Going Away and Coming Home

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10.06.13  It was in Autumn that we moved up here to northwest Montana.  Colorado Springs had been the place in my life where I’d lived the longest.  Now, I have lived longer in Montana.  In all my life, this is the place in which I have spent most of my years.  We’ve just returned from a week-long Colorado Springs visit, tending to an ailing father-in-law and visiting all the old friends.  Every time I’ve been there in the past sixteen years, someone will say,  “So, do you think you’re going to move back to the Springs?”  This time, I was asked, “Where do you think you guys will retire?”

I understand, when I’m there, how easy it is for these loved ones to think we might return.  I always walk the old streets, and feel that time has stood still in the houses in this lovely historic neighborhood.  I remember each family as they were sixteen years ago, when our children went to the same schools, played on the same sports teams.  I remember the events that stopped time;  the mother who committed suicide in the basement of one house; the young doctor who had the stroke in that one; the troubled child who killed a family and went to live at the state hospital; a fellow breast cancer sister who didn’t survive.  And lots of homes where divorce changed everything.  I like asking my friends, “So, whatever happened to so-and-so?” or “what is that son or daughter doing these days?”  We cycle back into comfortable neighborhood gossip, but, I am aware that my friends have forgotten the events that became frozen in time for me.

Time has moved on for them these past sixteen years, and I can’t see the place in the same way they do, from this distance up north.   Just as time has moved on for me, here in my new home in Montana;  they can’t see how I live, from down there.  We have gone on to live our separate lives, yet conjoined by shared experiences, in the place which used to be where I had lived the longest.  It was the place where we bought the beloved old yellow house on Wood Avenue and remodeled the attic, with its charming eyebrow windows, into a bedroom for the two older girls.  Later, I remember standing in the butler’s pantry between the kitchen and dining room, looking out the north-facing windows on a sunny winter’s day, and I saw the couple next door locked in a long, passionate kiss and embrace, in the middle of the day, in their living room.  I think that was the first time I knew there was a deep emptiness somewhere inside of me.

And, it was the place where we bought the stone English cottage, a block away, shortly after our Christmas wedding.  We knew it would be lovely during the holidays, and it always was, with a 15 foot tree in the sunporch, twinkling in all-white lights, and a smaller tree with colored lights in the cozy bookshelf-lined living room.  I loved every single dinner we had in the dining room with the sloped roof,  wallpapered in French blue and cranberry red floral wallpaper, and a blazing fire in the fireplace on the north wall.  My new in-laws bought us an antique Irish sideboard with a stained-glass cabinet window that looked stunning in that room.  It’s in my kitchen now, here at the lake, and oh how its memories warm me up on a cold winter’s day.

Now I am home again.  In this place where I’ve lived the longest.  And, I have new and dear friends here who have shared the experiences of this place with us.  It makes me think of that old song we used to sing in rounds, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”  Ten years ago, struggling to find my place in yet another home, here on the lake in the Fall,  I recorded this poem by Howard Nemerov in my journal, and had myself a good cry of homesickness.  He knew my sadness in “going away”.  But, strangers and forbidden homes, did not unfold for me.   The passing of time has brought its inevitable hardships and sorrows of death and illness, and we’ve needed one another.  So, Colorado Springs remains a beloved old homeplace, even as now I delight in coming home.

Now as the year turns toward its darkness
the car is packed, and time come to start
driving west. We have lived here
for many years and been more or less content;
now we are going away. That is how
things happen, and how into new places,
among other people, we shall carry
our lives with their peculiar memories
both happy and unhappy but either way
touched with a strange tonality
of what is gone but inalienable, the clear
and level light of a late afternoon
out on the terrace, looking to the mountains,
drinking with friends. Voices and laughter
lifted in still air, in a light
that seemed to paralyze time.
We have had kindness here, and some
unkindness; now we are going on.
Though we are young enough still
And militant enough to be resolved,
Keeping our faces to the front, there is
A moment, after saying all farewells,
when we taste the dry and bitter dust
of everything that we have said and done
for many years, and our mouths are dumb,
and the easy tears will not do. Soon
the north wind will shake the leaves,
the leaves will fall. It may be
never again that we shall see them,
the strangers who stand on the steps,
smiling and waving, before the screen doors
of their suddenly forbidden houses.

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