"It is autumn, as you know, and things are beginning to die. It is so wonderful to be out in the crisp fall air, with the leaves turning gold and the grass turning brown, and the warmth going out of the sunlight and big hot fires in the fireplace while Buddy rakes the lawn. We see a lot of bombs on TV because we watch it a lot more, now that the days get shorter and shorter, and darkness comes so soon, and all the flowers die from freezing."
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear & Loathing in Elko
Returning to the neighborhood of my youth after an extended absence has always conjured strange feelings for me. In college, it was the shock of two entirely divergent atmospheres that I called home juxtaposed - the debaucherous, collegial world of Ann Arbor on the one hand, and the quiet wilderness of Millwood Village, which suddenly seemed a retirement home community dotted with my childhood friends' parents, comparatively. From Chicago, Millwood opened its welcoming arms to me as I returned home with nowhere else to turn, but those welcoming arms were not the arms I had once known; perplexed, I came to find the boys I had run those yards with were no longer boys at all, maybe not quite old men yet but something different, something forever changed.
A different chapter closing is what has brought me home to Millwood this week. For a few months those aforementioned boys I had run Millwood's yards with and I lived together in a house in suburban Garden City, and as that chapter closes it is with sad clarity I know we will never again all be in the same household like that, for various reasons, be it fallings out or moving in with girlfriends or going separate ways.
The last week of summer in Millwood was always a time of palpable change growing up, and it's no different as I return now. I sat out on the back patio one of these nights, watching the fireflies dancing through the trees in the backwoods and swatting at the thousands of mosquitos birthed in the nearby Rouge River: the mosquitos and the fireflies - the perpetual life forms of summer in Millwood. The shouts of children still at play in the distance, too, foretold that school's early curfew was still a few days away.
Yet you could feel Autumn looming. Neighborhood garage sales seemed to symbolize a feeling of change pervading the neighborhood, and I saw more than one of my neighbor's packing up the family car as the next kid was being shipped out of the neighborhood and off to college. My sister, too, is off, for her sophomore year, which shocked me into the reminder that I was no longer a sophomore in college; sophomore year seems like maybe three years ago, tops, but the fact that I am seven years older than my sister reminded me just how long ago sophomore year was -- strange indeed.
What felt the strangest, though, was watching the kids playing in the Millwood streets, watching the recent high school grads pack the cars for college, and knowing that none of those faces were mine or the guys I grew up with in that neighborhood, anymore. For the first time in my life, it felt, the inaugural class of Millwood's children no longer had any sort of imprint on that neighborhood. The marks we had left in those streets had all been paved over by fresh coats of concrete, the carvings of our initials in the trees in the woods had all faded with fresh layers of bark. Usually, at the very least, you could find one of your old friend's cars parked in their parents' driveway, but not so, this time around. We had all left Millwood, for good, it seemed this time around. And I guess that's when I realized: the Millwood Chapter of my life is permanently over; there's no returning home after college for all of us this time.
And so in more than one way, it feels like this week is at home is a goodbye of sorts: to a house, to the guys I shared that house with, to the times we had in those walls, to another chapter. A farewell, too, to this summer, the summer that will undoubtedly go down as the summer that changed everything, in so many ways.