the ones I remember so fondly, in my past, I was still me. Right now, I can say I want to be carefree and giggling, working a no-responsibility job and going to band practice twice a week. But I've never been carefree. I hated that job, I got anal retentive about band practice, I took every bad show intensely personally. My family was falling apart even then with my mother resenting the independence inherent in the latchkey kid she created.
The good parts can remain. The people I share that history with, those positive things, they didn't disappear when I got married, when I moved, or when I got divorced, and they're still present every day. If I think of a joke I think Derek would like, I will email him. If I remember an affectation of a gym teacher, I'll hit up Zak on chat. When I meet someone now, my personality and sense of humor is forged by these people.
And on the rare chance I get to see Derek, Caroline, Ryan, Emily or Nat in person, there are no years between us. We have a strong instinct for what will make each other laugh. They know about me and my mom, they know what happened with my dad. They know how my marriage crumbled like a cake, they know that I'm self-conscious about my singing voice and that I'm embarrassed I never went to college.
You can't go home again but you can take the best parts with you. And you can create a home wherever you want. I've met amazing people in this city, I've fallen in love harder than I ever thought possible. I'm still me so I have to deal with the attendant bullshit of that mess but that's the only thing I have to deal with. The place doesn't matter. There are good and bad people everywhere.
There are two kinds of family: those you're born with and those you create.