I arrived at the station in Albany, N.Y. Finally heading home â€” almost. After a drive from Waynesville to Charlotte, it was a plane flight from there to New York City, a train to Albany, and finally another car ride with my parents for a few hours north to Plattsburgh.
During the Jan. 2 blizzard, the vehicle motored through the ancient Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. Dropping my bags on the floor of my parentâ€™s home, it was surreal to be back. The fireplace was roaring, my old dog lying next to it. The house smelled the same, looked the same, and felt the same.
But, I wasnâ€™t the same.
For the last decade, Iâ€™m been a wanderer. Growing up on the Canadian border, I took off for college in Connecticut, lived in Ireland, headed for Idaho after graduation, then around the country pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. And for the last year and half, Iâ€™ve called Western North Carolina home.
And being so far below the Mason-Dixon Line, I rarely, if ever, get home. When I do, the people, places and things I adore from my youth seem to always age more, as expected. Bars and restaurants I used to frequent are gone â€” usually replaced by new and â€śexcitingâ€ť establishments filled with faces I donâ€™t remember or recognize.
Old friends whose weddings I attended years ago are going through divorces, parenthood, financial troubles or health issues. Their voices over the phone or in person sound downtrodden. They speak of dreams lost and names either forgotten or six feet under. Plenty are doing well, though, with blossoming careers and goals they still grasp for. Itâ€™s a hefty mix of folks, many of which I miss dearly.
That first night back home, I cruised around in my fatherâ€™s truck, alone with just my thoughts. The roads were silent, frozen underneath the roaming tires. Bob Segerâ€™s â€śAgainst The Windâ€ť floated out of the stereo. It was an eerily poignant melody, one that immediately slowed down the gas pedal, provoking deep reflection of where I am in my life and where to from here.
I think we all go through these motions upon returning home, wherever that may be. You find yourself amid a physical and emotional reality you remember being part of, but canâ€™t seem to pinpoint anymore what it felt like to actually be there. You pick up picture frames and see yourself, a kid with all the time in the world â€” all of that wonder and unknown future of middle school, high school, college and adulthood. That unknown future has now become the past, with even more questions arising than were asked in the beginning. Itâ€™s truly a bittersweet sentiment.
My reality nowadays revolves around Southern Appalachia. The friends Iâ€™ve made and people I write about have filled my existence with curious and positive energy. I came here for a reason, which was to bring stories to life. It is a passion of mine that only burns hotter and stronger with each passing year. Being outside of that bubble of humanity, back home, I can really make sense of why Iâ€™m here in Western North Carolina, why I continue to work and play in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
But, what does remain is my sentimentality for my hometown in the North Country. I think between my Irish background, being a writer, and just a hopeless romantic at heart, I will always hold tight to my time up there. Maybe someday, Iâ€™ll make my triumphant return there. Maybe Iâ€™ll even replant roots in the native soils of my youth. Maybe.
They say you can never go home again, that things are different when you return. But the memories remain. They always do, with new ones ready to found around the corner or around the world. The sun will rise tomorrow, only to once again fall behind the western horizon. It is the way things are, and always have been.
And I wouldnâ€™t change it for the world.
1: The DuPont Brothers play The Classic Wineseller in Waynesville on Jan. 16.
2: Acclaimed outdoor photographer and WNC waterfall guru Kevin Adams will speak at the Haywood Regional Health and Fitness Center at 7 p.m. on Jan. 13.
3: The WNC Civil War round table meets Jan. 13 at the Jackson Country Criminal Justice Center in Sylva.
4: â€śPickinâ€™ in the Armoryâ€ť will be Jan. 17 at the Canton Armory.
5: Poet Keith Flynn reads his work Jan. 16 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.