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From the curved, brick street.

December 5, 2011

I landed in Huntington a few nights ago, to the warm home of my friends Sara and Jeffrey, so thankful for their hugs and hospitality. For the first few days, I felt very disoriented and at once out of place and completely at home. There’s a slightly dizzying disquiet for me here. Loud echoes and reverberations from adolescence and its maddening tincture of desire, anxiety, hopes and pain. My first love, first sex, first rock and roll, first hangover, first crushing heartbreak, first glimpse of existential emptiness. When I arrived in town I wandered a bit and ended up driving past the house where we had lived on Rugby Road. I stopped and looked up at my bedroom window. The curtain was open and I could see light purple paint on the wall and a little girl’s collection of pink and glitter and ribbon. I felt my throat close up a little and my head start to separate from my body. It was dark out, cold and damp. It was hard to stay in that spot with the tsunami of memories and emotions flooding and choking me. I drove on.

Before getting to Huntington, I stopped in Portsmouth, Ohio, where we lived for six years or so, pre-adolescence. A once bustling industrial city on the river, Portsmouth is now struggling under the dual curses of poverty and fundamentalist religion. I arrived feeling an exuberance for tracking down my old haunts; the baseball field, the river bank, the houses where we lived, the woods where we played. My sparkly excitement was met with large swaths of heavy, brown despair. Nihilism, broken minds, and cancer treatment ads covering giant billboards. Life was often difficult in Portsmouth where I spent some of the grayer years of my coming up. There is some nostalgia, and a few seriously fun memories of rolling down grassy hills, learning to ride a bike with no hands, and the neighborhoods where we lived, with whole societies of children that encompassed friends and enemies, where games of kick-the-can or red-rover were played with to-the-death ferocity.

Before Portsmouth I wandered around Granville, Ohio, where the blissful, idyllic parts of my early childhood reside, all sledding in deep snow, walks to the duck pond, the summer blackberry feast out back, naps curled up with my mom. Then to Athens, where I was born and later spent my first quarter of college. A quintessential college town with a gorgeous campus and all the important places within about a fifteen minute walk from the main quad. Brick streets and old buildings, front porches, a town warm and friendly, bursting at the seams with the creative and the curious.

My family moved to West Virginia when I was 12 and I left at age 22 for San Francisco. The last time I was in Huntington was spring of ’06, just about a year after my dad died. I came here to find him and see him again, to hear his voice and talk to his spirit that still inhabited the sidewalks and buildings and every tree and blade of grass on the campus of MU where he had taught for thirty-something years. He was easy to find, standing at the river, the mighty Ohio, sacred to all who have grown up along its banks. Spring is gorgeous here, and that trip aligned perfectly with the dogwood trees blooming like crazy, daffodils poking out of their cold hibernation, trees budding, winter coats getting left at home, smiles and warm hellos. Life emerging from cracks in the pavement, clear signs of hope and peace.

This time I’ve entered Huntington from the back door, the end car on the train. I see myself on so many corners, walking my paper route, riding endless hours on my bike. I see myself horny and alive, moving and playing, avoiding traps and bullies, seeking out the fun and adventurous. I see myself afraid, anxious about my place in the world I was growing into. I watch myself from behind, early twenties, loading my gear into an old bread delivery van and driving West. And I sit quietly and look, and stare, and listen, as the light softens and fades, and the frost takes over the cold ground and the naked trees. I don’t want to get close enough to touch or kiss or enter the places of my youth. I am watching from across the street, and that’s close enough.


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  1. Ellen permalink

    Beautifully written and good to hear. Who says we can’t go back?
    Don’t hold back.

  2. WOW. This is so beautiful. Perfectly written. I’m sure this is the last thing on your mind, but … submit it somewhere!

  3. I have some grammatical corrections you should consider. OK, just kidding. Thank you for posting such an intimate, magical post about a somewhat painful experience.

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