But I Can’t Go Anymore

in my Washington Heights home, 2011

 

Every now and then, I’m hit with a pang of longing for a special place.

Not necessarily a wanderlust, although these places are usually far away from where I am now. It’s a craving for a place that was familiar to me. None of these places were “mine,” but the yearning to return to them is strong. Stronger than the feelings of missing the people I associate with those places.

For instance, I was just sitting here, behaving, when my mind wandered quite mischievously to the kitchen at my ex-boyfriend’s parents’ house. Before it could start to feel at home within those cheery, yellow walls, I hastily retreated. Flooded with guilt, I admonished myself for having a rosy daydream in someone else’s kitchen — as if the current inhabitants could somehow feel my ghost in their space.

I wonder if they do. My memory is so powerful, it certainly feels possible that my astral body could very well pull up a chair and watch the garden out the window. If that is true, then I will make myself a guest in the memory of this place. I’ll pause to straighten the haphazard stacks of mismatched dishes in the cupboard. Maybe I’ll even help myself to an organic yogurt in the fridge.

In my dreams, there are really only two places I visit: my old high school, and my Grandma’s house. The former was a place I never really paid much attention to, funny enough. When my subconscious goes back to school, details get muddled. The layout gets confused. I find myself getting frustrated in my dreams, trying to remember my way around what feels like an M.C. Escher recreation of the place I know as well as the back of my hand. Or once did.

In contrast, I can conjure up every fiber of carpet in my Grandmother’s old house, even fast asleep. I think that’s the place my brain longs to visit the most. It’s been years since she’s lived there, but my mind hasn’t truly let her leave. When I think of “Grandma,” of course I imagine the yellow triangle house with the patio out back. The wood paintings of birds right inside the door, the way we’d all wedge ourselves into the tiny TV room to watch Unsolved Mysteries with Grandpa in his blue chair. As kids, we’d begrudgingly arrange ourselves on the lowest steps of the staircase to take group photos together. The green upstairs bathroom, the mysterious laundry chute door, the hidden pantry in the basement. The longer I let my imagination dwell in this space, the more it hurts my heart.

I know I’ll never go back there, any more than I can sneak back in to Vestal High School, or invite myself into the kitchen of my old flame. I’ll never fall asleep in the pink bedroom of my first home in New York City. No more candle-lit baths in the roomy bathroom of my Harlem home. I’ll never really explore the attic of my college apartment off the park, or sit on the balcony to watch the moon in my sleeping bag, like I did on the night of the lunar eclipse.

And now, I start to worry about my current homey place. I thought these other places would last forever. Sure, the high school routine was exhausting, but it was safe and predictable. I always felt welcomed in that kitchen. Grandma’s house was like the mecca of familial comfort. I never, at the time, imagined being exiled from these spaces: banished without hope for return. I fervently scan the outline of the cupboards in my kitchen: I had better remember these well, because someday, I may long for this space, too. 

I actually had a dream that I let myself in to my Grandmother’s house. It was empty, but still kept up the way she had it. I knew she wasn’t there, but it was unchanged, even though she hasn’t lived there in years. I crept into the side TV room and lay down on the couch, where I could see my Grandfather’s framed Navy photo and the delicate lacy curtains in the front kitchen window. And then, in my dream, I remembered this wasn’t her home anymore. I tried to force myself to unsee the subtle floral wallpaper and gleaming wood floors. I pushed myself off the couch and out the side door, running to the base of the driveway, in hopes that I wouldn’t get caught trespassing. A grey wolf appeared silently behind me and followed me to the end of the street.

 

They say that wolves in dreams are a sign of facing a fear, and are a sign of wisdom and healing. I think the fear is definitely a fear of loss, of change. A fear that special places will lose their meaning, once I can’t go anymore. Maybe the wolf was there to bring me the wisdom that nobody can evict me from my special places, in my memory. Or to heal from the hurt of feeling cast out from these special places. At least I can still visit in dreams, though.

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