The English professor’s piercing eyes scanned the room from behind large, plastic frames. His bushy, dark eyebrows rose and fell like dancing caterpillars as he spoke. Curly, gray hair crowned his large face, and hints of pipe smoke wafted from his wool, button-down sweater.
“Consider these words from the American novelist Thomas Wolfe,” he instructed. “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
The professor surveyed the class of freshman with slow deliberation before continuing, “Your assignment is to write about that.”
Over the next few days, I tried to extract meaning from the terse phrase “you can’t go home again.” The night before the paper was due, there was a tap-tap-tapping on my dorm room door. It was my sister, who was a confident, carefree junior on campus. With one sweeping look at my crouched-over frame and the crumpled pages surrounding my black, electric typewriter, she moved into big-sister mode. Like an awkward pup, I trailed her through the crisp, dark night to the computer room. As she sat at the keyboard, drilling me like a political reporter during a White House press conference, words that tolerably fulfilled the assignment filled two white pages.
I don’t recall my words – naïve and empty ones most likely.
You can’t go home again. Would you agree? (And what is home, exactly?) Could one return home in such a deliberate way that present time and past memories (good or bad) come together to create a sweetness that surpasses the original?