You can’t go home again

“You can’t go back home … to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time …”

So concluded George Webber in Thomas Wolfe’s novel, You Can’t Go Home Again.

In the novel, Webber flees his small town and goes to New York, Paris and Berlin in search of himself. But ultimately he returns to America and rediscovers his home, only to realize that it — like he — will never be the same.

This story resonates for me because I’ve lived it: During my most recent trip to Paris, my home was destroyed. Our insurance helped us rebuild, but I knew at first glance it would never be the same.

House before and after

“I’m 95% sure we’ll sell it,” I told my friends. I looked for work in Europe, and I culled my belongings in anticipation of The Big Move.

At first, the universe seemed to cooperate: With each obstacle — like finding the kitchen appliances walled into the back bedroom — I grew a bit more detached.

Kitchen appliances 1080699 BLOG

Plus, the mess seemed hopeless — and endless.

Ceiling fan 1080716 BLOG

Then came the decisions, often with just a few hours’ notice. “Vat color paints?” our contractor would ask, in his rich Russian accent. We would look at swatches …

Paint colors 1080890 BLOG

select trims …

Doors 1080896 BLOG

and specify tiles … only to be told they weren’t available.

Tile choices 1080781 BLOG

In search of substitutes, I’d often go to Home Depot at 6 a.m., where I’d find myself photographing the strangest objects, like a deranged tourist.

Toilets 1080903 BLOG

But in spite of the delays, the building went on.

Living room 1080926 BLOG

Then the ceilings went it, and the new stairs …

Main room 1090379 BLOG

… and finally, we saw our new doors and wood floors.

Main room 1090521 BLOG

The refrigerator and the stove were moved out of the back bedroom …

Back room 1090537 BLOG

… and on August 25, we moved back in.

Moving day 1090531 FB

The past seven months have likely been the most stressful of Esteban’s and my marriage. We’ve been exhausted, and we’ve been truly tested. But ultimately, through the process of rebuilding our home, we’ve also become reinvested. Looks like we’ll be staying in Minnesota for a little while longer …

Thomas Wolfe was right, of course: You can’t go home again. But at least I feel at home again.

Postscript: Although our plumbing, floors, walls, electrical wiring, fixtures, windows, doors, security system, and even our email addresses may be new, it’s still the same old neighborhood. Sigh.

Trash piles 1100106 BLOG


    • Thank you for your support and for your encouraging words, Tom. You’ve been a bigger help in navigating all the change and stress than I can really express.

    • Thank you so much, Jim. Parts of it have indeed been nightmarish — but as Shakespeare once wrote, “all’s well that ends well.”

  1. Of course Tom Wolfe was right. I found that out when I tried to ‘go home’ to Scotland after having lived in Australia for over eight years. The place had changed less than I had expected, but most of my friends had also moved away and of course I was no longer the person who had lived there. But a ‘home’ is more than a structure. It is the memories attached to the place, the friends you have known there, the neighborhood, the familiarity; and the monumental struggles you and Esteban have gone through to rebuild will only have added to that corpus of attachments. And BTW, your ‘New” home looks beautiful. Bravo to you both.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and kind words, Xpat! Although the floors and walls may be new, the structure itself is still the repository of much history for me and Esteban, and of many happy memories. We feel very, very fortunate to have been able to rebuild — and we have indeed become reattached to this place we thought we were ready to leave behind. Here’s to new beginnings!

    • Thank you so much, Holli! It’s been a crazy few weeks, but I’m finally feeling settled enough to allow myself the occasional long bath in the clawfoot tub we restored. 🙂 Thanks very much for stopping by, and especially for taking the time to comment.

    • Our house felt very cocoon-like indeed when all of the protective sheeting was up — and the new colors really do remind me rather of a monarch butterfly. What a wonderful metaphor, knotrune!

  2. Dear H, nice to have you back. The ‘new house’ looks beautiful, so different. You will soon make it your place again, when you put your stuff around and make yourself a nice cup of tea. xxx Rosa

    • ¡Saludos, querida Rosa! Thank you for your kind comment … it’s very nice to be back — and especially to be back among the company of my virtual friends. Muchos saludos, and thanks again!

  3. Phew, well I’m exhausted just reading about it, so I can only imagine what the whole saga has been like for Esteban and you. But you made it. At last I can say, welcome to your new (old) home! May it bring you the best of new and old, and may this be the start of a happy new chapter in your life in Minnesota. Paris won’t go away while you’re there, remember. 😉

    • Mein Gott in Himmel, DB. It’s been a very trying saga indeed — especially as Esteban and I have discovered that we have very different tastes in furnishings and interior decoration! But in spite of all the stress and strife (and perhaps *because* of it?) we are happier than we’ve ever been in our new/old home.

      By the way, thank you for the reminder that Paris won’t go away. And neither will Scotland! The plans are still quite embryonic, but perhaps a quick visit from a far-flung friend in the spring? 😀

  4. I left a “like” to this post the other day as I was passing through but now I have time to leave you a comment.

    I cannot tell you how thrilled I am for you both now that you’ve finally moved in. I’ve told you before that I feel personally connected to your house – old and new – since you were here in Paris, part of the time spending a day with me, when le drame took place. The way you have both dealt with a situation that would have floored most of us is an inspiration. I can imagine that there have been times when you felt overwhelmed by it all but I know that you are a tough cookie and I’m proud to call you my friend.

    I wish you both much happiness in your old/new home … and come back here soon. We all miss you!

    • I am very touched by your kind words, Des — especially your refering to me as a friend. The feeling (and the pride) is mutual. As for how we’ve dealt with the situation … well, this blog is just the highlight reel. My husband was rock-solid through the whole thing, but I had more than a few “moments.” When I see you next I’ll tell you about the time I beat a bathtub senseless, and the time I locked myself into a closet. Speaking of seeing you: Check your email.

      Thanks again for taking the time to write this wonderful note. You’ve made my *week.*

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