When You Can’t Go Back

In the last year I’ve spent a lot of time mentally in Conway, AR as I’ve worked on memoir. I haven’t spent much time there physically, a few afternoons and a single night, but I’ve been there in the version of Conway I remember.

In that version town ends at very specific boundaries. There’s a wealth of pasture all over town. There’s just three interstate exits. There are two movie theaters. There are two high school campuses with odd layouts. A number of businesses exist such as Reader’s Choice Books, Playworld, and the candle shop downtown.

None of this is true anymore. Conway is a wildly different place from what I knew. Many of my childhood haunts are long ago in the past. Even places I frequented between 2011-2013, when Amanda lived in Conway, are no more.

This isn’t news to me. Things change. But tonight I’m hit with the first realization that indeed, my hometown will soon be as unrecognizable as my original one, Houston TX, would be to me now. For those who have never heard this story, I was severely traumatized when I returned to Houston after a year away and found it greatly changed. I never went back, though I considered it a few times.

What I did do last year was an extensive Google Earth tour of the city. Using Google Street View, I “walked” around Houston, looking over all of the places I visited as a child. Many, nay most, were in fact gone but I still felt some measure of connection to the area all the same. As I journeyed through town, I filled in the blanks with my past. I found I still recalled far more of the area than I expected and when I found something that somehow survived time, as even my precious Bookstop failed to do, it was an acknowledgement I’d been there.

Now I find myself wondering that of Conway. Do I not do the same now as I revisit the town? I know I do. I know as I drive I fill in the gaps or more accurately I add them. I see what was there and I recall it as if it still sits before me. It doesn’t matter that the Harvest Foods became a Fred’s. I can still describe for you the layout of that store.

Why does any of this matter? Change is the inevitable course of life. I am no longer a child. I’m a married man expecting a child of his own. Physically I bear little resemblance to the child, the cyclist teen, the frustrated unemployed job seeker, or the boyfriend I once was in Conway.

It’s simple: I want to know those people were real. That’s why we fear change. Because the world around us shifts and becomes memory. Memory lies to us. Memory blends fiction with fact. And that terrifies us. So we look for the landmarks that tell us we were. We look for that which tells us that yes, our history contains truth.

But in time we’re destined to lose. We become homunculi made of the stories of our pasts. The year 1999, once a distant fantasy, sits 16 years behind us now. But we know when it was the future. We tell thoose who don’t remeber these details. We tell ourselves these details.

I can go back to Conway. I can revisit it at the blink of an eye. I even might this week. But I can’t go back to 1999. I can’t go back to who I was. The places of my past will become stories. They will live in my book, along with at least one friend.

But I will go on. I will remember. Maybe the Conway of my past isn’t the same as another’s. But it was mine. I remember it fondly.


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