This weekend I drove home, a six hour trip through mostly flat farmlands with intermittent shopping malls looming like bandits over medieval back roads. I was shocked how easy it was for me. Perhaps a sign of growing up, not the Truth of the World growing up, but the type of simply maturity that allows me to leave the highway without the fear that I will never find my way back on. A weird and simple bravery that allows me to step off the path once in awhile. It was rather encouraging.
After hour 4 I realized that I felt no sense of importance in this journey. I had lived on my own for awhile, but had never gone this long without seeing my parents. It should feel important. It felt routine. How strange, I thought, that something so new felt simply like part of my day. It wasn’t until I passed over the Hudson Creek Bridge, half an hour from my parent’s house, the familiar dip after the pylon bouncing my car, that I finally found the expected nostalgia.
It doubled as I turned off the highway, snarling silently at a minivan with a Novi sticker who wobbled uncertainly across the two turning lanes. I had the right to complain. I was a local. I knew how to navigate the awkward intersection. I passed the corner where I wasted late nights and early mornings in the one 24 hour diner, which was now a Starbucks. I passed the ski hill, a tiny dirt hump the city was obnoxiously proud of.
(In the parking lot was a small dirt hill with a few charred stumps sticking out. It turns out, I would learn later, that someone had decided it was a wonderful idea to remake Red Dawn, a decision which I believe immediately qualifies them for extreme psychological help, and possibly incarceration).
I noted, with some amusement, that they had also smoothed the railroad crossing, but had done nothing to the pockmarked corner save erect a yellow sign reading, “Rough Road Ahead.” Lovely.
The wedding I returned for was beautiful, but I felt an almost awkward sense of normalcy as I walked around town, visited friends, even as I wandered over to MSU and walked the campus. Nothing at all. I ran into a professor. She shrugged my sudden appearance off. It was very nice to see me. A state away I had worshiped her and used her confidence in me as guidance through my most stressful days, and she had moved onto other students. Why did it bother me so much that everything had moved on? Did I really want to say a small hole in Michigan where I once was? Yes, dammit. That would have been nice.
That’s selfish, I admonished myself. People move on. They have their lives. You have yours…sort of. You know, that bit of time between writing and grading papers and homework. Yeah, that bit right there. You shouldn’t care what happens to your old stomping ground.
But I do! I do! I want them to need me the way I need them. I think about my professors and friends, my cafes and bookstores. I miss the places like the people. I missed the memory of location like an inside joke; a reference only a few understand. Yes. I wanted that to be reflected in my world. But it wasn’t. I drove back to Ohio.
I went out the night I came home. I couldn’t stand in the empty house alone. I glanced down the dark, brick lined alleys off State Street on my way uptown, and stopped when I noticed something looking back. It was half way up the hill, thick and furry. I could see the reflection off its eyes, though they didn’t glow like a cat. A dog, then. A tail wagged slowly, carefully behind him. Instinctively, I clucked, an encouraging noise for horses. The dog turned and wandered into the bushes in response. His tail wagged lazily behind him. Honest to God. These things happen to me.
Alright then Ghost Dog. Tell your friends I’ve come home.