Well, I'm sitting here at a lovely La Quinta Inn in Milwaukee, WI--my old stomping grounds.  It's been an extraordinarily interesting experience returning here after all these years.  About seven, actually, but in all honesty, it's been more like ten.  The last time back was for my father's memorial service.  That was a blurry whirlwind of a thing that, while very formative to the second act of my life, actually has had its volume knob turned down one notch due to the significance of this trip.

I moved to Oregon in December of 1999, just a few weeks before the millennium.  I was starting a new life in so many ways, and honestly, leaving an old life behind.  I guess I'll say that that old life had become outmoded, outdated, and frankly, I'd out grown it.  In a sense, I was running again.  Running from pain, uncertainty, and as Neil Young so succinctly, eloquently (and both specifically and metaphorically) stated, the needle and the damage done.  Addiction--both of mine and of others--had always been standing right beside me in that life.  It was my constant companion, like a shadow whose feet I was always stepping on.  Hmmm.  Maybe "whose shoes I was always walking in" is more appropriate.  Either/Or.  Regardless, it was time to grow.

I left both hopeful and bitter.  Wanting to heal old wounds, yet having taken great care to pack each wound carefully in order to take them with me.  Each one wrapped in a protective wodge of psychic newspaper, lest they be damaged before I was able to open them up in the beautiful rain-forest I now am privileged to call "home".  They made the trip fine, and were all in perfectly preserved shape upon arrival.  Mint condition.  As they were unpacked, each was dealt with in their own way, and in their own time, like nested dolls.  The big ones seem to have been dealt with first, then in succession with what appeared to be smaller ones inside of the larger one before it, until they were all laid out before me.  A nice little group of stuff to deal with.

"Home" became Oregon.  The dolls were being tended to.  Things were good.  Progress made.  There were bumps, and a few scratches and dings along the way, but over-all, the growth-spurt was successful, and the cutting took root (hell, everything can root successfully in Oregon).  I didn't really look back.  If anything, I waved to the "center coast" from the "left coast" and felt I'd made the right decision, no matter if I ran or not.  I never really felt that I'd left anything behind.

But anything you leave behind, it doesn't actually cease to be.  It's just simply out of your line of vision.  Like a tomato plant start that is plugged into the ground, then forgotten about behind the weeds you should have been dealing with the whole time, it still grows, drops fruit, dies, and volunteers itself again in the spring.  It does its thing whether you're watching or not.  Life goes on, irrespective of the gardener's intentions, motivations, or even skill.

My mother (definitely one of the larger dolls) turned 80 a few days ago, and was the reason for this visit.  Mom and I have had a hard, hard road over the years.  So many self-inflicted wounds.  Somehow, without much conscious effort, we got through it all.  My oldest, dearest and best friend.  My greatest confidant, my most ardent advocate, my most worthy enemy and my greatest pain.  The pain's gone now.  Like it so often is, there are scars, but no body gets through life without their share.  I'm okay with our scars.  In the truest sense, I wear them like war wounds that illustrate that we "have fought the good fight, have finished the race, have kept the faith"[1].  My mum has always had faith in me, and while mine may have wavered in her, for the years since my father passed, it has grown stronger than it's ever been.  "Home" is mom.

I made a major point of getting three-dee with a number of old friends while I was back this time.  I did mom's party on the day of my arrival, and gave myself three solid days to spend with friends.  I rented a car I couldn't really afford in order to be able to see people without being a double imposition by constantly needing rides.  This was a very good idea, but as is always the case, there's never really enough time, and people got missed.  If it was you, I'm sorry.  Know I'll be back.

I was able to have lunch with my old friend Ron.  Talk about a hard road.  He lost his beloved wife a few months ago.  It still shows in his face, but at the same time, he has the strength of his faith, his family, and his beautiful daughters, and that drowned out the sorrow that lingers.  We made good music together, he and I.  We grew next to each-other.  We helped each-other.  We learned together, and taught each-other.  We supported each-other in ways that only true friends do.  We sat next to each-other in a tavern, just like we once did, and the differences we have in our lives didn't make a damn bit of difference, just like it should be.  "Home" definitely has Ron in it.

Next: dinner and a show!  No trip to Wisconsin would be complete for me with out a hook up with the master of intellectual disaster, the fermentor of discord and dissent, the pied piper of suburban subversion, the man who puts the "Qi" in "Cheesehead" and the motleyest of cows, Doctor Mark.  Still (albeit ever-so slightly less) crazy after all these years.  Glad you got the wires hooked up to the right terminals again, boss.  MCEP and I have always had a very weird, very brotherly, and oddly (well, frankly, not-so-oddly) metaphysical connection.  We speak the same language in many places (if I had a dime for every time either one of us said "I know you're going to understand this" the other night), and while we are a generation apart, we have similar touch-stones.  He's always given me this really weird respect, even when I was a completely backwards, "you're doing it wrong" kinda intellectually loose canon.  More than anything, I think he knew that I was aimed in the right direction, but was still trying to figure out how to stop walking sideways.  He enjoys that.  Wind 'em up, let 'em go, and watch them do their thing.  It's all a grand experiment to Mark, and I--like he--resonate with both the lab coats and the lab rats.  We're both waiting patiently for the resulting peer-reviewed paper, so we can finally hear what the rats have discovered about us white-coated monkeys.  The best of fertilizers, Mark's good shit.  That, and he knows that one of the best song-writers and story-tellers in history is John Prine, followed closely by Doctor Seuss, so I've always known I can trust him.  Home has a decent dose of Doctor Mark.  And tea.  And shoes for industry.

On to my buddy Kevin's place.  Man, how we've changed, yet stayed totally the same, eh Kev?  Kevin is a great example of that whole "haven't talked in years, and picked it right back up like it was yesterday" dynamic.  Kevin and I partied together, but always had trouble with that whole "I'm just here for the _____" because we tend to care too much about people.  Yeah, what a failing, huh?  Out of all my friends, Kevin was the only one to attend my father's memorial service, and his being there was huge to me, even though I only got to hug him, shake his wife's hand, and then get whisked away to be consoled by 498 people I either didn't know or didn't remember.  To turn around and suddenly see one of my oldest and most trusted friends.  Kevin will always be a big part of home to me.  I gotta find me one of those chicken things, bro.

But one meet-up kinda surpassed them all.  24 years in the making.  There's too much to be said about this, really, but words (while my weapon of choice) are weak.  Interestingly, there's not much to report on.  What do you say about someone whom you haven't talked to in twenty-some years, yet has never really left your side?  It may have been my mom's birthday, but this is really why I went.  We chased some ghosts.  Trotted some demons out into the light.  Dished a wee bit of dirt.  Explained some things that got past both of us back then.  Kim, the look on your face when I turned down River Rd... sheer excitement and abject nervousness, combined with a dash of existential nausea, then shaken (not stirred).  You were right: I couldn't have done it with anyone but you there with me, either.  You taught me so damn much about myself, and never really stopped.  How you ever put up with my arrogant assholery back then, I don't know.  You have explained it to me now a few times, and I still don't really get it, but in the end, I'm just grateful that you saw through all the smoke and mirrors.  Kimberly, you have a big room in my home.  You're the room full of madness and anarchy, whims and muses, revolution and fearless compassion.  You are one of the most terrifying women I've ever met, and you are without question one of the most noble and true souls to ever be embodied in flesh.

All said and done, it was without question the best "home-coming" I've ever experienced.  No, you can't go home again, because "again" implies that at some point in time, you've been anywhere else but "home".