I have a recurring dream in which I visit the house I grew up in. In my dream I am aware that the house has been abandoned. I am also aware of the weather. It is one of those bright, yet completely overcast days. There is no discernible temperature, neither hot nor cold. All of the doors and windows are wide open and the strong breeze causes the curtains to billow inside. Each time, I enter through the garage and progress through the laundry-room, kitchen and breakfast-room. In the den, my dog is sitting waiting for me. It is as though she has been waiting alone since I left this house, twenty-seven years ago. There the dream always ends.
In reality, I recently returned to my hometown for the first time in several years. I will be living here as an artist-in-residence for two weeks. The town is a wealthy suburb north of Chicago. My husband calls it Magic Town. The wealth has grown exponentially since I lived here. The town manages to be both manicured and wild. It smells good, the streets are lit with gas lamps, and the BP station still has full-service. This is the land of milk and honey, the land of the one percent.
I took advantage of a few free hours and drove down memory lane. Because I lived here from age twelve through twenty-two, I experienced many “firsts” here: my first boyfriend, my first cigarette, my first show and my first awareness that there was a big, nasty, gorgeous and painful world beyond these rarefied lanes.
I drove to my old college, whose demolition and residential re-development had been halted by the financial crisis. I didn’t realize that the old main building was still standing. At one time it appeared learned and grand. Now it’s a structural Miss Havisham, the haunted spinster waiting for the wedding that will never take place. This school is one of the lynchpins in my foundation as an artist. It broke my heart to see it sitting so forlorn, so I quickly moved on to the house my father built. While en route, I paused at the corner of Ridge and Old Mill, where I recalled barfing all over the dashboard only a few blocks from home (an ominous warning I failed to heed). But seeing the house lifted my spirits. It is obviously well cared for. I could not believe how giant the Maples had grown, showing off the season in full color.
It’s not strange that Thomas Wolfe named two of his most important works conversely: Look Homeward Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again. I agree that you can’t go home again. If you think you can, you probably never left. But you can look homeward. Yes, I am an artist who has very different sensibilities today. But once-upon-a-time, before I knew any better, I was a debutante and a sorority girl who hung out at the country club and drank too much. All of that is as much a part of me today as critical theory and oil paint are. I’m proud that I know which fork to use and that I will never wear white shoes after Labor Day.
If I had the means to live here, it's unlikely that I would. Frankly, the locals would proably be relieved! It took me so long and was such hard work to get to where I am. Yes, the wealth, beauty and comfort would be lovely, but that kind of paper could certainly afford a pretty nifty little place in France. Besides, I’m still trying to embrace a future that is uncertain and waiting for me. Just like Cleo always is in my dream.