He Leaves An Awful Hole, Doesn’t He?

Wandering through my hometown for the first time in more than a decade was an emotional, disorienting experience. I found myself surprised by just how beautiful it was, and in ways that I’d either taken for granted or else never even noticed when I lived there: how open the skies felt (smaller buildings, for the most part), how close I was to the river and the beautiful mountains just across the water. This was all background noise when I was growing up, of course, but after decades of city living — and I love living in cities, I should add — I found myself surprised and touched by what I was seeing.

Similarly, I got genuinely emotional seeing the house I grew up in again; I’d prepared for this back in April but didn’t manage to make it on that trip, so I’m not quite sure I expected the actual, audible gasp that I made on seeing the house again, and the flood of feelings and memories and thoughts that came with it. (They’d painted the storm door! It’s white now, as opposed to black, which just felt odd. And there’s a side stairwell because the one house has been split into two apartments, but otherwise… it’s where I spent almost 20 years of my life. It held power, and I wasn’t ready, really.)

Perhaps the strangest thing, though, was going downtown again. Downtown Greenock was never a happening spot for hepcats, but I had my internal geography based on particular memories, particular locations… and they’re almost entirely gone now. That’s probably to be expected, given that it was almost 20 years between visits… but at the same time, they’re gone and replaced by vape shops, or a multitude of To Let signs. There was a block where every second storefront was a bookmakers (that’s a betting shop, not somewhere that makes books, for those who don’t know); what I knew as a bank had been replaced by a funeral services planner. It all reminded me of something, but I couldn’t put my finger on what until I saw what had been a big grocery store when I was a teenager had become a food bank that it struck me: it was as if Bedford Falls had become Pottersville. Clarence, what am I supposed to do…?

I had walked into town in a sad, lonely melancholy mood — this was Day 11 of the trip, after all, and even though I was visiting family, I missed my family back home, and I missed home, too — but there was something about this dérive that recharged me and made me feel more grounded both in where I’d come from, but also where I am these days in life, too. I couldn’t even begin to explain why, but it was true, and I was grateful for it.

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