Went North a Man, Came Back a Boy
Took my boy to Alaska when he was 9 years old.
I was nine when my family moved there in 1963.
There were about 30 thousand people in Anchorage then.
Now there are 300.
It can never be the same place, and really, who would want it to be?
It’s just the nagging past of the hometown kind
that calls and you want to answer.
So you can see if it still fits.
Well, I saw it anew,
through his eyes,
clear and open,
with no past,
Saw it before earthquakes and booze and debauchery,
before beautiful long dark winter love and remorse
and before death.
Saw it with nothing to forgive
Sometimes a memory or two of some other man's past sneaked in,
from when he was a boy,
before he was a man
before he knew the sweet present
and was found
It was a gift to myself,
given me by my son,
who had no idea what he was giving.
I took him over to see the trailer I lived in with my parents
and little brother through my high school years.
It’s all rusted out, the grass is dirt
and the flower box full of azaleas below the front window is empty.
I told him, “When I meet my Dad again I'm gonna ask him, ‘Why didn't you buy a house that was hooked to the ground?
“Why'd you make us live in a trailer, for God's sake?
Were you that afraid of security, of being present?’”
We were silent for a long time.
I’m sure he wondered why I was angry.
Then he said, “I like our house. But when you see your Dad, do you think you'll care then?”
“No. And I don't really care now.
I'm just talking because I'm afraid to be quiet.”
I told him I went to 9 schools when I was growing up
and after about 6 schools, you start to forget about learning.
I also told him that it took me a long time as an adult to unlearn that.
He said, “Wow, that was hard I bet.
Hey, what are the symptoms of homesickness? I think I have it.”
“You miss mommy?”
“Me, too. But I'm not homesick anymore. Thanks to you.” “
“Wherever I am is home when I'm with you.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
He took me on the train to Denali and back,
took me fishing,
took me on the Kenai Fjords,
took me on the Old Palmer Highway where my Dad took me
in the brown Ford and taught me how to drive.
I poked along, scared shitless, and Dad told me not to worry
about those people in the cars honking behind me,
they'd pass me if they were in that much of a hurry.
“Just keep your eyes on the road ahead,” he said.
That was so unlike him.
He worried a lot.
I made the mistake of telling my boy
that my dad worried himself to death.
Now he's worried about worrying,
afraid he'll die if he does it too much.
But that's good, really.
Even though I regret saying it.
It's given me a chance to have talks about evolution
and how far he's ahead of the game being the creative soul he is and all.
And it's an excuse to teach him to breathe deeper.
He doesn't know that I breathe easier after that trip North with him.
After I let him take me back to where I thought I was from.
Now I know for sure it doesn't matter.
I'm from nowhere and going nowhere.
I'm just learning how to drive on this old highway with my boy.
And he's teaching me how.
My son told me, in his way and without knowing it, to just keep my eyes on the road, too.
And not worry about those people behind us.