Can a person really “go home again” and what does that mean? Thomas Wolfe’s most famous book title says we can’t. I’m not sure.
This week Bill and I went home again to the San Francisco Bay Area where he was born and where I lived since leaving Stockton to attend the University of California at Berkeley. We haven’t abandoned New England, where I have left a sizable portion of my heart, but it is time to have a California outpost near both our families and our old friends.
After more than 20 years away, California still feels like home in a deep sense that is hard to explain. Despite the physical changes here—all kinds of new construction that make lots of areas unrecognizable—I am always confident that I won’t lose my way. Never mind that this is a foolish illusion; it’s a sense of having belonged in a place for a very long time. When we first moved to Connecticut, I got lost all the time. There were no geographical landmarks to show me the way—no San Francisco Bay, no Golden Gate, no East Bay hills. I remember pulling over to the side of the road somewhere outside of Simsbury to steady my heart rate and remind myself that there was no chance of getting lost in a sketchy neighborhood. The only danger was from a falling branch or a wandering bear. All I could see on all sides were trees. I’d never seen so many trees. It was impossible to see any landmarks at all—until some of the trees eventually became landmarks.
There are changes, though, and they make me wonder where “home” really is. The traffic is awful. The summer is foggy. There is a lot of ambient noise. Just when I think I’m going to hop on the next plane, though, a complete stranger in a checkout line turns to me and discusses the details of her divorce, or the party she’s attending later on, or difficulties with her teenage daughter. This never happens in New England. I’ve gotten used to keeping my mouth shut. But here, I get right back into it and commiserate or even give her advice, pat her on the back and go on my merry way. It’s like being home again.