A few weeks back, I did something I hadn’t done in a while. Years, really. I took a drive past my childhood home. It wasn’t the home that my parents currently live in, but the place I grew up. I don’t know who lives there now.
There are two distinct moments from that trip: the before and the after. In the before, I remembered the house as a huge white two-story painted tenement, set back from a busy residential road in the quieter section of a major city. I knew it had probably grown run down from when I was young. I was sure the cashier at Ronci’s corner bakery was no longer handing out free iced sugar cookies to every kid whose mom came in for a loaf of bread. If her flour-dusted hands were veined and age-spotted in my memory, then they weren't reaching over counter this day, treat waiting in white wax paper while small feet island-hopped on the green fieldstone of the tiny shop's uneven floor. In the before, my mom would signal the okay to eat with a nod. A cookie was devoured before change could be counted out for crusty-fresh gluten goods.
The after: it's no longer a bakery. It may not be the same building. I don’t recall it ever having a parking lot.
My street (I call it mine, although it is less mine now than it ever was), is narrower than I remember. Cars line either side, making it difficult to get one vehicle down its center, let alone two. I keep thinking the house will appear sooner than it does, but the numbers don’t lie.
The after: it’s very close to the road. It has vinyl siding. Dish TV. I look for the garage as I slow the car to a crawl, pull over to let a second squeeze by, but there is no garage, only a driveway that ends at a fence. I can’t fathom a garage ever fitting in that space.
The before: did I imagine a garage? That garage has often filled my dreams, as has the small semi-circular grassy section of backyard, which has taken various sizes, with and without swing set, and all types of menacing neighbors.
I’ve survived clown attacks, attended circuses, and tripped over miles of rummage, outrunning outlaws in that garage. And then I’ve woken up sweat-covered in beds, in bedrooms inside homes that weren’t the one I'm talking about here.
The before: I learned to ride a two-wheeler in the enormous parking lot a few houses down and across the street. The first time my mom (dad?) let me go, I pedaled into a van’s grill because breaking wasn’t part of the lesson (that I remembered).
The after: the parking lot might fit three or four cars, max. Let’s call it an oversized driveway.
The after: the house is very close to the road, and now I understand the chainlink fence.
The before: the fence stops the ball from rolling into the street.
The after: the fence stops the street from getting into the house.
The after: have you ever tried to go back into a story you began years ago but it wasn’t what you thought it was?
Has the story changed or the writer changed?
You can argue that the story can't change, only the writer.
You can argue that the garage was there at one time, but maybe it never was.
Sometimes, I open old work; work that demands that my completionist self revisit it, and I find myself shutting the laptop soon after. Soon is relative - days, weeks, but it's always soon. That’s okay, because home isn’t one place. Home isn’t one story. It doesn’t have to be the project that isn’t working, isn’t fitting, isn’t feeling. It's a reminder for sticktuitiveness at the start, but only when you have the ability to stay in one place for long enough.
The before: I must get it done.
The after: that was the story that preceded the story. Not every story needs a place, (a home), an outlet. It's hard to fully understand that you might write a whole book for the sole purpose of growing as a writer until you do it. (We call it "trashing it.") No one sets out to devote one thousand hours to shelving a project. Not every story needs to see the light of day, a hundred sets of reader eyes, or has to contribute funds to the space race.
Is there truth to the adage “you can’t go home again?” Where is home? Do you need to? Have you ever really left?
We're tapping on your heart today. Feel that thumping in your chest? That's us. We'd lovingly comment on your work if we could.