You Can’t Go Home Again? Says Who?

One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted —

One need not be a House —

The Brain has Corridors — surpassing

Material Place —

Emily Dickinson

Thomas Wolfe titled his popular autobiographical novel, You Can’t Go Home Again. And his phrase has entered popular speech as an axiom, a self-evident truth: you can’t go back and reclaim the dreams, “you can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood …. back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

Oh, no? If only we couldn’t go home again, Tom Wolfe!

For me, the rank breath of insecurity, discouragement, frustration, anger — any of those unsettling emotions —-swiftly transports me “back home.” I have never left. Here time stands still, and the house is haunted, not by cute little Casper-like white poppets, but by — what? Gray clinging veils of — nothing at all, a swift motion glimpsed from the corner of an eye, perhaps. But it takes time, lots of it, and work, also lots of it (psychotherapy is neither instant nor easy, despite facile criticisms by those who don’t know) to recognize this place as what it is —

Childhood’s haunted house.

Once it’s recognized as such, I regain choice. Do I remain there, in what was? Or can I leave home yet again and return to my own chosen Home, the one I’ve spent so many years renovating as a place of sunlight, not shadow? Of space, not confinement? The choice is no contest. But the recognition that (pace Thomas Wolfe) once again I Have Gone Home Again has to precede it.

No wonder that many years ago, I was so struck by this passage in The Inner World of Choice, by Jungian analyst Frances Wickes, that I copied it into my commonplace book. It is her transcription of the dream of a five-year-old child:

“I dreamed that the world outside is all waves. Angels told me to die of my own accord. But God said, ‘Don’t do that.’ If you die of your own accord when angels tell you, you step out on the waves and don’t get anywhere. But if you die when God tells you, he takes you and cleans away all your ghosts, and you can walk out on the water and come back and live all over again.”

Tom Wolfe of course is the far greater writer; but for wisdom, I choose the five-year-old child who knew about childhood. And ghosts. As did that grownup child Emily Dickinson.

This entry was posted in Etcetera, Personal Essay and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to You Can’t Go Home Again? Says Who?

  1. pauline says:

    Interesting. I’d give almost anything to go home again – literally. I do it figuratively all the time, walking the beloved rooms in my imagination, turning in at the yard from an imaginary walk along my old home street, fixing, repairing, restoring each room in my mind until I am four, or ten or fifteen or seventeen, still there with no real desire to leave. While you and others long to make a new home for yourselves, I yearn for the old one. I love my cottage, I do, and it has become a home to me but not THE home, the one I still miss. I’ve tried to decipher the ever-strong pull toward that particular house, that particular piece of land. I have a few memories of hard times there, sad times, even restless times. But ever and always the house loved me and I, it. I imagine it will always be that way. If ever I had the chance to go back, I’d willingly forfeit much to do so.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      I know you love that house, Pauline, and I admire and envy your feelings and experience. A blog friend, Tara, has a very eloquent post about memories on FindingStrengthtoStandAgain. (She has commented on my post Forgetfulness.)
      You and she are about 180 degrees around the circle from me. Somewhere in the wholeness is great importance. As always, thanks for writing.


  2. What a powerfully and -as always- well written piece! I can relate to Pauline as having had sad and stressful times in my childhood home. While I rebelled away from it for years, I have come to a calmness that yearns to return at times.

    Thank you for providing a very different but just as common view of memories of home.



  3. Stef says:

    It’s interesting, I’ve been wrestling with a variation of this theme recently, but in reverse. It’s too much to comment on here; but I did want to let you know this post caught my attention, and my mind. Thanks for sharing.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Stef, If you look at the comments you see that among my acquaintance there’s a strong feeling of “in reverse.” (If I understand correctly what you mean.)
      I think Thomas Wolfe was probably on that side, too; but if I ever read the book it was so long ago I no longer remember, and besides, it probably was Look Homeward, Angel, his other big seller. Hmmmmm — same theme? the Angel looking Homeward?
      If your current thinking results in a post, or a piece, I look forward to reading it — Judith


  4. fb says:

    Much as I would like to go home again for a short visit, I find that it for me is impossible. Are you ready for this? In the 1980’s my childhood home and the little street that I lived on in Philadelphia was destroyed by a firebomb, because of the standoff between Mayor Goode and the radical group MOVE.
    This was the house in which I was born…in my Mother’s bed. I always say that at that time it was important for me to be near my mother.
    This happened many years after we had moved away from Osage Avenue and Philadelphia, but I still felt that I was deprived of a good many childhood memories.


I love comments! Thanks for coming by and visiting ---

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s