I’ve always known the meaning of the old saying but never gave it much thought and never experienced what it feels like to actually discover why it’s so true.
Until my recent return home to Australia.
I’d been away for twenty-six years, wandering the world seeking my fortune, which unfortunately someone else picked up before I got to it.
Throughout my time away, I was occasionally struck with feelings of homesickness, but it was only in the last year leading up to my return that I was positively plagued by specific and vivid memories from my teens. One memory in particular was of sitting up all night with my best buddy at the time, Geoff Clements, watching old black & white movies on TV. They played from around eleven in the evening till about seven the next morning, and were called, in succession, The Late Show, The Late, Late Show, The Late, Late, Late Show, and The Early Show, which was so called because it started sometime around five o’clock the next morning.
The movies were nothing special; usually just the cheap and cheesy B-graders one can now get at Best Buy on DVD in boxed sets of 50 movies for twelve bucks. What was special was that at fifteen, I got to sit up all night and watch them. Back then we weren’t doing it with beer either, instead we drank coffee, and instant coffee at that, which was the cultural norm in many Aussie households at the time (and still is in my little sister’s household). One particular movie stood out that I always wanted to see again but had neglected to catch the title of—which was especially regrettable after everything became available on VHS and then DVD and I didn’t know what darned movie to look for!
Years later I told another best buddy, John Eenigenburg, the storyline of this movie: “it was about this woman who’s in a wheelchair and she goes to this house on the cliffs somewhere by the seaside and keeps seeing her father’s dead body everywhere and it turns out SPOILERS AHEAD…………… there are these people trying to drive her crazy and kill her.” By this time I wondered if I even remembered the movie accurately or if I might have actually dreamed some of it in the intervening years of thinking about it so often and was now mixing the movie up with a dream. I never thought for one second that John would know what the hell movie I was on about, but to my utter shock and absolutely happy amazement he blurted out “Scream of Fear starring Susan Strasberg!” And he was right! It was the very movie and one of his favorites growing up too. Turns out it was one of those old British Hammer Horror Films made in the 60s, and armed with this new information I promptly hit the Internet and discovered it was only available on VHS and was $100 bucks! And then I discovered that the VHS was no longer available. Horror of horrors! But at least I now knew the name of the movie.
More years went by and then one day, on one of my forages through Best Buy for bargain DVD packs, I saw a DVD “Icons of Horror” collection called “Hammer Films 4 Creepy Classics”—and lo and behold one of those classics was Scream of Fear. And the DVD pack was ten bucks! I bought it. I still own it. I’ve watched Scream of Fear a dozen times since then and it’s as great every time as it was when I was fifteen and stayed up all night to watch it.
When I came home to Australia in 2012 I thought how wonderful it would be to go to Geoff’s house—or The Clements House as we called it back then—and watch the DVD with my old best buddy Geoff, how awesome to recapture that old time and relive those lost moments.
But being back home these past six months has made me realize, and finally fully understand the old saying ‘you can never go home.’ The house Geoff lived in is still there and two of his brothers still live in it. But Geoff lives in NSW now with his wife and kids, his sisters are all married and moved on, and his folks passed away. The house I lived in across the street is still there too but it’s been built on and renovated to the point where it looks nothing like it did during my time there. My dad passed away in 2001 and my mom is in the advanced stages of Dementia and now lives in a nursing home. Visiting with her is sometimes like visiting someone who’s happy to see me but doesn’t really know who I am (the most agonizing change of all). I live at my younger sister’s house and my older sister, although not close by, is still only an hour’s drive away. But nothing is the same as it was. I could go to my old house but I cannot ‘go’ to it. I can go to The Clements House—with two of the Clements Boys still in it—but I can never actually go back to The Clements House that I knew growing up. The two Clements boys still living there are old men now, not the youthful guys I knew growing up, and although we’re still friends and except for getting older they really haven’t changed much. How can someone not change and yet changed completely? It’s easy with time I guess.
It’s a painful thing to be struck by; this realization that every minute I lived back then should have been enjoyed and cherished. I cherished nothing and took it all for granted: my parents were there, my sisters, Geoff’s parents, brothers and sisters—we were all there, young and happy and carefree, with our entire lives ahead of us and I was too young and happy and carefree to realize that none of it would last, none of those people and none of those times would be there forever and I ought to be hanging onto every minute as if it was my last. Because it was, each one of those minutes lasted only a minute and then was gone, never to be got back again.
I read somewhere recently that it’s human nature when we’re young to think that the present will last forever. I’m no longer young but I can tell you that it’s still my nature to think the present will last forever. The minutes of my life continue to flare and fade like sparks in a fire and I should be cherishing every one of them just the same way I should have cherished those sparks I lived in my teens. But I didn’t then and it’s human nature that I won’t now. It’s impossible to go through every single minute thinking about how much I should be appreciating it—by their very nature they simply must go by without really being noticed otherwise I’ll miss them. The fire of time burns on, consuming everything I knew and leaving it in place and utterly changed, including me and yet somehow excluding me.
Home might still exist… but I can never go there again.