It took a major event and strong sense of what was right to get me back, but I returned to Asheville for the first time since I left in November 2012.
One of our old friends, a man whose heart is solid gold, had a momentous birthday and so we drove the nearly 1000 miles there and back in one weekend to spend 24 hours in our old hometown. The truth is, he's done more for us.
As we drove south on I26, I caught my first glimpse of the skyline through tears--the bank building and the controversially tall hotel dominating the other buildings, the dome of the First Baptist Church and the Art Deco City Hall. I took the wrong exit as I always, always did (because the labeling makes no sense). But the roads were so familiar: I automatically swerved to avoid the bumps and the trees that stretched a bit too far.
And we went to our old house, our sweet tan bungalow that they said was so West Asheville when I had the window frames painted red.
I was married from this house, and I gave birth to both my children in it. Brian and I built the yard together. It is one of dearest places in the world to me. The new owner has let my flowers die and the weeds take over (I'm glad I took my peonies with me), but she's made the front and back porches homey and charming. To my great displeasure, she's painted the inside of the house in neutrals, and she had the hearth I tiled replaced. A professional has repaved the garden paths, and I found a pile of the stepping stones I planted around the side of the house (I took one). But there were raspberries in the back corner, and the blueberries were producing (though not ripe), and the fig tree hadn't died after all! She keeps my vegetable beds active, I saw, and had cleverly rigged up a fence to protect the plants from the vicious and hateful groundhogs. The trees are enormous. The grapevine and the apple tree we received as wedding gifts are bearing fruit.
We couldn't fit in this house anymore, and the yard was too much work. I found I could let it go, reluctantly and painfully. My greatest grief was that Maggie didn't recognize it at all and that we don't have enough sunny room for fruit-bearing plants where we live now (and my wedding apple tree--wish I could have that). But the house is hers, as it should be.
We ate and drank our way through all our old haunts. We stopped by my favorite brewery twice for a growler of their IPA. We went to the fabulous rib place (not the one near our old house, which is still closed on weekends, but the other), and our favorite Tex-Mex joint where I ate approximately four baskets of chips with salsa. We tried a new donut shop down the street from our old house that changed my expectations of donuts forever.
And the party was wonderful. What party wouldn't be with a pond for kayaking and fishing and a grill for cooking and beer for drinking and a campfire for sitting around and singing along to songs played on guitar and drums? And full of old friends who know our whole story. It was heaven. It was home.
All weekend long I wanted to scream at the hipsters, "This is my home, MINE! I lived in this neighborhood when there were still prostitutes; I shopped at these stores before they were trendy; I appreciated the values of this town before every newspaper across America was proclaiming it as a new utopia. It's not right that it's not my home anymore; you don't understand my eminent domain!" I grieve for this town as I would grieve for a lost family member. It was more than a hometown; it was a reflection of who I am.
I miss living in a town where people plant their vegetables in their front yards in beds framed in cinderblocks mosaic-ed in broken mirrors and china; I miss living in a town where bluegrass jams are a dime a dozen and every restaurant boasts locally farmed food. I miss living in a town where every weekend there's a get-together involving beer and campfires and live music. I miss my small community of friends.
Someone gave us a copy of You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, born and raised in Asheville, as a wedding present. Several wedding guests signed it or wrote messages in it, so we treasure the copy, but I never read the book and don't really know what it's about. I doubt we will ever return to Asheville to live as much as I love it so. I wonder when it will become a place I look on fondly instead of a place whose memory brings me such grief. I wonder if I will ever feel that the DC Metro area is home with its hectic traffic and ambitious mindset. Right now I feel lost, untethered from the beginnings of community here and too far from the home I made.