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Jean Veber: Goya’s Return to his Homeland (1899)

" … remnants of ever more distant pasts …"

The first few days after a Toodle ends prove challenging. There's the relief of surviving another excursion combined with the convincing illusion that I've returned. Neither notion will prove true over the ensuing days. Little differences will combine to produce larger disconnections. The confusion will eventually fade into background noise, and my life will continue, though never quite as convincingly as before leaving. I begrudgingly suggest that this might be due to a small yet significant fact: that none of us ever return from these excursions. How could we? Were we not changed by the experience? Was our home held in isolated suspension during our absence? Neither could be true, so why, I finally wonder, did I ever imagine that I might reasonably return from an excursion away? It might be—and it seems much more plausible—that I NeverReturn.

The challenge comes from my conviction that I might somehow reasonably return.
This notion must undoubtedly be a cultural phenomenon, for some cultures readily recognize the impossibility of returning. Ours, though, believing itself exceptional, easily holds fantastical convictions like we're the exception. We believe the rules applicable to every other culture do not apply to us … because. We're fuzzy on the reasons, falling back on divine favoritism and dumb luck. Still, we're convinced that many of the otherwise intractable laws of physics and culture do not apply to us and, furthermore, that we are, therefore, the exception that proves the non-existent rule. We're probably most skilled at fooling ourselves.

I know I have been at least an aspiring believer in my innate exceptionalism. I easily imagine that unlike everyone ever born before or after me, I might be the one immune to death. Having not yet succombed, I can perhaps too easily indulge in such notions. I likewise claim to return home even after watching precisely nobody else before me ever manage to perform that particular miracle. Oh, I returned somewhere, just not to the place from which I departed. My home seems subtly different than I remember it—than it ever really was before. And I, too, if I must be honest with myself, returned a different character than the one who left so full of ignorance and innocence to attempt the Toodle. I might say I succeeded, except I did not succeed under the envisioned terms. I didn't even manage to execute the excursion I'd planned, so why should I ever expect to return?

This life has been trying to show me that it's a one-way road with no back-ups or returns. This fact might explain why I resist leaving even though I usually enjoy what happens when I move out and around in the world. Leaving seems like a permanent condition. I cannot reverse such decisions. Once gone, I'm forever gone. I suspect the cats understand this much better than I ever did. I expected the cats to shun me for a few days after we arrived home, but they were uncharacteristically warm and welcoming. Max coaxed me into lying down with him for hours and working out the fur clogs he'd magically acquired in our absence. But he was not the cat we'd left behind like I was not the guy who had left him there. We were a pair negotiating the terms and conditions of an ongoing discontinuous relationship, one consisting not of leaving and returning but leaving then suddenly appearing. We pick up whatever pieces we find.

I never return. I never returned. The world I left disappeared forever once I turned that first corner. The cognitive constancy I experience must be imaginary, evidence of cultural hypnotism. I might be here now, but I am different from the one there before I left. I sometimes struggle to reintroduce myself to whomever I might have the pleasure of encountering when I notice myself returned. It's only ever onward, never backward or returning. Many of my so-called possessions belonged to someone I long ago left behind. I no longer own them any more than I remain who I was when I acquired them. They are remnants of ever more distant pasts, ones I left for whatever reasons and to which I never once returned. Welcome home, indeed!

©2024 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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