Saturday, August 20, 2011

You Can't Go Back

We stopped because the traffic wasn't even at a crawl. It was a parking lot and we were starving and the exit was right there so I said, just get off here because at least I know where to go. I think. I think I still remember, because how long ago was 1989? But secretly it was because I wanted to go back, to see Nyack again because I never wanted to leave in the first place and I've been mad at my parents for dragging me to Florida since I was fifteen.

I don't know what I thought it would be like. Maybe I believed that everything had been perfectly preserved when I left, the way grieving parents will keep the bedroom of a dead child and turn it into a sort of shrine. I did that with Nyack, but the shrine was in my head - a quaint and glossy museum image of a town, made more perfect by the imperfections of memory and wrapped neatly in one of the many drawers of my brain. 

It's not the same of course. Yes, much has changed, but at the same time I wonder now if it's just that I viewed things differently at fifteen and the things that thrilled me back then don't anymore. 

Nyack, New York is still a lovely little town on the steep banks of the Hudson, but it's no longer a home for which I desperately yearn. I thought I did, but I don't. My ghost no longer lingers on the corner of Main Street and Broadway. I'm not there anymore. 

The town looked shabbier than I recall. It's much more urban than I remember and looks crowded. Much of the Northeast looks as if it has outgrown itself and Nyack is this way too, like it was too small to contain the people and the cars, the stores, yoga studios and organic food co-ops. I saw a cluster of teenaged boys gathered on some steps and I thought they looked greasy and vagrant. Did we look that way twenty something years ago? We couldn't have. My favorite pizza place was on the same corner and we stopped in for a slice, but what the hell? When did Tarantella's decide that penne pasta and Buffalo chicken were acceptable toppings? At least the plain slices were still perfect.

Most of the people I went to school with and ran around with stayed. I don't know a single one of them anymore. I don't have any friends in Nyack now. Maybe I never really did when I stop and think about it.

I've spent twenty-two years bitter and regretful about moving to Florida. I've wasted hours wondering what my life might have been like if we'd never moved, mistakenly imagining it to have been the better life, the perfect life thwarted. I got the life I was supposed to have. Nyack wasn't my home after all and when I tossed my crust in the trash, I couldn't wait to head south on 9W and get out of there.

And finally, I have the closure I needed.


JDogg said...

Nyack has changed quite alot, yet so much has remained the same. It has become more urban, more crowded, as people have moved north to find space from the city.

We all change, and you are right, it isn't the same as it was 20 years ago. I think that we forget how much our views are changed by where we live and our references.

Miss Kitty said...

You hit the nail squarely on the head, WL. Usually when I visit places where I once lived, they're nowhere near as awesome and wonderful as my memory holds them to be. My tiny little apartment in Athens, GA, for instance, sure looked shabby and depressing when I drove past it again in 2006 (moved away in 1998). The memories are nice--a time where I didn't have a lot to worry about, nor a lot of bills to pay--but I have to keep in mind I was a different person back then. The teeny-tiny little house in rural Alabama where my sister and I grew up? It looks so weird now that the oak saplings my dad transplanted in 1986 are 40 feet tall. In my mind, the front yard is always bare.

You write about this so well. Indeed, what the heck IS it that we go back looking for?

Slowpoke said...

I think Miss Kitty is right in saying that going back is a time when we didn't have a lot to worry about. When you are young(er),you
are far more idealistic and optomistic. Experiences and things are all new and have not been jaded by the truth of time and reality. I think you tend to look at the world through rose-colored eyes and things and life seem more hopeful and full of promise. Going back after real life, things are revealed for what they may have been all along or become and not the sweet memories we carry in our brain compartments, where they should best be kept. No wonder some older people are so cynical and crabby.

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way about leaving California for Florida. It was 1989 too.


Kerry said...

I'm glad you got the closure you needed.

Ahhhh... simpler times.

Sure there were worries about things, but we minimize those in our memories. We think what we had was so much better than what we have now. It's hard to live in "now" when our memories are so much sweeter and we mistake that for reality.

Anonymous said...

This happened to me back in 1985 when we moved from New Jersey (insert NJ jokes here) to Miami when I was 14. I too hated Miami and couldn't wait to go back. I finally went back to visit family a couple of years later and I had the same exact reaction you did - it was not the same. Seemed grubbier / more crowded to me. The people / friends from just a couple of years back were gone. I came back from that visit and never looked back after that. I felt like a fool for wasting my time yearning for something for 2 years.

There really is something to be said about "home is where the heart is" - a place without those special people you had back then is just not the same anymore. Granted, I still have family that live there, but they were not my "friends" that I saw on a daily basis.

What is more interesting is that I somewhat find myself critical of people that never leave these places - I tell myself that they are stuck and can't get out. Is that wrong? Maybe they are happy where they are. I just find it hard to comprehend that.

Mike said...

This happens in towns that even shun chain stores and development. My little town of Woodstock, NY used to be pickup trucks, old Jeeps and hippies. It still has those, but driving down the small main strip looks like a Barrett-Jackson auto auction.

This often happens when you reunite with old flames as well. It's not the same.

Nice post.

Dawn said...

While in London in October, I had the opportunity to go back to the little suburb where I studied my junior year of college. My happiest, wildest, most glamorous and adventurous months took place there.

But I couldn't do it. I couldn't bring myself to take that quick little train ride to my past. I knew whatever I would find would never live up to the idyllic place of my memory, and I was not willing to tamper with that.

I'm glad you got the closure you needed, too.

JoeinVegas said...

Wow, you got an education on your vacation as well as fun time. I hope your memories of all of your Florida places are pleasant.

The Wife said...

I always felt bitter that my parents dragged me to Florida, also in 1989, but then felt exactly the same way when I returned home to Cleveland for my grandmother's funeral a few years ago. Although I had been back several times since the move, the last visit really changed my perspective. It wasn't the same place I remembered.

TexWisGirl said...

nicely written. i can relate a bit, having moved 1,100 miles away from home at age 20, leaving all i had ever known behind. still have a few 'what-ifs' that wander into my head now and again, but know that my life is what it should be too.

congrats on your POTW!

Bossy Betty said...

Congrats on your POTW. Nice job here. I am always amazed at how things have changed and how things have remained the same when I go back "home".

King of New York Hacks said...

I always think of Billy Joels Scenes from an Italian Restaurant ...Then the king and the queen went back to the green But you could never go back there again...

Yup, always good memories but the path we take is right where were supposed to be...for now....great post.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

This seems to happen to many of us in our lifetimes - thoughts we keep high on our list only to discover there really wasn't a need for them at all.

Glad you've satisfied that desire.

Barb said...

I guess we can't go home again. Sometimes a memory of a place is better than the real thing. Congrats on POTW.

Anonymous said...

I really found this post interesting.. as I have experienced the OPPOSITE reaction. I, too, live in Florida, but have also lived many other places..

I am from the northeast and every time I go back, it makes me more sure that that is where my heart is.. not in Florida.

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