Take Me Home
I remember catching a moment from a movie back in time, one of those the TV keeps running reruns of. I don’t recall the exact words, but the female lead strikes an uncanny comparison between Memories and a Box of Candies. Once opened, the box is difficult to let go of, without taking another candy, followed by some and then some more. Memories, once recalled, are hard to shut off, without unravelling one incident after the other.
Every once in a while, when I am caught in the grind of my semester work, I have these moments where I am suddenly disbanding. I stare at my screen, seemingly without comprehension, and crawl back to an entirely different time and space. Physically, I am stuck in my bedroom, surrounded by my dissertation work; mentally, however, I am back in my childhood home, sitting at the dining table, surrounded by my parents and grandparents – all of us are laughing and I look at my granddad, and do a double take for I can’t believe he’s there, so close to me, again. And then, the vision changes, and now I am at the shores of the Bay of Bengal, in my vacation shorts and flip flops, my parents having the time of their lives down by the ocean. And then, I am running across this sprawling lawn, when I realise I am in my Aunt’s lavish garden, racing down the path with my cousins, trying to beat them.
And then the next moment, I am back at my room, staring at the glare of my screen. Back at home base, my coursework is piling up and the stinging realisation is coming to being that my grandparents are no more, that my parents aren’t together anymore and that I haven’t spoken to my siblings in over months, except for a few text exchanges.
But there they remain, unchanged, caged, and forever in my memories – always radiant. When I am looking back at them, I recall good times, and when I don’t, I remember how adulthood morphs the innocence of childhood. How it creeps on from behind your back – slowly but steadily – and before you know it, you already are past that invisible threshold that somehow distinctly divides your life between the childhood’s sunshine, and adulthood’s melancholia.
Reading Hudson Hess’s creative nonfiction piece, Take me Home, for the Fall Issue, I realised how universal an experience it is for people to grapple with the memories of their past and try to cope with the reality which the present holds up. Amidst all the prolific pieces that we read for Nonfiction this season, Take Me Home struck me the first time I read it and surprisingly it has stayed with me, even two months after.
Hudson Hess’s narrator, Coral, recalls an extended moment of joy from when they used to stay over at ‘Great’ Aunt Helen’s place. The piece beautifully and vividly recalls the enthusiastic wonder, one which is exclusive to childhood alone, as the narrator grows up, under the the loving wing of their great aunt. Over distinct episodes, Hess takes us back into their narrator’s childhood : one where they are reciting out the names of all 151 pokemons with Aunt Helen; another where Aunt Helen is spoiling our narrator with a ferris wheel ride and cotton candy at a carnival, despite their father’s reluctant eagerness. One sees Coral’s psyche, still unmuddled by the complexities of the world, being shaped and constructed around the strong presence of Aunt Helen. We see the heartfelt kinship between them, as they struggle together against the maze of adulthood’s din and busyness. Hess notes the clarity of the aunt’s place, to help one contextualise her in time and space, and the memories that they usher in :
The blue furniture didn’t need plastic because Aunt Helen didn’t smoke anymore. Her home smelled clean and fresh, as though I was never sitting too far from a basket of laundry fresh and warm out of the dryer.
The bliss of childhood and the carefree camaraderie with Great Aunt, however, ends as the narrator – when they’re in the second year of high school – is met with the news of the Aunt’s passing. What follows is a dizzying succession of running thoughts, one overlapping the other, a sense of disbelief, coupled with an emptiness at its very core :
Was I dreaming? This didn’t feel real. There was nothing tangible to hold on to, no memory of a coffin, no music from a wake, no smell of flowers or prayer cards like I’d gotten when my grandmother died.
And then :
I don’t know if I ever actually said the words, ‘Why didn’t I go to the funeral?’ I heard him on the phone to my mom, saying “The service was really great. A lot of fun. We had a water gun fight later on.” My father, the adult, got to go play with water guns and celebrate my aunt’s life while I sat at home, oblivious and alone with my disjointed grief.
The joyous world so accurately painted over the first few pages of the piece, comes crashing down – for the narrator and the reader alike – as the reality of death impinges upon it. The youthful shenanigans are gone, and suddenly the narrator has left behind their childhood;they have grown up, the inevitability of life, very harrowingly, has changed them.
The most mind-numbing moment of the piece, however, occurs at the very end. Coral, nearly two weeks after Aunt Helen’s demise, visits her place again. Aunt Helen’s place , one that used to lure and attract Coral so much, now seems to repulse them. The furniture is gone, the innards are modified; Coral realises, with crushing defeat, Aunt Helen is really no more :
The living room. I allowed myself to be led there, and my stomach sank. All the furniture was gone. Everything. Not a lick of blue left. Only the TV was left behind, lonely now on its stand that seemed smaller than I remembered, dwarfed by the vastness of space around it.
The place now, as Coral feels, has been invaded by the pungent presence of Aunt Helen’s daughter Coleen and her boyfriend. Under their watch, Coral feels the warmth and love leaving the house, which it once had exuded much like Aunt Helen used to herself :
They’d taken my paradise, my safe place, and all but burned it to the ground without a single thought about the person who’d made it so special to begin with.
A part of me resonated so much with Hudson Hess’s narrator as I read their work. It might justify why Take me Home strikes a chord of familiarity. We all have those defining moments, much like the Joycean Epiphanies, when the veil of untroubled childhood lifts and we are suddenly no longer the same person anymore; something shifts inside; something has changed. It, all too suddenly, feels empty. We are overcome, suddenly, with the paralysing realisation of a ‘disjointed grief’.
Adrija Dutta, Non Fiction Guest Editor