Saturday, January 30, 2010

Going Home?

I dream often of a mixed-together Madison-Appleton. In the dream I am thinking of going home, to the house I have owned in Madison for 6.5 years now, and accidentally, the house I grew up in pops into mind, still as was last I saw the inside of it over 12 years ago. They become one and I can't tell where I am. Bedrooms swap with each other so the home in my dream is a mix of both, and sometimes that becomes lucid dreaming - so lucid even when I am awake I feel as if I never left the dream.

Often it is very painful for me to go to Appleton. I've managed to go home (see, I said it, though I meant to write "there") almost annually for my nephew's birthday party in August, going the long way around on 441 so I don't have to tread too familiar territory from "back then." But of course he and his mother live perilously close to the complex where the first boy I kissed and a few friends after inhabited, the street name for my nephew's house even the same as a costume the boy was wearing when I met the ex-boyfriend.

The only time I can go into the city proper and not lose my shit is when I am shut down, turned off. I went back for a reading with Erika last August and since we went into just a new cafe - Harmony - I hadn't been in before because it's relatively new, and because Erika kept me busy by chatting with me and having her own reactions to going back (she's from the same area), I managed to get through ok. And I let that convince me that going back this time, while I was in the area teaching my online creative writing class to Junior High kids and meeting with them in person in Oshkosh (at the same tech college my dad finished his career out at before dying; though I never visited him at that building, luckily!), would be ok.

I knew a couple of days before it wasn't going to be ok. My guts got wobbly and my skin began to itch. My neck, which has been well-behaved lately because I have consciously worked on my stress and anxiety levels, ratcheted up into a totally frozen spasm. Even with the treat of meeting Helen Boyd on my schedule - she just happens to be living in Appleton at the moment! - I still knew it wasn't going to be pretty. I booked myself a hotel room in Fond du Lac (mis-estimating how far it is from Appleton - it was so much cheaper than Oshkosh, but not worth the extra drive!) with hot tub on premise and made the first leg of the drive just fine.

On the way to Sheboygan, my partner's hometown, we drive through Fond du Lac, so although Schreiner's Restaurant (intersection of 23/41 - Johnson St) is on my map of Fox Valley's loaded memories, I am used to it. But as soon as I began to head up past Oshkosh (pretty neutral place, which is why I took the gig - I don't see myself ever taking one in Appleton, though one of my students lives there and half of them go to school in Kimberly), the world started to get pretty weird.

It's a well-worn analog, but the best I can say is that it's a little like being on LSD, which I did a fair amount of in high school in that town. I saw the exit I used to take to my best friend's house (two exits, depending on if I were coming from north or south) and began to cry, quite spontaneously and with great misery. Everything that I saw, and often things I had forgotten about - AutoTrust on Oneida were I got my first Saab worked on after my mom died, the Walgreen's where Anne worked in High School, Between the Locks where we often had post-show food and drink - carried a whole world that would open up quickly, flash itself to me, then disappear.

It was an experience like this I had coming over the darkened N. Oneida bridge, catching myself peering high over my steering wheel for the Appleton "skyline" in which the two worlds - Madison, coming over John Nolen going North; Appleton, coming south over the Skyline Bridge crossing the Fox River - merged. The flash was like a living dream, two consciousnesses and a couple of subconsciousnesses, for good measure. I jerked the wheel without trying and then caught myself again and the tears came anew.

Once inside the cafe I was ok - I knew that would be the case and told myself as much as soon as the bridge bit passed. Even after that, going to Pat's Tap, a familiar place, I could handle myself ok. Heid's Music, Avenue Jewelry Shop - lots of the same places remained along that stretch, but I was settled in, returned to my skin, awake and out of the dream of then, thoroughly in the present with Helen.

My apologies to Appletonians whom I would quite like to see - this was an experimental visit and as you can see it was a bit tender, to say the least. Seeing a new face helped a lot; let's hope I can see old faces in the future and have that ground me, too.

I was exhausted come Friday afternoon, driving into the sunset (ugh) after teaching the kids in Oshkosh. But when I turned that last corner - avoiding the John Nolen Bridge, not needing a flashback - around Pug Mahones and into my driveway, I felt a relief and deep belief that the trip did help to settle a couple of things for sure - THIS is my home, even if that WAS, and in a certain sense, always will be; a first lover, the first kiss, those people don't ever stop being your firsts. But this is my home now. The cats and Dylan make sure I know that without a doubt, and I love them for it.


  1. miriam, i have a feeling going back to my "home" in Harwood Heights, IL would be like this... trippy and traumatic. I've avoided visiting my old house since my mom died, instead staying on Cumberland Avenue. I usually only go back to visit my dad and stepmom and I can stay on that one street all the way. But to go past my high school and the theatre auditorium? No way. I send you hugs and you'll have to let me know how it was to meet Helen.

  2. Hi Miriam,

    Going to Appleton also leaves me feeling empty and sad, as though I have to distance myself from myself. I'm sometimes curious about how it's changed, but I can only take it in small doses -- three to five hours, maybe -- before I really feel I need to leave. I know it's very different from what your feelings and experiences there are, except for perhaps a shared sense that our hometown doesn't seem like home.

    I am sometimes jealous of people who feel at home and happy when they go back to where they grew up. When people here ask me where I'm from, I just say "Wisconsin" and leave it at that. But it's comforting to think that we can now make our homes where and how we need to.

    xo, Betsy

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience so beautifully. For me, it had the simultaneously quality of honoring and releasing. I also resonate with the quality of places haunted by your own past - for me of course, it's Dodgeville, and to a lesser extent, Spring Green and Mineral Point.

    There's a wonderful quote from Inga Muscio's book "Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil" about dealing with haunted places, which I will attempt to paraphrase. It's something like: "All that history ever really wants is our full attention - the knowledge that we have not tried to hide from it, but are willing to fully acknowledge every part of it, and learn."

    Somehow, that's helped me to deal with haunted places at least a little. They want our full attention because they are the site of tremendous hurt, but also tremendous tenderness.

    You rock! Lots of love to you.

  4. Thank you, all. So good to hear of others' experiences and Betsy, to hear you have the same for Appleton. Becky, I have your copy of that book still, btw, and will look for that quote. Wonderful quote. So true. Lisa, will do!


    PS Just after High School, my best friend and I would talk about "going home" (which at that time was, even for me, still mostly Appleton) as being kind of "schizophrenic" (all respect due to those who actually have the condition, of course) because folks expect you to be the same and you expect them to be the same only nothing is the same either way.

  5. i'm so glad to read the end of your post where you write that you do have finally a sense of home, a grouding, a place, a belonging to a place and person (and cats) that i think more than represents a healing from the past. as i said in the previous comment, you deserve that sunshine into dark places, or at least, to come out from those places and have sunshine fill the world outside.

    much love dear friend.

  6. Thanks, V. And love to you, too.