Can Never Go Home Again

My parents finally sold their old house today. The call came this afternoon when my older brother and I were helping my dad move out the last few items. The big move was several months ago, but there were still some scattered things to be collected.

This is the same house I grew up in. I wasn't born there, but we moved in shortly thereafter, perhaps just to complicate the paperwork for that year. You know, to aid in the obfuscation of my adoption. In any event, most of my pre-college memories, and a few from the agonizingly slow couple of months following my stint in California, are associated with the place.

Regardless, I haven't really felt much of a connection with the house for some time. I moved out more than a decade ago, my bedroom no longer looks the way I remember it and the den where I watched all my important TV was repurposed as a guest room years ago. Even the surrounding neighborhood has become, let's say, disenchanting. The house I lived in seems to exist only in a technical sense. The address is the same, but my bunk beds and Dr. Who posters are long gone.

But knowing that today would probably be the last time I'd ever set foot on the property, I thought it would be smart to snap a few pictures. To my surprise, as I captured what were mostly documentary shots, I became aware of an enduring connection — not with my old room or with any other part of the house, but with the backyard.

Don't get me wrong, the house did evoke some good memories. The brief, sitcom-like period where my dad traded me his office for my much smaller bedroom, for example. (He asked me to switch back a few weeks later when he realized just how much smaller it was.) Or the time when I was very young and my parents came home to find the whole kitchen covered in white dust. During a particularly heated sock-sliding competition, I had convinced my older brother we'd get much more distance if we layered the entire linoleum floor with a liberal measure of talcum powder.

However, it was the area out back for which I began to feel a particular fondness. Before I hit my ugly teens and started wasting away my years in front of a Commodore 64, I was an outdoor kid. I circled the lot on my bike relentlessly, sometimes laying out a racetrack for myself. I climbed the two climbable trees no less than once a week. I also held my own Olympics back there with a few kids from the neighborhood. It's where I scarred the earth with my dump trucks, where I slept in my tent just because I could, and where I buried the innumerable time capsules I would dig up only a month later. It's where I spun myself sick in the fake tire swing, swam in my little plastic pool, played army, G-Force and Lazer Tag, and where I made holes in the patio awning with lawn darts. (Yep, that's where those holes came from. Sorry, Dad.)

It's also where I built a one-man stronghold out of bails of hay. I can't for the life of me remember why we had bails of hay, but to this day I can't smell the stuff without feeling safely fortified. It's also where the wooden replacement, my now-decaying clubhouse, still stands. That's where I remember having my first kiss, incidentally, at about the age of 7. Of course, just like a man, I can't recall her name.

Most important, the backyard was also home to my first dog, Fred. It was where the two of us played practically every day. It was also where he passed away, having suffered an epileptic seizure in the middle of the night. I found him the next morning when I went outside to give him the last half of my donut. There hasn't been a dog like him since.

It's strange what we end up associating our memories with. I thought I had moved out of my childhood home when I went to college. Nope. Turns out it was when I came inside.

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