I've been thinking about what it means to be from a place that no longer exists, and all I can think is that maybe Hickory, my own birth town, isn't so different from Henry River. All of us--but a handful of cousins, and Anne, of course, who doesn't even leave the house and so has abandoned the town in her own way--has left.
The last time I was there, I got sub sandwiches with April and went to hear music down by Green's Grocery. These days, she warned me, it's the dangerous part of town. The street that lead from Mama Heaton's house down to Green's did look different--maybe not dangerous, but it certainly didn't seem the same sidewalk I used to run up, the one I once saw the rain travel on, the one where we'd play Mother-May-I and pretend we were famous. It was dusty, in a sort of exhausted way.
Once we were at the club I sipped a weak drink and counted teeth. Meth has hit Hickory hard. You've got to really keep your eyes peeled to see a full set. Rough skin and hair--all the signs of hard-using. Halfway through the night, I needed a sweater and some air and wanted to walk out to the car alone. They wouldn't let me go.
I live in Brooklyn, I told them, and still they wouldn't let me walk the twenty or so yards to my car. I was, I will admit, more nervous there than I ever am in Brooklyn. There was a rumor of a serial killer who was arranging his victims in cars at the junkyard, then with the drugs and the racial unrest; it was quite unsettling.
But what unsettled me most was how unfamiliar it all seemed.
It's not just the place that I miss. The world that I was born into--with its coffee cans and night shifts, its apartment evictions and praise songs--seems so far away from the world I live in now that I can hardly even make up stories about it. Today, I'm a little sad about that, a little sad about having abandoned the first things I ever knew and not even recognizing what they've become.