- The Kuhreihen Melody
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I have returned there where I had never been.—Giorgio Caproni, "The Last Homecoming"
Sometimes, while drifting off to sleep, I play a game with myself. I imagine myself in Bethel, Connecticut, my hometown, circa 1964, when I was six or seven. I imagine myself walking down Main Street, slipping into its shops and stores as they were back then. The object of the game is simple: to piece together, as comprehensively as possible, out of the Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs and Lego bricks of memory, the place where I grew up, down to the smallest trivial details. Store by store, night after night, I reassemble my past. [End Page 11]
It doesn't matter where I start. Tony's Food Market, at the north end of town, will do. I begin at the meat counter, behind which Tony—Mr. Caraluzzi—stands in his bloody butcher's smock, his hair not yet gone gray. The mounds of ground beef remind me of spaghetti. From there I inspect the aisles, admiring whimsical cereals in tidy boxes, cans of soup lined up like toy soldiers in their red-and-white uniforms, cartons of ice cream in freezer cases, racks of spices and baby food, tomatoes and grapefruits arrayed like cannonballs. Past a checkout counter I glide like a ghost, neither seen nor heard by the lady with the big hair and cat-eye glasses manning the bulky silver cash register, chewing Juicy Fruit, false nails snapping the keys, unaware that she is now grown old, her children married with children of their own, she herself imprisoned in an assisted-living facility somewhere in the low-tax Carolinas.
From Tony's I head down the hill to Noe's, the clothing store at the corner of Main and Rector, where Mom used to buy my brother and me dungarees. As soon as I enter, while the doorbells are still jingling, a rich, chemical scent of un-broken-in denim leaps up my nostrils. There stands Mr. Noe, in shirtsleeves behind the counter, his tape measure draped like a surplice over his shoulders. Mixed with smells of cotton and clothes is that of old wood, along with a faint odor of dust and something like vinegar—the smell of old days.
From Noe's I may make my way down Main Street to the five-and-dime store, or to Mulhaney's, where we used to pinch Matchbox toys, or I may drop in on old man Nelson at the hardware store. Of course they don't see let alone remember me, these ghoulish actors in my lucid dream, or sense my longing to hug them all, like Emily in the last scene in Our Town, when she visits her past from beyond the grave.
For the past three years I've been a visiting professor. Last year I was in Georgia, this year in upstate New York. Next year: Florida. Call me a "nomacademic." As I write this, my belongings, the few that I need, fill a half-dozen cardboard boxes on the ground floor of the house that came with this latest job. Though for the past year I've referred to it as my home, for a visiting professor "home" is a concept, nothing more. My house isn't my house, my students aren't my students and my colleagues aren't really my colleagues. These things are no more mine than a river one swims across once. Meanwhile, my sixteen-month-old daughter, Audrey, is in Carbondale, Illinois, where her mother is a graduate student at the university. It's been [End Page 12] over six weeks since I last saw either of them, and longer since I've seen anyone else in my immediate family.
The last time I saw my mother was this past January, when, for the first time in over a year, I returned to Connecticut. Soon after my father died, my mother sold the house in Bethel and bought a condominium in nearby Danbury, at a place called Kenosia Estates, named for the lake that was once home to...