I’m back where I went to grad school for the weekend, visiting old friends, in some cases literally old. The contemporaries I’ve kept up with have scattered to the four corners of the earth, or at least of the U.S., so it’s mostly my professors that I’m seeing. Places you’ve left traditionally seem smaller when you return, but this one is also bigger in some places, and just the same in others, so the overall effect is weirdly distorted. The house I lived in for four years is for sale. I drove past another place I lived and was surprised that it looks like such a dump; I was, briefly, very happy in that apartment, and that glow strongly affects my imagination of the place.
When I left home for graduate school, I fully expected never to return. But I still had trouble adapting to the new place, especially the extremes of temperature. And humidity. And how green it was in summer, how drab in winter. But at least there were hills, and water. By the time I finished, I felt very attached to the place, and in the first few years of my job, I returned every year, sometimes more than once. Now, though, it’s been eight years since I was last here, and the very familiarity of the place feels strange. It may be familiar, but I’m not the same person I was when I lived here, and the Present Self resists the familiarity, looks for changes, discovers with surprise how well she has adapted to (or at least, how thoroughly she has accepted) various Midwestern traits of landscape, architecture, city planning, and personality.
What is home? I pine for certain landscapes, the shapes of trees and hills, certain flora. I don’t want to live again in the town where I grew up. I don’t want to live here. I don’t exactly think of where I live now as home, but it is the most familiar place to me now. But the familiarity has continual elements of strangeness to it, as well. Once you have been truly exiled, can there be a return?