13 April 2010

You Can Never Go Home Again--Or At Times Wish You Couldn't

In the fall of 2001, I was in a park in Burlington, Vermont, meeting a few of the transients who a friend of mine had been spending time with. They were intelligent, warm and friendly. They reminded me of old-time hobos--down on their luck but going on with their lot in life cheerfully. A kind old fellow was watching me talk, took my hands, turned them palms up, and said, "Have you already lived two lifetimes in this one, or do you think the second is still coming?" He noticed something I never really had, that my two palms are completely, drastically, different from each other. I said I didn't know for sure. He was not the last person to ask me that, either. I've revisited the question many times since.

When I go 'home' to Packwood, to the house I grew up in, I always go through a period of battling private demons, memories and emotions and things that make me shudder. Surrounded by ghosts of my past, I don't sleep well. Devon, his brother, my mom, and I went to Packwood a couple of weeks ago, to clean up the house and outbuildings. Half an attempt to make the place look more presentable to sell, and half preparation in case it goes into foreclosure, it was a tough week, and digging through the heaps of my past made the funk deeper than usual. I really felt I was losing my mind, and my self. It's as though I am always forced into feeling/being who I was 'then', and there is no relief.

My first year in college was really intense. At one of the premier culinary schools in the country, I was learning the gastronomical history of the world; breaking down sides of beef, pork and lamb; learning costing, culinary math and french; mother sauces, stocks, soups, traditional french cooking methods; butchering tuna longer than I am tall; screaming through china, japan, thailand, and vietnam's cuisines; taking practical and written final exams every seventh class day. At the same time, I was living outside of the Northwest for the first time in a place where I knew no one, separated from a much-loved boyfriend by 3000 miles, depressed and overwhelmed, in the time before email and cell phones had considerably shortened emotional distances. At the time, being depressed, all I knew was that I shouldn't be so fucked up, but had no power to pull myself out of it. I wanted to, more than anything, but couldn't.

During this time, it occurred to me I could never go home again.  I could visit, I could even move back in, if I were desperate enough; but home, as I had known it, was forever lost to me. It was disheartening, a kind of final blow. The rest of the year went on, still depressed, still stressed, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy that occurred over summer break, as well as the loss of the pregnancy, alone with my problems and emotions, exacerbated by hormones.

The day after Christmas, in a run-down motel in Alpine, Wyoming, the boyfriend and I parted ways, and I went on to Breckenridge for my externship from school. Somewhere that winter, I shed the depression. When I went back to school in the spring, I got out and fell in love with the Catskills. I forged a wonderful friendship with a fellow who had grown up in those mountains, and showed me many things to love about the East.

It may have been painful at first, but the realization I could never go home again became a greater and greater relief, starting straight from that second year and continuing through right this minute. Which is, perhaps, what makes it so disconcerting to go back to Packwood and have my self hijacked by who I was back then. So digging through and discarding old things really sank me in deep. Memories were rewritten by old journals: I had forgotten the first night of a break-up with my high school boyfriend, when two of my friends had given me support and encouragement, and sang songs to cheer me up, standing side by side in the snow:
England swings like a pendulum do
Bobbies on bicycles, two-by-two
Westminster Abbey, the tower Big Ben
Rosy red cheeks of the little children
Had forgotten how much one of those friends helped me out at the time. But it made me remember how insecure I was about...everything, particularly involving love. I was always surprised, if someone seemed to be attracted to me, and then skeptical they could possibly really meant it--why would they? And I went forward from this time into a series of weird relationships after high school, where I naively trusted the guys I was interested in--I wasn't looking to hook up, I was looking for love--and therefore had a string of short-lived relationships. For years this has made me cringe--it was a small pond, what did those guys, not to mention the rest of the guys who were my friends, think of me? And then came the afore-mentioned 3000 mile relationship.

"Have you already lived two lifetimes in this one, or do you think the second is still coming?" And there, in Packwood, in the bedroom I grew up in, struggling through a desperate middle-of-night agony over why this past was so awful and weird in some ways, and drags at me so hard, I realized: I have had two lives already. After some more thought, I realized the second one started around my second year of culinary school; maybe it could just be called growing up, but I rarely felt comfortable in my own skin, even as a little kid. Mom told me recently that even as a baby I was aloof and didn't seem to be 'here'. And since spring of 2000, despite whatever weird-ass uncomfortable life happenings I have had, I have never felt that way again, except when I go back to Packwood. Holy shit. I went to sleep, and slept well the rest of the week.

And with that catharsis attained for me, I will now tell you about the "lighter" side of cleaning up a house and property that were lived in and on for 20-some years. We rented a 20-yard dumpster, and it could have been a 30-yard. My dad had a habit of buying a couple pounds of nails or screws, every time he needed about 6 or 8 single ones for a project. The leftover 1.95 pounds went into his 'shop', originally a rickety carport, to which particle-board walls were fastened, and where the table saw (and all the sawdust it ever produced), lumber, camping gear, trunks of baby clothes, about a decade of Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News back issues, as well as all sorts of other crap, was kept. This space later became my brother's work space, so car parts, stereo equipment, a punching bag, etc, joined the fray. Once Devon and Dallen had peeled back all of the top layers, there was literally as much as a foot of nail/screw/sawdust compound on top of the dirt. Add in a rat's nest in a pile of old hardwood lumber scraps, and you get the idea. The above photo is of the 'shop', with the back wall pulled off. Dad built the Santa sleigh for a play I was in in 1991.

There was also Mom's woodworking/sign painting workshop, which is the original cabin on the property; the overgrown yard; and the entire house to clean up, too. Not really a job to be described as fun, but it was cathartic, and rewarding to see the improvement.

It was also really nice when it freaking stopped raining. I have yet to receive the final bill for the dumpster, but I bet it would have been a lot cheaper without 5 days of pouring-rain-weight to pay for! Here it is seen previous to closing the end doors. From that point on, we had to climb a ladder to dump stuff in.

A truck load of second-hand goods went to the Thrift-and-Gift downtown; a bucket of old Forest Service maps went to the museum; a chest freezer full of glass recycling went to the Morton Transfer Station, and a moving truck worth of stuff went to Marblemount and Blaine.

Wow. Presto-change-o. We originally intended to pull this whole carport structure down, leaving only the cabin. We ran out of dumpster space and burn permit. (Perhaps you can make out the rain, in this shot.)
(I seem to have taken no pictures of the house or yard. Ah, well.)

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