You Can Go Home Again

Today is my birthday, our birthday. My brother and I are 45. For the past six months I have been living in my childhood home with my wife and kids. It no longer feels surreal, and in fact, it is starting to feel like home. There are countless reasons that we came here. My childhood friends have children the same age as mine, who my children connect with. My mother moved out of the house and we wanted to be closer to family. We also knew that we needed to slow down and re-focus, so we decided to give it a try. This is the first birthday in 27 years that I have spent in this house. My children are in my bed watching TV and I am in the sunny living room, connecting to my deeply ingrained sense of this space.

I have been thinking about death recently, not my own, but the concept and my relationship to it, my family’s relationship to it. I wrote about my father’s death a couple of days ago and then picked up Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” at the thrift store the following morning. It was written the year before my father’s death and published the year after it. I know that her account of dealing with her husband’s death was meaningful to my mother who reads voraciously. Time heals all wounds to some degree, and writing about death seems to lubricate that process.

My father died a year and a week ago. Last Sunday I got together with my family for dinner. We didn’t talk a lot about him. We were simply together. As I wrote the other day, I have long had the sense that he was not settled in death. I went to the site of his impact the other day (he was hit by a car) to be with him, to free him. Afterwards I realized that he was already free. Rather, my sister pointed it out to me. I think she’s right. When I looked back at the week I could see that a certain heaviness had been lifted.

She is very aware of signs and numbers, in ways that most people are not. Today is 2/2. She was born on 9/9. Our mother is 12/12 and my wife is 5/5. I don’t know what that means, but I know it means something. In a nod to my sister my post had ended with the line, “We can see signs in nothing, and sometime nothing in signs.” She responded with a flurry of emails and texts, “That is the way I make sense of the world, by noticing patterns. Repeating numbers, sign and whispers and people that repeatedly show up in my life.” As I indicated, I too notice things like this at times, but I think about them in a less structured way. She had been making sense of all of the signs related to the anniversary of our father’s death, and had realized that he was finally free. As she wrote to me, “Funny thing was yesterday I was on my way to gym and I noticed a license plate going through ‘the light’ to my left, same lane, and it said ‘inrpeace’. I said hmm. As I am writing this I realize the message was from dad!!! I kind of already knew that but I felt a shock of energy in this moment.”

Shock wears off. We wake up. Time has passed and seemingly all of a sudden, things feel different. I don’t weave the same story, but I too have come to the same conclusion. I didn’t realize it when I wrote about visiting with him, but I agree that I have the sense that he is finally settled. When I put together the post the other day I went to my brother’s facebook page to grab a picture he had taken of my father the month before he died. While there, I found a picture of my father on the kitchen floor of our house with my brother and I in his lap. My wife immediately noted how odd it felt to see that because we have been living in the house that I grew up. Not much has changed since I was a kid. Patterns repeat themselves, and the cabinets are the same.

A famous North Carolinian once wrote that “you can’t go home again”, but I think he’s wrong. Living in my childhood home has not been without its ups and downs, but I think part of the reason we moved here was because I had to come home again. Reliving my childhood as a parent has given me great insight into the continuum; and given me a little more empathy for both my parents and myself.

When I left town I didn’t cut all my ties, but I didn’t stay as connected as I might have. Since we’ve been back we have spent a great deal of time with a couple of my high school friends who have children the same age as my own. Last night there was a party, which was designed to bring together a bunch of friends to be with a high school friend who now lives in Prague. It was like a secret birthday party for me. I got to connect with several old friends without having to deal with any uncomfortable hoopla. My kids ran wild with their kids, and things felt right. They felt righter than they’ve felt in a long time.

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