Sunday, August 24, 2008

Why you can never go home again

I'm back in Boston this weekend, for the first time since leaving in May. After living here for five years, it's beyond strange to be back as a guest. I'm staying at a friend's house, taking care of their dog while they're out of town at a wedding. I know this neighborhood pretty well; I used to spend a good bit of time here. I know the bike paths and the parks, the bars and the coffee shops, and where to get a good burrito. I know the names of streets and the north from the south from the east from the west. I walk these streets once again, tracing invisible footprints in the brick and the concrete, revisiting the past. Every time I walk to the T I pass his house. Back and forth, twice a day, four times, and still I look, and every time it's there. Nothing's changed and everything. Part of me still believes he's in there, thinks that if I rang the doorbell he might answer. The doorbell the only part of the house I don't know; I always had a key. But he's not there, of course. He moved on only a few months after we ended, and if I rang a stranger would answer. 

How shocked I was when he told me, mentioned in passing he had moved to the suburbs, as casual as if he had bought a new shirt. As usual, he felt no need for justifications. He was matter-of-fact in his telling, but you could have knocked me flat with a swipe from the proverbial feather. The self-professed urbanite, lover of tall buildings and bars within stumble-home distance, traded in his T pass for a yard and a patch of asphalt driveway? O snubber of suburbs, o turner-up-of-a-delicate-nose at all things remotely reeking of strollers and swing sets and subprime mortgages, can it really be? Friends and co-workers who deigned steer their U-Haul towards the wild blue fairly-near yonder were met with a haughty sneer, as he grew increasingly adamant about never joining their ranks. If anything, he said, he would want to move downtown, where it's gritty and noisy and you need a realtor to get a parking space. He'd move into a huge loft apartment, made out of a converted factory or office building or his pipe dream, a church, and he'd live like a monk (only without the whole abstinence thing): a bed. A table. A painting. Stark and empty and severe, rattling around in his urban oasis as the horns go off below him.
It sounded like hell, and I told him so. A flare of his nostrils, and perhaps he was thinking, just another reason we're not right for each other. And then, the end, and with no one to call his bluff, he moved to the suburbs, where the buffalo roam, and single family home-dwellers are chained to their gas-electric automobiles, and the skies are not cloudy all day.

I re-trace the same paths I have been walking for years, and I can still feel everything I have ever felt as I walked them, all in a rush, one sweetsourbittersweet burst of emotion. My house to the T. The T to his house. The overnight bag on my shoulder, the exhilaration and sweet anticipation of going to see the someone I love. The fatigue, the stress, the niggling nag of frustration at having to pack a bag to see the someone I love. Loving, but wanting all at once. O give me a home...

His house, his former house, remains silent, of course, and I continue on my way. Then I am not-home, fumbling with unfamiliar keys, and I enter, again, into someone else's life. I play with someone else's dog and I sleep in someone else's bed. Where seldom is heard...anything, really, but the occasional light snoring of the dog.  
Now, I don't give a damn about the deer and the antelope, but o, give me a home.  


  1. Wow. Just wow. In a good way. In a sweetsourbittersweet way.

  2. Buffalo roaming? In Newton and Natick? Hmmm ... have to check that part with the Chamber of Commerce.

    He has moved out and on and so must you. Your progress is slower, but just as sure.

    Of course you can always stand by the T stops and ask for spare know, just until you get the 20 percent down payment. No subprime for you! :)

  3. If it makes you feel better, the him you knew then would probably be prouder of the you that you are now than the him that he is now (if that many pronouns in one sentence can possibly make any sense).

  4. Most times, I've found that the past remembered is a hell of a lot better than the past re-lived.


  5. Hi there!

    Thanks for your kind words- indeed you and I do seem to be cut from the same cloth!

    I kind of understand how you feel- I had an ex that was a staunch vegetarian, lectured me all the time. And then, when we broke up, he called me to tell me that he was back to eating meat. As though he were calling me to tell me that he was seeing someone else.

    It's always crazy when the things that defined someone to you change.

    I'll keep reading if you do- hope you find some Old Bay!