It’s hard to know what to say after being gone so long. Harder still with each day’s passing.
So I didn’t. And each day it became easier and easier to remain silent, until I thought that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t come back.
Instead, I traveled. I opened myself up to new things and new people or, at the very least, I tried. I made elaborate plans and followed through. I continued to cook, scouring the local market until the root vegetables gave way to the first ramps of the season, made into a fragrant pesto and stowed away for cooler days. I didn’t tell you about any of it.
A few days ago, looking for something to read, I stumbled upon a old favorite. The well worn pages had darkened around the edges, curing up at the corners. The book smelled like only old books can, as if, in a long stagnant room, someone has finally opened a window. I remembered taking the book from Long Island to London, Boston to Barcelona, but I couldn’t remember basic plot points. All I could recall was this quote—What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies. (Jack Kerouac, On the Road)—and the feeling of first reading it at sixteen, thinking it a worthy philosophy. At sixteen, when you’re focused on the thrill of the open road, it is. Sixteen years after that you realize that it’s not a philosophy at all, so much as an articulation fear.
Put more bluntly: there I was, leaning forward to avoid looking back.
And, then suddenly, I found myself on streets once so familiar in my small college town. Except that found isn’t quite the right word since it was of my own volition. There had been plans made and tickets bought. Sometimes, I think, we return to places we no longer belong to remind ourselves of reasons why we once did.
As I walked around my campus, I thought about leaving ten years earlier for the last time. Of my father’s offer to drive me around for one last look, as it might be the last time that I would be there, at least in a way that felt like it was home. I can’t remember now if I took him up on it, although I’m inclined to think that I said no. I can imagine myself, twenty-two and headstrong, determined to lean forward into the next thing, although I didn’t yet know what it was. Yet I remember the offer, all of these years later. Ultimately it’s the small kindnesses that add up, including the more recent few that have, at least indirectly lead me back here. Consider it a homecoming of sorts.
There was this quote, too, from another volume nestled next to On the Road: perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. (James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room)
It will hardly come as a surprise that I’ve long forgotten the plot of that book as well. But, the binding is cracked to open to that very pagepage 121 of the Laurel edition, printed in 1956, in case you were wondering. It’s in danger of falling out, getting closer still with each reading.
I’ll be here. Maybe haltingly, at first. You’ll have to be a little patient with me. I have a lot of reading to catch up on.