Going Back Home
If you can go back to your hometown, you will see yourself in the spaces you once inhabited, the phantoms of memory materializing like fog you’ll see in empty fields at dawn, waiting for the bus that’ll take you to kindergarten, then third grade, then public transit to high school. You’ll hear voices you forgot existed and smile as the tears cloud your eyes. You’ll go to the convenience store you stole shit from as a youth and gladly pay now. You’ll try to dunk on that hoop you swear you were, like, five inches away from touching that one time, and without a patio chair to boost you.
At least this is my experience of that vast expanse of suburban decay and lower middle class desperation as I walk these streets, Reggaeton blasting out of beaters’ windows–doom-dee-doom-DEE, doom-dee-doom-DEE, the drivers motionless, as if the beat isn’t there at all and they’re somewhere far from this place. The weather seesaws between Gobi hot and Siberia cold, often within the same week. I’m out on one of the few days of reason, temp steady, no threat of precipitation. I am twenty-four years old. I guess I should’ve told you that going in, but it wasn’t important then. We’re closer to the end now, so the present can slip in before it becomes more past, another shovelful to heap behind you, like dirt from a childhood tunnel to China that only got waist deep, drinking those Mondo drinks with the plastic spaceship tops instead of lemonade. I can show you the buildings scrubbed from Des Plaines’ manuscript, the palimpsests in the form of fresh office buildings, fresh apartment buildings, fresh convenience stores. I can take you to Dee Park, where I choked up on the bat, where the Gujarati Thugs duked it out between games of cricket. I can show you the weeds that lay claim to the fields, even springing up in the basketball courts now, each rim chain- or net-less, just rusty hoops that no one would dunk on anymore, but where fights and deals still go down.
I’m walking these streets now, at twenty-four, the whole neighborhood changed and yet exactly the same. There’s a funny thing about moving on. Like everything else, the destination seems so final. The happy ending. Roll credits. They all live happily ever after. That’s bullshit. The end is that there is no end. Forgiveness is a garden that needs endless watering, pruning, and tilling. The work will never be over. The moment you think you’ve made it, you have to start all over again. Read these words. See these places. Exchange them for yours and fill in the blanks like ad lib games from childhood, but keep it appropriate this time. This isn’t the story. The real story is yours, so tell it. And if you’re going to bother telling it, make it burn through you. Let every person and place scorch you on the way back up like so much freshening up. Don’t be afraid of the pain, the discomfort. Embrace it. Anything that’s ever worth doing involves a degree of pain, discomfort, desperation. So own that.
Okay. There’s a shovelful. Let’s go back again.
Nick Olson is a writer and editor from Chicago now living in North Carolina. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and he’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, decomP, and other fine places. When he’s not writing his own work, he’s sharing the wonderful work of others over at (mac)ro(mic). His debut novel, Here’s Waldo, will be published through Atmosphere Press, and he tweets updates at @nickolsonbooks.
Here’s Waldo – debut novel by Nick Olson preorder below