aided by several detours

“Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours--long hallways and unforeseen stairwells--eventually puts you in the place you are now.” --Anne Patchett

Anyone who has truly left home--ventured out into the world and tasted it; lived away, with enough distance between you and that place to forget the view of the horizon; gone long enough to remember what the city or town or village looked like--will understand the nostalgia of going back. The sadness and sinking when the city looks less like it did in your years, and more like every other city in America, suffering from that same disease which grabs hold and spreads chain restaurants and chain stores like sores. Gone are many of the Mom & Pop family owned stores, replaced by those where they pretend to know you, asking your name, so they may shout it out jovially when your beverages come ready--fake familiarity.

Today I met up with Kathy and Kuz--Kuz was my 9th grade English teacher, a guy I adored, both hysterical and brilliant. Both lovers of lit and politics we went on to pen-pal through my college years, New England spell, and now my Ohio life, though our old snail mail sometimes takes the guise of Facebook messages and emails. The three of us met at my favorite restaurant, The French Laundry, for amazing food and coffee (get the Luana Louise) and to catch up.  Chatting about what we're up to, sharing bits and pieces about people we both know, somehow it's nice to hear about my old classmates that he runs into, like taking stock on how your extended family you never see is doing.

Somewhere in our conversation I realized that these two people are the only ones left in this place. I spent 9 years in this school system and my parents owned our house for 20 years and I have nothing else that calls me back to this place. Seeking out the somethings (instead of the someones) familiar, I drove past the movie theater, my first real job, and saw the "SOLD" sign out front. It has long sat vacant and maybe there is something redemptive in knowing it will finally be repurposed, but I couldn't help but feel a little sad. I drove past my childhood church and examined its renovations, marveling how I still get that same awed feeling from the wooden archways and old stone. I drove past my middle school which is now an early education center of some sort; a new middle school and our old high school added onto and renovated and extended and...utterly unrecognizable.

I feel like I've been released from something today. It's like that good friend who you saw less and less of as you both began college and began that eventual drift apart, them gradually sliding out of your life entirely; that point when so much time has passed when you realize that other person is no longer part of your life anymore, and if you saw them you're not entirely sure what you'd talk about. Too much has happened.

Maybe aging is mostly about acknowledging the changes, embracing the nostalgia for a little bit, and then moving on...and I've definitely moved on.

Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.

You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,

and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,

the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.

Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,

and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”

Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.
Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet

marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags

of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.

Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle

while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.

We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.

These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.
The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.

People would take walks to the very tops of hills

and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.

Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.

We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.

It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.

Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.

And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,

time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,

or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me

recapture the serenity of last month when we picked

berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.
Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.

I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees

and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light

flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse

and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.
As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,

letting my memory rush over them like water

rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.

I was even thinking a little about the future, that place

where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,

a dance whose name we can only guess. 
--Billy Collins


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