A few years ago, driving out of Lexington for the last time, my car stuffed with laundry, a coffee maker, CDs, and books, I noticed that the sad little submarine sandwich shop with the Boar's Head deli meats and the cheap Coor's Light specials had closed. This was, I noted, the first tiny change of an endless parade of transformations that will occur in my absence and render this place, that was both my trap and my home, eventually unrecognizable.
Notably, I am reminded of a late night drive years ago outside of Winston Salem with a friend. By a circuitous route of guesswork, guided along old streets in a poor formerly-white neighborhood by a failing memory, we found the house he had lived in as a child, probably only eight years prior. The small house sat there in the bad streetlighting, like every other house on that block, only this house had a strange car in the driveway. We were both so moved that we had to get out of our car and sneak around to the backyard so he could show me the window of what once was his bedroom. It was dark. Maybe it was empty, maybe not.
Houses. I could tell you of the house in the country where I lived for two years with a lover and three cats. Its grass is unmowed now and there's a bargain basement swingset in the yard. This is a house that I slept in, fell in love by slow increments, passed out in the cramped bathroom once, shuddered in the freezing mornings when the heat would go out, sat through a hurricane, drank whiskey and ginger ale by the light of the Internet on nights when I could not sleep. The woman and the cats are in Arizona now; I'm in Arlington - a long way from home.
Or I could tell you about seeing my first car drive by after I had sold it for $140. Just an ordinary day, driving along, when here comes my old 1980 Pontiac Sunbird and passes right by on the left. It was like seeing a ghost.
I wish I could take you to a little garage in Boykins, Virginia. My family would stop there on Sunday afternoons on the way home from my grandmother's house in Portsmouth. They had an ancient soda machine that sold glass bottles of Grape and Orange Crush. You would insert your change, open a little door and reach in and grab the bottle by the neck and pull it out. Is that garage still there? I'm sure the machine has changed. You can't find machinery like that anywhere anymore. It has been thirty years or so since I drank those fantastic sodas - which seems remarkable.
And speaking of my grandmother, I wonder if my father and uncle sometimes drive by her old house and just sit outside. It was a tiny house, two rooms, built in a hurry for the men who flocked to the shipyards in World War Two. My grandparents raised two children there and entertained a small host of grandkids in that little living room. We're talking thirty or forty years in one place. It was heated by an ominous gas furnace that you could see through the grate in the center of the hall, its blue eye glaring up hot and angry from the bottom of the house. There was drawer of toys beside my grandmother's bed that I would sit on the floor and play with in order to keep out of the way of adults; I particularly liked the Noah's Ark. I believed the closet was haunted; stuffed with coats as it was, I could never find the back of it. We sold it after she died in 1988.
It is strange to realize that you begin to feel homesick for places where you used to just feel homesick for earlier places. When I was young, I could sink into deep reveries for having missed out on the Montmartre of the twenties or the American frontier via Tom Sawyer, which was a strange homesickness based solely on books - I had never been to those places or times.
There are days when you cannot entertain or busy yourself enough to avoid noticing that the universe is nothing if not an eternal series of mirrors, each reflecting their own realities, shifting light. How else could I explain how listening to "Trains and Parades" by Schooner, a song I have only recently come to know, could have brought me to the nature of my Grandmother's furnace or an old soda machine? The mirrors make your face is rosy in one place, pallid in another. Cover one mirror with a blanket, another captures the scene and shoots it onto another. Life is not tragic; nor is it comic or filled with rapturous joy. Life is simultaneous.