Part I: The End of Home

It’s 39 and pitch-dark, has been for hours. Always gets like this when the leaves bristle and plummet, and frost seeps into your lungs.

The cold, bleak darkness recommences with clockwork-like urgency and invariable starkness. Summer hath ended; crawl back into your concrete slabs.

I’ve experienced this 26 of 28 breathing years; you’d think I’d be used to it. Warm, gentle breeze giving way to cool, caustic gusts which flummox my internal monologue into word salad. Doesn’t get easier … gets even.

The sun saunters elsewhere for roughly eight months, before we draw a golden bath sometime in May; long after the fine people of upper-Midwesternewyork huddle in secular solitude.

But as frigid and frosty as life became some time around the epoch of Jack-o-Lanterns and cornstalks, the constant whir of warming glow: home is here. The nexus of comfort. Family. Job. Life. Me. Here, in this darkness. It’s a part of me; we are one.


I’d lived here before.

I first came to Buffalo, the third time, with nativity somewhat lost. Nine years (to the day) after moving some 18 interchanges by car down the Thruway to Utica, I’d returned in a sort of last-round-of-bullets hunting trip where the deer all shot back, grinning.

Oh, sure, I had some amenities of home out here. My grandfather’s house, perched neatly behind my first boyhood home, a warm nostalgia trek through Rockwellian utopia. I’d entertain thought of one day making my family proud, Papa throwing my cap at graduation and dancing at my wedding. Maybe, I’d buy him a fishing pole or a pitching wedge – a small token of repayment for all the gifts he’d given.

The last memory I have of him centers on a bailout less than a year later. I still remember the way he smelled when he’d hug me hello and goodbye. That’s about all I remember. Seven years condemned several neuronal parcels.

Throw in the odd eccentricity of random encounters with old friends from my previous lives. Neighborhood kids all grown up. High school crew all grown old. Family friends still peripherally engaged. I was playing air guitar at a very special reunion concert where half the band was started lucrative solo careers and didn’t bother to show. We couldn’t recapture the full sound or magic.


After enough time’s passed, each return home to Utica felt progressively less like a trip home, and more like a trip. It felt like home … as my grandfather’s place always did, but at some point I resigned myself to the cold, hard fact I didn’t live there anymore. But I felt comfortable, though, which I suppose is enough.

My father and I haven’t lived together in well over a decade. My parents split, he moved into an apartment, moved into a home, re-married and moved into a bigger home. Each time I visited, I re-envisioned and re-framed what home should be and feel like.


My sister’s in Colorado. My father’s in Iowa. My mom’s in Florida. My brother’s in New York, in neither my hometown or my other hometown, but rather one of my college towns. And they all moved this year.

I remember, in July, meeting my sister at her old place just before her odyssey to the Rockies. She’d moved out of my mom’s house, finally, to strike on her own and I showed up in her apartment. And there were cats and her bed and her clothes and the unmistakable scent of incense, body spray and musk she’d spent years harvesting into a seamless scent called “D.” And though I drove the same streets, and ate in a restaurant to which I hadn’t been since high school, and could have called on any number of old friends, it wasn’t home. But it sure was familiar.

I remember being at my father’s in September, and being overwhelmed and overcome by the sheer openness of both the home and the area. Des Moines is a charming, quaint city that seems to stop on a dime if you’re not acutely aware of your GPS. His house is a palatial brick beauty with high ceilings and few walls or doors.  It isn’t home. But it sure is nice.

I remember being at my mother’s in October, and being enthralled by the climate and wonder of a home in Central Florida. I remember walking in through her garage door into her kitchen, and all the magnets, all the photos, all the furniture and all the decor were there. But then I’d walk out into the lanai in shorts in October, and wave hello to her roommate, and drive down the street to HOLY CRAP ITS EPCOT, ahem. And it isn’t home. But it sure is fun.


Ever since I got here, I could not wait to leave. I knew I’d get too comfortable here. The deeper you sink into the couch, the less you want to get up. I’ve spent the past eight years shifting on the couch so’s not to leave a lasting imprint.

I relinquished age-old dreams. I yo-yo’d between jobs. I burned through friends like incense sticks and turned strung together one-night stands into seasonal tours. “If I can just stay transient,” I thought, “Then I won’t get too attached, and it will be easier to up-and-leave.”

It somehow didn’t help. Despite finishing school, working in virtual office space, and needing plane tickets to visit family and being single since the mesozoic era, I still cozy up to the couch or the corner bar. I lacked the strength for real change, despite adapting to a life of intentional, perpetual flux.

And when my family, first my mom, then my dad, then my sister, all left the hometown that wasn’t really my hometown, and moved into new homes of their own that felt nothing like home, and left me here at home in a place that isn’t really home, either, but sort of is because I’ve spent 70% of my life here, my head began to spin, and I realized my own comfort was discomforting.

And I realized that I was home. My family and I are still close. My friends are here. My job is where I live. My cold and dark and warming glow. All here. Inside my head; my chaos.

My home lies in the shadow of absence. The years I’ve spent avoiding laying down my roots and checking out when convenient somehow did not stop the roots from growing. Now they’re all mangled, twisted and squatting foreclosed real estate.

I hope it’s not too late to leave.


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