“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood…back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame …back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time- back home to the escapes of Time and Memory”
Thomas Harris, You Can Never Come Home Again
The house I grew up in is sold. The day I left, just a month ago, I organized everything I owned into two 12 X 12 boxes (to be placed in storage), my Tortuga Backpack, and a 50 pound luggage case. There may be a few trivial items scattered in the attic, but this is what my material belongings have been minimized to.
My “home,” for my childhood adolescence, and the last 3 months, was Grayson, Georgia. It was here that I re-adjusted back to the USA after almost 5 years of living abroad, at the age of 28.
On the surface, nostalgia provided the illusion of constancy. I would enter a room and a memory of my childhood would take the forefront of my awareness. I’d open a drawer and find a note from the first girl I dated in high school only to remember our first kiss (she’s now a lesbian). I’d see the light shine in my bedroom window at 2:30 pm, a school bus would roll by outside, I’d suddenly feel exhausted, just as I did in the high school days of the past. One of the last belongings I found were a pile of old stories. One held my Mom’s handwriting, her edits of my first writings from 20 years prior. It’s been hard to grieve, but seeing her penmanship let me feel a bit more than I usually do.
Time had subtly, but irrevocably, changed the home I once held in my dreams. Objects, furniture, and walls, provided a false air of permanence, but life outside, strangers in the streets, and even the subtle fade of paint, tugged on my strings of intuition that my safe haven, my oasis as I once knew it, was gone.
Before I left, I ran my hands along the white counter tops my Mom used to talk over in the kitchen. I sat in the kitchen chair where I used to sit and listen. I went in every bedroom, bathroom, and closet searching for memories; not just of her, but of any association I could find. I wanted to somehow hold – relive- the emotions and scenes from the past. To feel their distant reality one last time, lest this be the last time I could ever reign them in. It was only out of necessity to catch a flight that spurred me out the door at the last possible minute. Emotion and history providing the mirage, “Just another flight. You’ll be back home in no time…”
What is a Nomad?
“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.’ ‘Where are we going, man?’ ‘I don’t know but we gotta go.” Jack Kerouac; On the Road
I’m not much for labels, but my life in my early and mid 20s ran pretty parallel with that of a nomad. The quote above is the paradox those who travel know well. Not in a vacation sense, but when your life has no outside obligations. When it is simply “traveling” and self-discovery; when it’s all about the journey.
I once wrote in a book called “Travel Means Freedom.” When it was first published, I agreed. In the moment, in the process of the journey, it does. And yet one key ingredient seemed to always pull it away from me: purpose. Without a why, I always suffered the ultimate comedown; the reality check that of an empty bank account, the understanding that I had to “get a job,” and the assumption that this job would be awful. Often, it was.
Those You Leave Behind
It’s the same end goal: happiness.
But it gets confusing when those you grew up with are on a different route to find or maintain it.
As Nomadic Matt said in his epic piece, “Everyone Says I’m Running Away“:
People may want to travel, tell you they envy what you do, say they wish they could do the same thing. But really, they don’t. They are simply fascinated by a lifestyle so outside the norm.”
My private thought when I first came home was this: my friends are living boring normal lives. Why would you choose to live here? How can they be happy?
I remember going on a date for ice cream within a few weeks of being back in my hometown. My first OkCupid conversation was along the lines of this:
“What are your thoughts on Grayson?”…to which I assumed I’d receive “Omg, I want to get out…”
Instead I received: “I love Grayson! It’s so quiet and peaceful 🙂 “
This simple text has stayed with me. Someone loves Grayson? It’s their environment of choice? Their route of happiness?
I’m gradually accepting that I am not a sage who knows what everyone must do to be happy. I’m striving to allow my friends to not roam in peace without having to hear my judgments.
It’s rough to admit this, but for me, even in the heart of Shibuya-ku, with a Japanese girlfriend, and DJ gigs in the best clubs in the city- I was unhappy. And how can I drop advice on the pursuit of happiness without living it myself? This has been a rough pill to swallow, to realize that, despite all this traveling, all these adventures, all these girls, I still wake up angry. Not all the time, but enough to know, I still haven’t figured it all out.
It’s often that sense of entrapment that propelled me to travel, to get out, to be freed from responsibility, mediocrity, and boredom. A short term high, masking a long term low.
I’m currently staying in Kennebunk, ME. It’s here that I spent my summers as a kid, and it’s a bizarre reunion that makes the effort of “starting over” easier to handle.
In many respects, it’s what I initially dreamt Grayson would be. An oasis to hash out a plan, to try my hand at planning a career.
I took the hit to my pride: staying with grandparents. Living far from the city.
I don’t miss Tokyo, because I know it can’t get me what I want; what I need. The why to return is weak. I still lust for it though.
Most of my days now are spent at Think Tank. A co-op full of entrepreneurs, artists, and musicians.
There’s still uncertainty. I still get overwhelmed. I still have angry “ex” dreams.
But what makes all of it easier, is instead of seeking my solution on the move, I can do so in a place of settled serenity; a place that, if only temporarily, I can begin to call home.
Current side project: Tokyo Night Owl