You Can Never Go Home Again
I’ve noticed that a lot of novels use the premise that the protagonist is compelled to return home after years of absence. The reasons vary. A parent may be ill. Often, a distant relative has willed a dilapidated home, once magnificent, and our hero encounters resistance when she begins repairs or dares to move into the home. Some of these stories work brilliantly. Most, not so much. Because, as Thomas Wolfe reminded us, you can’t go home again. I wasn’t sure about this until I decided my fiftieth high school reunion (please applaud while I break a multi-generation family tradition and do not lie about my age) might be the opportunity to explore writing a novel about just that. I dragged my husband away from the splendor of Cape Cod in June to the hellish heat and humidity of West Hartford, Connecticut, which sinks deep into the Connecticut River Valley suffocating its residents into a state of fugue. I’d attended two previous reunions and had pledged that was enough. High school wasn’t the happiest time in my life. I was humbled after the first reunion I attended to realize the classmates I had been fortunate enough to be placed with in what they called “accelerated” classes then were not nerds, but bright decent human beings I would have done well to hang around with. This time I decided to tour the nearly empty school with my husband after most of my classmates had headed off to cocktails. The first room I peered into was the gym, well the old gym, because now there were two in the private Catholic high school. I could smell sweat, hear the roar when Billy landed another basket, and the refrain, “Milady, Milady, he’s our man. If he can’t do it no one can.” I could feel my shoeless feet at the freshman sock hop on the shiny floor paralyzed while waiting to see if someone would ask me to dance. Lots of nostalgia, but no great inspiration for my story. We moved past the cafeteria where I pointed out to my husband the table I had sat at with what I thought was the “in crowd” at the time. I can still remember the taste of a salty potato chip after a bite from a chocolate Ring-Ding. I was a foodie ahead of my time. I also remember being at the very least indifferent to the classmates I spent most of my day with. Sometimes even mean. The music room was where I sat when I learned President Kennedy had been shot, when I suffered the first of a lifetime of political wounds. I felt empty looking at the idle instruments. The dark corridor I marched my husband through was dark and empty, not filled with teens lugging books, so hopelessly awkward, not sure if they dared say hi to one another. I remembered my first experience with sexual misconduct when a troubled classmate crossed a line one day in that hallway and I had to decide whether to be silent. I was not. The auditorium, silent and empty, reminded me not of endless, boring assemblies, but of the one time I felt I shone. Class Night, where I appeared in a skit I had pretty much written, and performed in. It was daringly edgy, but hilarious so we got away with it, and I was very good. “I wish we’d known about your theatrical talent sooner,” one nun swooned. Me too. But I was heading to nursing school, not Hollywood. I never gave another thought about acting until I returned to the dark empty stage and told my husband about that magical night. End of story. Definitely not a story. As we headed out, we passed a long line of lockers. One had belonged to my first husband. Let’s call him, “Bad Boy.” He had stolen the textbooks from a student who had come from Cuba, who was smart enough to write his name on page 51 of each of them. When the nuns, immune to First Amendment concerns, discovered the books in his locker, Bad Boy insisted they were his. Until the good sisters turned to page 51. How did a nice girl like me end up as Bad Boy’s girlfriend? Is it plausible I ended up marrying him and having two darling babies with him? Can you believe he ended up being a cop? I can barely believe that story. I walked through the glass doors out of my high school knowing I would never go back. You can never go home again. Home becomes part of you and that’s where the story begins.