Not to be confused with Tom Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe wrote the hugely successful American novel Look Homeward, Angel. It dealt heavily with his own upbringing in Asheville and what he thought of the people around him when growing up there. The title alone I have a problem with, considering my trek home this past weekend for the first time in six months; I quickly realized there are a shit ton of emotions involved with going home. I never really thought of myself as someone who would look homeward, but I quickly realized that I’ve been dwelling in the past for far too long.
I watch the stars from my window sill,
The whole world is moving and I’m standing still.
To clarify, going home for me is going back down to school to see fraternity brothers and good friends who are still in the area. My parents currently live in the midwest in a house I’ve never seen. I don’t want to make myself out to be a self-induced orphan, and wouldn’t want to portray my family as dysfunctional or tumultuous. At the same time, claiming we’re a close-knit, loving group simply wouldn’t be the truth. It’s not that we actively dislike each other, we just don’t enjoy spending time together. So when my friends mock me for being in a frat and talking about my college friends so much, I let it slide off my back. Most people don’t understand that my friends are my family, and my brothers are, in fact, brothers to me. They always have been and always will be, but explaining to people generally tends to not go over well. I’ve pretty much stopped trying to explain that my fraternity brothers are family to me, that my two best friends will always be closer to me than my siblings, that there, as a good friend once told me, is a significant difference between “family” and “relatives.”
Falling out of touch with all my
Friends are somewhere getting wasted,
Hope they’re staying glued together,
I have arms for them.
My trip started on Friday morning as I left Union Station at 7.30. Soon enough I was in the snack car with my twenty ounce Coke bottle filled with Stoli and another bottle of Sierra Mist to make the drinking more believable. If this sounds a bit like, well, the behavior of an alcoholic, I assure you it’s not. Friday was the last day of classes and our entire student body would be plastered by noon, so I was merely cementing my relative level of intoxication would mirror that of everyone else. Turns out, I was so rushed in the morning that I barely ate. A slice of pizza and two hard boiled eggs isn’t much of a meal. Add to that the fact that I had to get up at like five to get all of my laundry done, folded, packed, and then shower and get my ass over to Union. So after the equivalent of twenty five shots (I had a flask of Makers, too) and a few beers at the house with the brothers, I was gone. The black out had started and remained in full effect for most of the day. Little will ever be remembered of that day, short of a massive amount of hugs, a fight at a bar, another fight later that night outside the football stadium, and a 4.00 AM food run.
I just got lost and slept right through the dawn,
And the world spins madly on.
Here’s the thing – I can’t sleep in. After passing out (sober, I’ll have you know) in our basement at around five in the morning, I woke up at around nine or so, and finally got up and started getting my shit together around ten once I realized I couldn’t fall back asleep. I put on my iPod, took my bookbag to the campus bookstore, grabbed some soup and tea, and tried to make sense of the world. Since I knew no one would be awake in the house until noon at the earliest, I took some time to myself and thought about life after college. As I finished up at the bookstore, I started on my way back to the house. Four songs randomly came on in a row on the fifteen minute walk, and they all perfectly encapsulated my feelings right then and there.
“World Spins Madly On” – The Weepies
“Green Gloves” – The National
“In the Sun” – Joseph Arthur
“Chicago x 12” – Rogue Wave
And being caught in between all you wish for and all you seen,
And trying to find anything you can feel that you can believe in.
As I strolled back through campus, on a perfect, warm, crisp Spring morning, I felt odd. The campus that I had spent the best and worst four years of my life on hadn’t changed. Sure, there were some new buildings and a hell of a lot of new people, but it hadn’t really changed. Yet, it seemed simultaneously a familiar and a foreign place to me. I had thousands of memories of every building, every tree, every sidewalk. On the other hand, I didn’t recognize this place that I was navigating. I could walk by the B Complex or the Stadium or through the paths in the woods and it was as if I had never been here, but I knew every part of the school. It was as if déjà vu was fighting the feeling you get when you’re somewhere completely new, and there was a back and forth between nostalgia and bewilderment.
And you can’t go back now, just a passing moment gone…
Cause I couldn’t let go of a passing moment gone.
Even more surprisingly, it was as if a calm moved through me, and I felt as if I had finally moved on. My school is notoriously hard to escape, be it through people or physical visits, and the emotional concept of moving on from undergrad is something with which I have definitely struggled. It wasn’t like anything else I’ve ever dealt with, because I’ve never been closer to a physical space or to such a huge group of people before. For four years the tight-knit school is all you have, and some of the best people you’ll ever meet live a five minute walk from you, if not across the hall. The extreme well-being and sense of serenity that I usually feel there is something I can’t fully describe. On this walk, though, I felt like I had finally cemented myself in the real world; I knew my place was, for the time being, in DC.
Gone are the good old days of painting young courtney pine,
Listened to the taunts and the shouts of celebration wine.
I headed back to our house and assembled the troops for a day of mocking Foxfield and drinking on the back porch. We bought eight cases of Keystone, a box of Franzia for the classier folk, and a ton of disgusting, bargain-priced burgers. What followed was some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time. And I think that’s what the charm of going home is. In DC, there’s a certain amount of pressure to impress and be impressive. There’s such a sense of entitlement, of arrogance, of self-consciousness that seems to drive most people’s actions. Back home, it’s just about having a good time with the people you’ve known for years. These people know the real you and love you anyway. They’ve been there when you were on top of the world and when you were puking in the bushes. There’s no intimidation to be in control, to present yourself in a certain light, to compete with anyone.
Now I hardly know them and I’ll take my time,
I’ll carry them over, and I’ll make them mine.
So after I had experienced this epiphany, the nostalgia of home returned with a vengeance. I lied to my boss when I called him, and said that I had injured myself and wouldn’t be able to work on Sunday. I made up some bullshit about my knee and how it was swollen from wrestling with my brother. He said it was cool and just to call Monday afternoon if I could work. I bought myself another day to fully come to terms with what I was feeling and, obviously, to get plastered with my best friends. We finished off all of the beer and the wine, and the partying went on for about fourteen straight hours. The next day was capped off mostly with recovery, as they prepared for their final exams and I prepared for my trip home to DC. The thing is, I knew that I was moving to Tennessee in August, and I assumed that I would never be coming back to see these guys.
Please slow it down.
There’s a secret magic past world that
You only notice when you’re looking back at it.
All I wanna do is turn around.
— “White Daisy Passing,” Rocky Votolato.
But then one last song on the train home hit me, and I knew I’d have to visit my last boys’ graduation. I know that to some it seems pathetic, but I have an incredibly strong tie to these people and that place, and I’m sure that once my last class graduates, I can finish this. As it turns out, even Thomas Wolfe had problems with what I was and still am going through. After he wrote Look Homeward, Angel, his hometown was none too happy with him. He had used some very real people as the basis for certain characters, and some of them weren’t exactly portrayed in a flattering manner. The fallout from this eventually led to an estrangement between himself and his beloved Asheville. Most people consider this to be the reason that he eventually wrote the material that would become You Can’t Go Home Again. In my case, I thought that leaving the area would change my affection and lessen the burden. And to be honest, it very well may. But I’m pretty sure that I’ll be on at least two more flights from Nashville to see these kids. Meeting new friends is a wonderful thing; keeping old ones is even better.
So I dedicate this last line to my school. To my alma mater. To the place that birthed me as a full person who understands that I will never be completely realized, and that the rest of my life will be a constant struggle, a constant education, a constant quest forward. Thank you all for making me the person that I am today. Thank you even more for being there with me as I grow to be the man I will become.
[ ‘Cause when you showed me myself, I became someone else ]