Physically, my weekend started with an early morning flight down from where I live in the Pacific Northwest to attend a wedding in my old home in the Southwest. But mentally, my weekend started with running into a high school friend who didn’t remember me while changing planes in Phoenix.
Had I really changed so much? I wondered as I settled into the 20 minute puddlejump to Flagstaff. I tried to read my book, but there was a nagging feeling in the back of my head that wondered what else had changed beyond recognition. Can you ever go home again?
It was good to be back, but it was also strange. In my mind, Flagstaff is a constant of the universe — frozen in time like an air bubble in ice. But it isn’t like that at all. As I have grown and changed, so has this timeless place. People have drifted away. Relationships have evolved. New townhouses stand on stately lanes on the Sawmill lot. The Mad Italian and Tacos Locos have been wiped from the map.
“You can’t go back home,” Thomas Wolf wrote in 1940. “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.”
I think there is truth in his words. As my friend Chris said over breakfast at Martanne’s, we have an expectation that nothing has changed when we return home and are surprised to find that while you’ve been having these new experiences, so has everyone else.
And yet, despite the strangeness of change, there is also a comfort in knowing that a place I love still has life and vibrancy. The little mountain town where I grew up continues to exist without me. The friends I left behind continue to get new jobs, fall in love, get married and have children.
Somewhere between seeing my friend dancing with her husband and holding my 3-month-old goddaughter, I realized that Wolf was only half right. You can’t go back to the way things used to be, but you can embrace the newness. Flagstaff will always be my home, where some of my absolute favorite people live. But my definition of home has expanded. I now find home in two places. Two cities far removed in distance, climate and culture from each other, but both a part of my story. I’m not so sure anymore that home is a place or a time, but I think home is a feeling — a feeling that you belong.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. He also makes his home on Twitter, where you can follow him. This is also his 200th post, so thanks for reading the last two hundred! Here’s to two hundred more!