They say you can’t go home again. Much as I hate cliches, they become cliche for a reason.
I hadn’t been home to Kentucky in over two years, thanks to the pandemic, which had everyone’s ability to travel restricted generally to their own city limits, and for many, their own four walls. As the lockdowns eased, mask mandates lifted, and vaccination rates went up, the prospect of making a trip back home loomed large in my mind.
I yearned to be near my family again, if only for a few days, just to get back in touch with my roots. To feel something other than isolationism and loneliness. To eat something imbued with that tenderness of food prepared by a mother’s loving hand.
When my wife and I made the decision to move over two thousand miles away from our families and everyone we had ever known, going from the heart of the South to the Pacific Northwest, we didn’t really count on a global pandemic completely eliminating even the option of returning home. Something about that being taken away from us made the isolation feel much worse. We truly felt cut off from everyone. For better or worse, we were on our own.
As soon as the vaccines were available, we took them, and we encouraged everyone we knew to do the same. And once travel seemed to be mostly freed from the risks of spreading covid to others, we began looking at plane tickets back to Kentucky. We were going home.
You think you are coming home to a place in your memory, but it isn’t so. That place? The one in your mind, where nostalgia kindles and flickers like a candle’s flame? It has ceased to exist. It’s no longer there. It is, to put it quite simply, gone.
The outline sketches remain. The bones of it. The rough and rudimentary reminders of what once was. But on its surface, everything has changed.
Even the air feels different. Somehow stickier. Heavier. Thicker. It clings to the skin and weighs more in the lungs. Despite this, it is a comfort. You just know in your being that the air you breathe now is the air of your home. The place that made you. And being here, the sweat springing up between your shoulder blades now, feels like a gift.