Revisiting the past is difficult. The untainted memories of yesterday can coexist with the grown up reality of today as long as the two don’t mix. Sometimes, though, you have to go back to the past in order to continue to move through the present. The journey back through time can shed new light on the now, and, more often than not, it helps you appreciate even more what you have right in front of you.
Since my husband moved to Spain three years ago and set up house with me and my kids, he has had to basically adapt to what was already there. We add to the house together and have embarked on our own projects created and designed solely by us, but I often wonder whether he ever feels that he is missing anything because there is almost nothing in our immediate surroundings to show that Dave ever had a life before us. I knew that when we were in Toledo, where Dave grew up, he would finally be able to go through the boxes he has been storing in his mother’s basement. He has often talked about his books, how he wished he could bring his books over, and there were probably other things, too, that would help our home feel a little more like “his and mine” than just “mine and ours”. Chances are he didn’t really feel the desire quite in the same way that I did, and I suppose the need to have more of Dave’s stuff in the house was mine, but nevertheless, it was one of those things that made the trip important. He did get through his boxes and ironically, he ended up throwing away a lot of the things that represented his life before us. Even the coveted books didn’t seem quite so important as he repacked his things in the three boxes that he would send back to Madrid.
As newlyweds, this trip represented a lot of things. Not only would Dave be able to pick up books and such that he had wanted to bring home, but we would also go through some of the rituals that are so important for the newly married: we would visit with family, stay in his mother’s home, and go back to all of those places that were so important in his memory so that I could see where he really grew up. The imagined settings of all of the stories that I had been told would finally be replaced by real places. On a single morning, we drove all over town to visit house after house and school after school. It was an incredible trip down memory lane, but each stop carried with it its own share of disappointment and heartache. Not so much because of the memories that each place held, but rather, because of the great expectations that Dave had for each of the places we visited. In his mind, the house in the woods was alive – when he closed his eyes he could still see the vibrant colors, feel the warmth of the fireplaces, smell the food being cooked in the kitchen. He could even feel the fear in his gut has he climbed to the roof of the barn to fix whatever his stepfather had asked him to fix. Instead, we rounded the drive to find a house that was old, tattered, and unloved. And his voice revealed the disappointment in his heart as he said to me again and again “it wasn’t like this”. The house where he lived in when he was a young boy was no different. We had ample warning – the short drive through the country that once held corn fields and now had been overgrown with trees and bushes should have alerted us to the changes. But there was no way we could have known that the house itself would have gone from being the most beautiful house on the street to being a redneck wonderland. Dave couldn’t conceal the very obvious contempt he had for whoever was now living in that house. There is no way to describe what they had done to it – let the image of beer bottles lying next to the charred remains of a sofa set ablaze, a waterless pool with paint peeling off and a broken down fence give a minor glimpse into the travesty that had become the house where Dave had once lived. He walked around the house, hands on his waist, shaking his head. It was not only the house that was different. Everything had changed, and he couldn’t understand – it was as though the gods had poured some magical shrinking dust on everything to make it smaller.
Back at my mother in law’s house, we mentioned to her some of the disappointing sights we’d come across. She told us that she tries never to go back to the past because, inevitably, things aren’t as she remembered them. True enough. I do think, though, that our tour of the old schools and the old houses gave Dave a new perspective on his life as it is now. Several times after visiting his roots, he mentioned that he was ready to “go home” – our home. Maybe revisiting the past was a good thing after all.