Where will I be when I go back home?
Who will I see when I'm all alone?
And what will I do?
By David Crosby
It’s funny how, all the other times I’ve been back to Pittsburgh since I moved away from there, I had some expectations about the place that it never was able to live up to. I just never seemed to be able to put my finger on what it was I was expecting to find there, but somehow, whatever it was, it never happened. I always left feeling like I’d missed something, like I hadn’t done what I really wanted to do there.
This time, I really went with no expectations at all, other than to attend the wedding of a beloved niece, and if there was time, to maybe see a few of my relatives and do a quick drive-by of the old neighborhood. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve even done that, and 43 years since I moved away from there.
I’ve never actually walked around in my old neighborhood since I moved away, until Saturday morning. When I finally did, what struck me more than anything else was how little has actually changed there. I was expecting it to be so much different than it was 43 years ago - but it had barely changed at all, as far as I could tell. How is that possible?
On the one hand, it was a total treat to walk those streets, alleys and boulevard of my youth, and still see so much of the physical traits of it still intact. That was completely unexpected. On the other hand, and upon reflection, I had to wonder – had I stayed there, would I have been as resistant to change as that old neighborhood has proven to be? Would I have stubbornly stayed just the way I was in early 1972, and failed to grow or become who I have become since going out on my own, away from there?
When I was driving the route of my old paper route, right in the middle of that drive, I went by the house of my once best friend, Chuck D. He was the kid who, when I made my break from the jock crowd and started working in restaurants, hanging with an older crowd, and took up smoking and drinking, had beaten me to a pulp for no good reason other than, he didn’t approve of my new lifestyle and felt like he had to teach me a lesson. What it had taught me, at the time, was how much of a friend he’d never truly been to me, and how that act of violence had proven it, once and for all. I hadn’t even fought back, other than doing my best to defend myself, which wasn’t much. I just took the beating, laughed at him, and moved on with my life.
At the last wedding I went to, my brother Jim’s a couple years ago in Connecticut, Jim’s best man Dick K., who’s stayed in touch with folks from the old neighborhood all these years, informed me that Chuck never moved out of his parents’ house, had eventually crawled into a bottle and never crawled back out, never amounting to anything, still living at home all these years. I kind of half hoped he’d be sitting out front, although it was quite early in the morning. I would sincerely like to ask him how he’s doing these days. Not for any other reason than, while he was never much of a friend to me, I had been a good friend to him for a good five years, and I only walked away from that friendship because I realized it didn’t go both ways. Who knows what might come out of seeing him again? Maybe seeing me, clean and sober all these years, would give him some incentive to clean up his act? I do believe in miracles, as several have certainly happened to me in my lifetime.
But, he wasn’t there, of course, and I just drove on about my business of the memory lane tour.
In conclusion of this little reverie about my time in my old stomping grounds, while I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular there, what I found feels like something so elemental, so solid inside, like I’ve been given an unexpected gift, a piece of myself that maybe I did leave behind when I left there 43 years ago, and it was just sitting there all this time, just waiting for me to come back and pick it up. It just took me 43 years to be able to see it, there. I probably wouldn’t have known what to do with it before now.
I honestly don’t know what to do with it now, other than, simply write about it. This is what I do, these days. It’s all a part of how I make sense of this world, and this life. All I know is, it makes a hell of a lot more sense now than it ever did before. So, I’ll just keep on writing, and keep myself open to opportunities and unexpected gifts. They seem to be everywhere, but most readily found when you’re not looking for them. You just have to be awake, be alive, and keep yourself open.