You Can’t Go Home Again

Is home a place?

Years ago, I encountered on a postcard that showed what looked like the Kansas farmhouse from Wizard of Oz with a storm cloud over it and the taped-on words, “Ever since leaving for college, I’ve lost my sense of home.”

At eighteen, I felt the same way. I went to Clemson University in 1995, some eight hours away from my hometown of Herndon in Northern Virginia. My parents divorced, our house was sold, my sisters went one to college and one to a different neighborhood, and my father moved to Ukraine. Separated, scattered, alone, I wondered what “home” was left.

I chose Clemson because my maternal grandparents, Nana and Papa, had season tickets to football there and I would get to see them nearly every weekend. 

As my father said when making the case for Clemson, “Kasie, your grandparents are old and they’re going to die. You don’t want to miss this time with them.” I was lucky, they lived another 20 years after I went to Clemson, but he was right about one thing: I didn’t want to miss that precious time with them.

Home in my twenties became South Carolina, specifically Clemson University, the 1120 Rutledge Avenue, Florence, home of Nana and Papa, and Charlie Whitener who married me despite some of the best advice I’ve ever given – at the alter nonetheless – “We don’t have to do this.”

Home is about being yourself. Being accepted. Being loved. And in finding love, I found home.

In After December, Brian is experiencing the displacement that a lot of college students feel when they are caught between two worlds. He loves his parents and his friends, who are “home” to him. He hates Herndon, which he thinks of as a kind of inauthentic rat race teeming with pressure. He likes being in San Francisco but doesn’t yet think of it as home.

The ultimate displacement for Generation X came on 9/11. If divorce splitting our families into two households, and more of us going “away” to college hadn’t completely disfigured our sense of home, a terrorist attack on American soil and the Cold War-era, Reagan’s LA Olympics, John Williams-themed patriotism that surged in response probably finished the job.

Brian’s experience with 9/11 is one of a million “Where were you when the world stopped turning?” stories. The day plays a crucial role in Before Pittsburgh, Brian’s second novel that chronicles the three years elapsed between the last two chapters of After December. (Planned release is July 2021.)

Home is likely to be an emergent theme in my work as a GenX author. I suspect my generation has struggled with “home” more than our parents and certainly more than our grandparents ever did. Nana and Papa lived in the same town for 70 years. I’m on my sixth town in just 20.

If home is a place, it’s a place in my memory. A place to which I can never return. But I’m okay with that. 

I prefer to think of home as wherever I find love and acceptance. And wherever I am free to give that love and acceptance in return.

You Can’t Go Home Again” was a presentation for the Fairfax County Library given June 11, 2020.

2 thoughts on “You Can’t Go Home Again”

  1. “I prefer to think of home as wherever I find love and acceptance. And wherever I am free to give that love and acceptance in return.” Beautifully expressed! Family, loved ones and best friends in one logistical location usually define an individual’s concept, feeling, and emotional attachment as “home” but for many in the modern-day world, this concept is diminishing. Terms like, “my childhood home” are steadily on the uprise as family, work, education, war, and financial dynamics seemingly are the “new norm” in this ever-changing, progressive society (or some) which is understandable.
    Usually, new immediate family, new friends, a new location over time bring about either a temporary or permanent substitute for that place we know as home. The place where we had our first experiences of every kind, the place of refuge, and the place we first learned to love and were loved, are permanently etched in the psyche of our minds, and rightly so.
    But let us not forget to mention those whose “childhood home” was not so positive, or loving. Those individuals regularly shun the negative memories of that place, and even in some cases re-enact that very same storyline in their present lives. They seek a home to experience what they have heard so many others speak and reminisce about.
    In either case, the majority of individuals seek a place that they can call home. It simply is the nature of the human psyche through evolution. Home is our psychological stronghold, where innately we believe ourselves to have the best chance for survival. But to survive against what? Scroll down the menu further and ask yourself, “What do I really fear?”
    I believe at the root, we fear other people. In this sometimes cold and violent world we live in, the fear of others can truly be some cases, but not in the majority. We are more alike than unlike each other as human beings at our core.
    To quote Abraham Maslow: “Once we have food and shelter — but before we can seek self-actualization — we must feel safety, belonging, and mattering. Without these three essential keys a person cannot perform, innovate, be emotionally engaged, agree, or move forward.”
    Sadly, the majority of individuals have never heard of the Hierarchy of Needs from Maslow. Everyone should at least consider it. When we evolve as a society and as a species to accept every person as part of our true human family, then we will understand that the entire planet of Earth is our home. Until then, the old adage remains true, “Home is where the heart is.” Still, never be afraid to search your mind and soul and ask, “where is your heart?”

    1. I love this discussion, CJ. In the presentation for Fairfax County Library tonight I will in fact be talking about the compare/contrast of the loving, safe home and the “bad” memories or associations of a damaged or damaging home that authors use to strengthen character, create tension, and develop conflict. Thanks for reading (as always!) and I hope you’ll keep conversing on this and other topics with me. Cheers! ::KW::

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