“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night
I stood on the old whitewashed, wooden, wrap around porch with the two squeaky porch swings. The wind chimes were blowing gently in the breeze and, against my own will, I felt something well up in my throat. The ancient general store next door stood empty with a large “For Sale” sign in the window. I remembered how I used to run my fingers through vats of nails, bolts and washers as a child while waiting for my father to finish his shop, just as so many generations of children had before me. But here the generational continuum would cease. The soda fountain stands deserted. There is no one to hear the chimes.
The place, that old towering Victorian mansion where I had so often played as a little girl still held the laughter of children, long since grown. It lit a memory that I grasped at vainly to try and understand. Was it was good or was it bad? Was it was cathartic or just overwhelming? The physicality of the memories was palpable.
I left these apparitions and moved along in my journey. It was time to face the farm across the river, the one with the acres of cornfields and rusted, antique machinery, the hummingbirds and the stray cats. As I approached I noticed the same old dog lead, belonging to collies long dead, was lying limp on the gravel with no wagging tail to greet me this time.
As I had expected might happen, the ghostly memories rushed over to be my welcome instead. The family. The family were there as if they were still crowded together to fit on that empty porch swing.
The family were always there.
The women collecting in the kitchen, to swap coupons, recipes and gossip. The men in the livingroom by the wood fire arguing politics and religion, with a freshly piqued anger that could strip the wood panelling with their curses, determined to win their battles at all costs. When nobody won, the misery of failing health and old age was always a comfortable armchair to retreat to.
The children were running around looking for cats and dogs and playing hide and seek in the barn behind tractor wheels twice their size, blissfully unaware of the of the battles that were raging in the living room.
The women kept to the kitchen, pretending that their lives were not engulfed in the wars fought by elderly men with their cousins and nephews who, despite the skirmishes, still looked to the faltering wisdom of years to guide them as they clung to their Budweisers and foul mouths for ammunition.
The children just accepted and ignored. They would not care about these things until they were older and would choose which side to join.
I, on the other hand, didn’t join either. I was a deserter. I left.
Most didn’t. It’s not what you do, there in that place. You do not leave. A home can not be made by migrants and wanderers, only by those who stay.
Both places were devoid of human life on that day that I returned, but the ghosts came in their cavalries to trample the unfaithful heart who had left them so many years before. I never had said good bye. I never knew I wouldn’t return. And now there was no one to say good bye to. No one was at home that day, so I stood just taking a last breath of the places that once I called home.
I think something happened that day. I think there was closure. I think I said good bye. No longer a deserter, I stuffed a few ghosts into my suitcase for the scrapbook, and continued on my journey, a migrant and a wanderer, going home.
And I knew. I knew that I couldn’t return. Once you leave, really leave, you can never go back.