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You can’t go home again

UnknownIt is Monday evening and I am on a non-stop flight  from Chicago to Los Angeles. I have just spent a long lovely weekend in Chicago. It is the first time I have been to Chicago in years. I could, I suppose, turn this blog post into a travelogue about my time in Chicago and tell you about what a lovely birthday I had and what lovely and generous friends I have—however that is not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about something else, something I am still in the midst of processing—something that I will discover as I write.

When I first planned the trip to visit friends for my birthday weekend I knew that there was something personally meaningful in it for me( even though that wasn’t the main reason I was going), as it would be the first time Keith would be in Chicago together.  If you are new to my blog let me catch you up, many years ago( six-years, I think) I left Chicago and in doing so I left behind my dream of being a parent and the dream I had of raising a kiddo there.  It was not easy to leave( understatement). I loved Lake Bluff.  I wanted to spend the rest of my life there. Only it didn’t work out that way. Having a kid didn’t work out. My marriage didn’t work out  either. I was, as you can imagine, not so happy that I didn’t get what I wanted most. Rather, I had a three-year hissy fit about it.

However, the last three years I have been completely hissy fit free. I am happy that it all worked out the way it did. I am extremely happy with my life and I have even come to love living in Los Angeles( proof that miracles do happen).So, even as I planned the trip and delighted with anticipation at seeing my friends in Lake Forest, I was, I think, hoping that going with him  back to my old home would show me that  I was completely immune to the pain of the past….and mostly it did.

As Keith had not seen my life in Lake Bluff I gave him the tour: this is where I lived; this is where I fell on ice; this is where I ate tomato soup; this is where I substitute taught; this is the lake. It’s not a tour many would endure but he loves me and knows I needed him to see the life that I’d had. During the tour I found that I felt surprisingly little. I think the best way to describe how I felt when I saw the set I had once imagined would house my happily-ever-after was nothing. We drove by the place where a picture of me had been taken when we moved away, a place that I had stood and sobbed, and seeing that site now I felt nothing. And as beautiful as Lake Forest and Lake Bluff are, and they are, they no longer looked like enchanted mythical lands that I had been forced out of. Rather, I could see the beauty without the longing. Somehow my healing, and the joy of my new life, I could see Forest and Bluff for what they are and not as an Eden I had been cruelly ejected from. It was, I can tell you, nice.

My dear friends ,who we were staying with, have two of the most beautiful, adorable, sweet, and kind children that you are likely to meet. Being with these girls was more enjoyable than our trip to the Art Institute or a dinner out in the city. And what was also lovely, lovelier than I can say, is that I could enjoy these beautiful and wonderful girls without feeling sad or envious or anything except delight and relish. I felt nothing but lucky for having these beautiful girls in my life, blessed to have wonderful friends, and spoiled to have the life that I do. This, my friends, is what healing looks like.

When I was packing to leave to come home today I was overtaken by tears. Keith saw my sadness and asked me a number of questions all with the intention of trying to make it better. When I said no to all his inquiries he finally said, “Do you want to live here?” “No”, I answered, “that’s not it. Of course I don’t want to live here, I love our home, our life, my practice. No, I don’t want  the snow and the ice and the cold. I don’t want to live in a long ago Eden. I don’t want to live in this place that is meant for families.”  I didn’t know what it was that I was crying about but I knew that  living there wasn’t it. These tears weren’t about wanting something, of that I was sure. No, this wasn’t what this was about. Rather, this was me crying for a past me, and for all the pain I endured … and the reality that this life that I had so long dreamed of would never-ever-ever be mine, and, yes, even though I am happy about that( SUPER happy with what is) there remains a sadness for what was never to be.

As I sit in the dark of the plane typing these words, I feel my eyes burn a little and I feel some residual ennui even as I happily anticipate going home( Pasadena, that is). Simultaneously, I feel something kind of like closure…only it isn’t exactly that( I make this disclaimer as I need to leave the circle open to the possibility of me spiraling around through this once again, if even if at a different level and entering from a different place). Yes, of course I will go back to Forest and Bluff again, but never again will it be the place that it was for me. Never.  It has fundamentally changed.  Now when I go there I will go there to  visit my friends, to play Mermaids with the girls and to see them graduate from middle school or for my friend’s birthday party, or maybe even for a conference….but I won’t ever go home again.  It is now NOT what I want. It is now what I wanted, it has moved into past tense and the lovely thing about that is that it allows for a future in which I can go back…only not back home.

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of ‘the artist’ and the all-sufficiency of ‘art’ and ‘beauty’ and ‘love,’ back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermude, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time–back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
― Thomas Wolfe

17 Responses to “You can’t go home again”

  • I loved this article. This one line really resonated with me: even though I am happy . . . there remains a sadness for what was never to be. I know exactly what you mean. I am happy now. And when I have feel sad about being childless, it’s because I think of the young me and what she wanted and it makes me feel sad for her that she didn’t get what she wanted back then. And even though that makes me sad, I know I no longer want it now. When I have felt that sadness, it has made certain people angry, people who think I should be “over” it by now and should never feel sad again. My husband doesn’t feel that way, he understands and I’m grateful that he gets it. I’m glad to read you are happy. You gave me hope I would find myself back to happy some day and I did. Can’t wait for your book to come out.

    • Yes, Maria, that is it exactly. It isn’t that you( or I ) want it now…acceptance has been reached and yet that sadness remains. And I so know the anger reaction from others…”but you have so much to be happy about.” Duh! I get that. No kidding! But that doesn’t mean there isn’t grief. It’s wonderful that your husband gets it.
      And, thanks so much! I am so glad if I helped. :-)

    • Yes this so resonated, and it so helps to know that I am not the only one who feels like this

  • Thank you for posting, I have been waiting with abated breath ;-). I’m glad that this visit had given you the realization of a life of what ifs that actually are not, and that you had successfully found a better one by turning the opposite way. I have a lot to learn from you. My move to this place that I was longing for all my life proved that I didn’t put a lid on my old life and that I was actually longing for a home with my late grandmother. Having come back without her around was pure ‘loneliness’. I’d invested too much of my feelings on the feel-good-moments that I’d had with her. It’s been four months since my move and not once did I go visit my childhood homes, and the funny thing is I now miss PJ and KL! This move is relatively new and it’s a journey of discovery still. However, I do feel the kind of numbness you described. I have to get Wolfe’s book. Maybe it could ‘teach’ me a thing or two more. ;-).

    XOXO. Thank you.

    • Oh, Lynn!Turning away from the long wanted is so hard. There is a strong gravitational pull to towards that, almost habitual. Even when it can’t be…there is so much fantasy that if I had x(or if I was at x) then I’d feel y. Having that formula to turn to when I am feeling crap used to help( even though it made me feel crappier).It is so nice( and yet sad too) to lose that( ah, the paradox). You are so welcome. Please keep sharing what you learn about this…it helps me too.xoxo

  • Love it, Tracey! I know the feeling. :)

  • What a lovely post and a lovely experience. Sometimes when I’ve finally let go of something, I find myself crying and it’s almost as if it’s a way to release the energy that I had spent holding on. Or, like you, I’m crying for the deeply suffering person I once was, and feeling so sad that she had to suffer and didn’t know her suffering would end. I am so glad that you have broken up with your suffering. Much love. D.

    • So nice to see you here. Yes, letting go of the holding on is a relief and a release. All that stored up sadness needs a place to go. “Broken up with suffering” is a perfect way to language it.

  • This post is magical and for quite an odd reason, because I did go home, back to my dream and I am “living” it yet it’s not how I pictured it. I guess why this is magical is because dreams are just that, dreams, they are to be grasped at and at times fought for and other times released, but they rarely rarely ever look exactly as we had pictured them and for me allowing God to make this life has made it much more beautiful than I ever could have made it! So I guess it brings the old Garth Brooks “Thank God for Unanswered Prayers” to mind for me, because sometimes or maybe most, the result is better than the dream even if it appears in some way lacking.

    • Wow, Deni! I so admire your courage and willingness to share that. It can be hard to say that dreams didn’t satisfy the way we imagined. Hmmm…you got me thinking about something for the book. I am so sorry you know this pain and yet I admire you for seeing the beauty of what you do have. Truman Capote famously said, “There are more tears cried over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”

  • Tracey ,so happy that you have reached this present state of mind. Change is ongoing, and endless. The remedy is embracing where you are, while always looking for joy, and beauty, right here, and right now! This is the solution for a happy life!
    We have all heard, watch out for what you wish for, it might happen! Be grateful for what is, right now. These are truly words of wisdom . So simple, and so true,
    Peace and blessings to you !

    • Thanks, Nancy. Sometimes embracing the now is like hugging a squealing and squirming greased eel( not always so easy to get your arms around it). It is easier when the now is a little less wiggly. I am grateful my now is allowing me to get its arms around it and let me love it. Thanks again.

  • “Acceptance has been reached and yet that sadness remains.” That’s exactly what I needed to hear in this moment. It’s possible to be in a place emotionally that can feel both feelings? Still trying to get used to this. I accept and even embrace where I am in life right now! But the sadness remains. If I can still be sad from time to time but be happy (and so very grateful) for where I am now, then I feel truly blessed.

    • Hi Colleen. Acceptance and sadness are definitely not mutually exclusive. I don’t think it is something people comfortable with admitting—sadness and happiness can coexist in the very same moment. People want acceptance to mean that the pain is gone, so not the case( at least it hasn’t been true for me). I am so glad if this post brought you any comfort.

  • Thank you for this article, our stories have differnt twists but the end is the same. Often am pulled back to the memory of the hope and the dream of what could have been.

    I love your words Acceptance has been reached but the pain still remains !

    What a beautiful article that describes your story in such away that I could breathe it

    Thank you x

  • I can relate. I have moved many times in my life, and have lived 1,000 miles away from my family since I married dh, almost 29 years ago. It’s still hard to leave, whenever we visit. Dh often says, “We can move back here, you know.” But that’s not what I want, & it’s not why I cry when we leave. Even if we did move back, it wouldn’t be the same, and I know that.

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About Me

My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny. For more information, click here .
These blog posts are informational only and not meant to replace individual psychotherapy, counseling or medical advice. If you are in need of help, reaching out to a professional may help you decide how to proceed or how to find the care you need. For a referral, contact

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