I’ve been thinking lately about travel and about how so many times it’s not really that we want to return to a specific place but that we wish we could return to a previous time.
As a college student in Springfield, Missouri, I volunteered to be matched with a “grandma” at the retirement complex that sat adjacent to my college campus. For two academic years, I visited a spinster who wore dentures that clacked when she talked.
She served me ice cream and sliced apples with peanut butter and we drank tea. We sat at her table in her cramped apartment and I told her all about my life and classes and friends. She told me about being a school teacher and about her friends–especially the 98-year old artist who lived down the hill.
Every week for two years, I visited her.
Then I graduated and moved away.
A few years later, I returned and appeared on her doorstep to surprise her.
She had no idea who I was.
That’s the feeling I get when I return to the scene of my life from days gone by. I have been known to drive slowly by the house in Marysville, the one where I lived from ages 12 to 18, feeling like I’m casing the joint, preparing to rob it.
That house doesn’t know me. If I stood and knocked on that door, it would offer me only a blank look.
Past experience tells me this is true of the small rambler in Whispering Firs, the townhouse in Troutdale, the Cape Cod-style parsonage in Michigan, and every other place where I’ve slept and cooked and planted roots. I don’t belong to those places anymore. They don’t recognize me.
It’s impossible to go home again because time travel does not exist except in dreams.
So instead, we stroll past slowly, try to peer into the windows, wondering about the people who inhabit the spaces we used to know so well. Time has changed the locks.
There’s nothing to see here. Move along. You don’t belong.