The Places You Can’t go Back To

“We’ll see it next time,” is my common refrain, not matter where we are in the world. We missed that museum in Milan? Next time. Never made it to a coffee plantation in Colombia? Next time. Missed some signature dish in Vietnam? We’ll definitely be sure to try it next time.

No matter where I go in the world, there’s always the promise that I’ll be back again at some point. After all, life is long and for a serial traveler like myself, there’s always at least a chance I’ll find myself in a position to make up the difference.

This is basically a fallacy though. I may make it back to Vietnam (I really hope so), or Australia or even Fiji someday, but it won’t be the same. Time keeps moving on and not only will the places I go back to be different, I’ll be different too.

There’s a small town in Central Massachusetts where I spent nearly every summer as a kid. My mom grew up there and my Italian grandparents still lived there in a big yellow house surrounded by forestland. For months every summer my brother and I would live there; playing make believe with our cousins, riding our bikes to the General Store and attending vacation bible school. We’d go swimming in the lake, camp in the forest and march in the tiny town’s Fourth of July Parade.

We never went to camp, this was our camp, and it felt as much like home to me as my parent’s house. I haven’t been there in almost a decade and I can still vividly picture every inch of that house, the old barn, the winding roads of small town New England. I remember vividly the smells of fresh pine and clean air, of old wood and oil, of meaty tomato sauce simmering on the stove.

I can remember it exactly and for that reason I will never, ever be able to go back to Harvard, Massachusetts. My grandparents are gone, my cousins have moved away and a few years back I’m told the big yellow house was torn down.

I can’t bear to see that, to have my memories contaminated by the big empty field that mus be there now. My memories beat strong in my head, and I want to keep it that way.

I feel a similar trepidation about London, the city I love so much. I’ve been dying to go back with Mike, to show him my old haunts, the things that made me fall in love with the city, to walk along the Thames in the early evening and feel the power of the city.

A part of me knows though that it will never be the same. That so much of what I love and miss about London has to do with who I was when I lived there. For me London is about being young and away from home, single and independent for the first time. It’s about the possibility of stumbling on a hidden street, about drinking cider until 3 am in a dodgy underground club and a hungover breakfast of bacon and eggs. It’s about being abroad for the first time ever and basking in the wonder of new discoveries and a budding love of travel.

When I go back, it will be as someone older, someone with a career and a husband. Someone who has traveled across many continents and countries and seen places far older and far prettier (although nowhere quite as wonderful). I’ll be looking at London through different, older eyes, and while I hope I’ll still love it, it won’t be the same city for me anymore.

No matter how many times I revisit a place, there’s certain things that just can’t be recaptured. Feelings, experiences, memories. Nothing is ever the way I left it. Try as I might, I can’t go back in time.

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26 thoughts on “The Places You Can’t go Back To”

  1. My grandparents had a big house with a huge portion of land. The grew wheat and grapes and fruit trees, and had chickens and goats and some dogs. My siblings and me loved wandering tru the ears and playing with the animals, and there even was a small winery, smelly and a bit gloomy, that absolutely fascinated me, and where I wasn’t allowed to enter.
    Except for the house, all that is gone. The government exproriated the lands to build a road and an urbanisation, wiping out my grandparent’s hard work after their death.
    I returned there 2 years ago, many years after. I saw in dismay how the panorama from the terrace had changed, and I was sad thinking that I would never had the opportunity to explore the misterious winery.
    But you now what? Everytime I try to recall how the urbanisation looks like, it’s quite difficult. In my memory, I still see the plants, the old broken truck, the stuffed animals that creeped me out.
    Nothing will take that from me. Nothing.

  2. I agree you can never go back and have the same experience, but sometimes I’ve found the second visits (when I’m a bit older and wiser!) turn out to be more beautiful than the first. Hope you get back to London soon – best city in the world (though I may be a little bias..)

  3. I find myself saying that all the time as I struggle with the concept of time and having the temptation of all the other parts of the world out there ready to explore! However, some places for me have had a significant pull to go back and when i have, it hasn’t been the same, it’s been better. I feel more comfortable and I push myself to find something new, which I normally do – my never ending love affair with Cambodia proves that. Sometimes, though, a place is so magical you don’t want it tainted by returning. It’s how I’m feeling about Myanmar right now. Decisions, decisions…

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