You Can’t Go Home Again (The Thought of Repacking Alone Will Stop You)

By Jack Canfora

I normally post on Thursdays, but as you’ll see, I was busy. I hope you don’t mind me barging in on you like this on a Sunday. Yesterday, I stepped out the door of my childhood home for the final time. I moved there in early 1978 (I distinctly recall thinking at the time how long ago that was), and apart from a 14 month sojourn in London, stayed there through the early 1990s, apart from when I was away at college. I’ve lived many other places, but that house, or home if you want to be all Oprah about it, was the chief setting of my little life: a central and abiding fact of my existence.

To be factual and melodramatic at once, I will never return. Which isn’t all bad, by any stretch. As Arthur Miller wrote, “Life is a casting off.” I had spent the last few years back in an apartment on my parents’ property – because I’m exactly that cool – and it had long since been time for me to move on. Besides, as people in their 70s living in the suburbs of New York, my parents are required under penalty of law to move to Florida. So the writing was on the wall that the movers nicked a few times getting my couch out.

But as I walked through my old home’s rooms after they’d been freshly hollowed out, and every step or sound was thrown back in shrill echoes, I once again found myself a victim of my crippling nostalgia.

I mean, let’s face it: not every memory there is a happy one. That’s hardly surprising for a relationship that lasted nearly half a century. But I know that my children, and I think my father, and perhaps even myself, always had a vague ghostly notion that the property would stay in the family somehow. Life had other plans, like always (life can be a jerk that way). But the fact remains, regardless of what happens in my remaining time above ground, I will have spent the bulk of my life in the emotional and pragmatic orbit of that home.

My children still live nearby (for now, when they aren’t in school), and I won’t be too far away, either, so I’ll have ample chance to drive by. But I don’t see that happening. I have a sentimental weakness for having a sentimental weakness, so that trip would puncture too big a hole in my balloon-thin facade of stoicism. Perhaps I’m more affected by this than I think I should be (even more than I’m letting on, which, considering this whole post is centered around how much this is affecting me, is probably quite a bit) because in my formative years, the corporate ladder my father climbed had rungs in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York once again, London, and then New York for good. All of them ascended before I turned 12. It’s probably why I’ve lacked the geographic restlessness so many of my friends have had.

It’s been an interesting few days. Scrambling to move is often a bit of an emotional and logistical trial, and this one really leaned into that aspect. On the plus side, I did set a new sea-level record for putting down a roll of packing tape only to be unable to find it 10 seconds later. Watching my parents leave the house for their final time, my mother without so much as a look back (my mother’s photo, accompanied by her statement, “I’m not a sentimental person” is now the Oxford English Dictionary’s official definition for the word “Understatement”), my father worrying over practical details as ever, I was struck by how unlike their attitudes mine is. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Maybe I’m just a bit of a wuss; it’s quite possibly both. Definitely the second one plays some role.

Either way, to quote my second playwright of this post (Kushner, Tony), “The world only spins forward.” And while I have some quibbles with that cosmic plan, God isn’t returning my texts these days. So, while my two dogs and I wait out my nearby move into our new home (hard to tell which of the three of us feels most unsettled), at an Air B and B 15 miles to the east of my family’s no-longer home, I am using my time in isolation to improve at something I have no gift for: looking ahead without resisting the urge to rent a boat and row against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. That was a pretty good line I just wrote, no? Don’t Google it. Anyway, it’s out of copyright.

For once, my actual environs match my inner ones: dislocation. It’s probably good for me. Perhaps it builds character, which is something stupid people say when they’re trying, but not really trying especially hard, to pretend an objectively awful thing isn’t objectively awful.

So, if the moment calls for a little wallowing, I’ll probably indulge in a wallow or two. This certainly counts as one. But it’s always good to know that ultimately you can carry things with you and still move forward. Or, I as I wrote in a song I composed this morning, “You and I have memories/Longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” Good, no? Don’t Google it.

Follow me on the Twitter and Instagram @jackcanfora

Even better, follow my online theater company (everyone in it is cooler and better looking than I am) @newnormalrep

15 thoughts on “You Can’t Go Home Again (The Thought of Repacking Alone Will Stop You)

  1. This one hit me – made a bit of a move myself recently. A move is full of surprises.
    Enjoy the tranquility of the Airbnb 🌸🌸

  2. Jaaaaaaaack, a little wallowing can be a good thing, just ask a capybara. You’re looking at way more than a revolving of doors, you’re in a nakedness of Now. Wooo, zen-porn! Not really, though I’m not above that. Don’t judge me! But JAck, your family house is gone, your folks are gone, your marbles may on their way out; it sounds like not only is a thumb-sucking-curl-up-in-the-corner moment Ok, but possibly overdue. I urge you to get yourself comfortable in your temporary setting (probably has tasty food too), and let yourself daydream after you’ve walked the dogs. Go little by little, inch by inch. So much to process! If you were nearby, I’d totally have you over for pizza and beer on the porch. Yeah, it’s cold, but whatever. Doesn’t have to be on the porch, but it’s easier to shoot cans off the fence that way.

  3. I haven’t set foot in my childhood home for 50 years. Parents sold it without a second thought. The next house I’d call home no longer exists. Torn down to turn a residential area into a commercial district.

    We’ve lived in our current house for 30 years. While the wife and kids may have fond (and not-so-fond) memories of it, the place could burn down and I wouldn’t be devastated. Maybe a little miffed. Somehow I learned early on not to attach to strongly to material things.

    I still do consider Northern Michigan to be the most beautiful place, so maybe I really consider my home to be the forests and fields and lakes and rivers of the north country that my first home was set in.

  4. Good to know posting once a week works. If I don’t post every day I hear crickets. Its cause your posts are interesting. Maybe i should take a page from your book. πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘

  5. Wow – that’s big. I’d saw it qualifies as worth a wallow or two. But the line that caught my eye most in this post (aside from the sea-level record of losing the packing tape) was this “For once, my actual environs match my inner ones: dislocation.” What a fascinating observation. May both your inner and outer bend towards comfort in the next days!

  6. Excellent entry, utterly worth the wait, and break legs with the online theater. Working to build an online theater company presence myself, and will endeavor to follow your company without actually having to use social media — how’s that for a Sisyphean task? (Probably doesn’t bode well for my own online theater company …)

  7. I didn’t Google it. I think sentimentality and an affection for nostalgia get a bad rap. My mother isn’t much for looking back either (I blame it on being a Capricorn, much to my son’s disgust), but I’m a fan. I live in the same city I grew up in, which affords me ample to opportunity to visit places I once called home. I like doing that. I like looking at childhood things with adult eyes and revisiting memories good, bad, and forgotten. I like seeing how far I have or haven’t come.
    New, however, is also a kick: a fresh canvas is an inspiring thing: enjoy 😊

  8. I am reminded of Anne Tyler’s ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’! Movement, moving away can be strangely unsettling. I moved out of my parent’s home more than fifteen years ago to hostel, to sharing an apartment with housemates and to finally settle into a home with my partner. Yet every time I go “home” for the holidays, a strange sense of nostalgia strikes me, the unfamiliar familiar corners, the zones that used to be and with every passing year I wonder if I’ll ever go back, if I belong there at all. I wonder.

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