Coming Home Again

When I was twelve, I found a copy of Thomas Wolfe’s classic, You Can’t Go Home Again, I remember being profoundly impacted by the title. Just the words alone made me wonder about home, and in my 12 year old mind I thought of my cousin Billy, who had just passed weeks earlier in a tragic car accident. He was a close friend, a cousin, and a model of a human being whom I aspired to, but whose magic had departed at an early age.

At Billy’s passing, the tragedy effectively shut me down, I was a ghost of myself for the next few months, and really didn’t have any clue what life meant to me anymore. I only knew that my cousin was gone, and I could no longer count on him to be there next to me as a child growing up in a confusing world. What used to be important to me suddenly didn’t matter. We were embroiled in the Vietnam war, and now all I paid attention to were the names scrolled on the news of the dead U.S. servicemen. Somehow I related that to my own loss.

President Nixon would resign in six months, Spiro Agnew already convicted, the political world that my mother paid attention to with every pundit’s prognostication began to have meaning in my life. I was raised in the 60’s so I already had experienced the loss of the Kennedy’s, MLK Jr., Malcolm X and countless others through the eyes of my older siblings and parents. Yet, as things settled, I kept still trying to figure out what Wolfe meant with that engaging title. So, I read the book.

I remember being fascinated with how fiction would somehow expose reality, how the community didn’t respond well to the writer’s focus, and the meaning began to take shape. For the next few years, my life evolved as a child turned troubled teenager in the city of Wausau, WI. I attended three different high schools, had academic struggles, dabbled in alcohol and drugs and was generally a classic mixed up kid with a lot of baggage that followed me until I could finally leave town. I moved to the twin cities and slowly carved out a world for myself.

Tonight, I return to Wausau four decades after I left, though I have been here many times since, I now have a better understanding of Thomas Wolfe’s meaning when he wrote his book. He didn’t necessarily intend to suggest he was ostracized or banished from his community, really more likely he was acknowledging that change is inevitable and we all must be prepared to accept the challenges that life might have in store for us.

Tonight, I drove into my hometown in the middle of a snowstorm. I drove past city markings familiar to my childhood, and realized while the snow fell as regularly as it did when I was twelve years old. I remember burying my cousin Billy in Minneapolis while snow gathered on the treetops along the winding roads around Lake Calhoun as we caravanned to the cemetery to pay our respects. I looked down 28th avenue as we drove into town, my home 40 years earlier, my life now settling into an early autumn. I realized I could come home again.

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When My Father Cried

It was the changing season,

a tragedy,

we were all crying,

dumbfounded and surreal

the moments ahead

forever.

He was heart-broken

no place to stand or sit or feel,

just simple pain,

always and forever,

misty eyed and helpless

to the reality of the human condition.

He’d been tested,

he’d been traumatized,

together

ships passing in the night,

his words to soothe,

his reaction lost in agony.

 

How could the world ever be normal again,

when his son had left to travel,

and nearby,

a consoling brother,

a relative of sorts in marriage,

in a consoling gesture,

suggested a distraction.

 

How might he react any other way,

then lose faith in humankind,

when the soul of his world,

remained lost in the mechanics.

There is heartbreak to be noted,

when one’s dream

suddenly fades

while all of those around

have no idea the strain.

My First Experience With Survival

It was the summer of 72,

just beyond the previous winter,

I would stay home,

amongst my school friends,

chums, the guys I hung with

all school year.

 

Yet I didn’t know them,

because the 12 summers before,

when I began to remember,

around the age of four,

I’d spent elsewhere

in a different world,

a time zone whose style

didn’t match up

with the hometown crowd.

 

It was there I lost him,

imagine the imbalance in my mind,

a good friend

labeled my survivor guilt one time,

and I haven’t been able

to look past that ever since.

She gave a freedom

to realize life has reasons

and they’re not always mine.

 

So it is then that I reflect upon,

when today, I can barely breathe at all.