Usually when I touched down in Spokane the first thing i’d ask my parents was whether or not Charlie was around. I’d give him a call and walk over, and we’d take the dog for a long walk, catching up as we strolled around campus. The campus has changed now — that old brick quad outside Patterson now has better paving and I’m sure nicer landscaping, there’s a fountain somewhere that I didn’t think I’d see, and the student union now features Baldy’s instead of the Alleyway Grille. One of my big regrets has been that I didn’t do more to document the Cheney of my youth, either through words or photographs and that era is gone. Colleges are big business and the upgrades to curb appeal no doubt make better impressions than ivy-covered Hargreaves Hall somberly empty in the hot summer sun.
The high school is wholly different, the junior high is now a middle school (and expanded and remodeled away from the funky 70s prison it used to be). There are houses now where I remember wheat fields and some of the places we used to walk have now been no doubt walled off and barred up. My parents’ old house has been sold and I’m not convinced that I could go back without walking by at least once, convinced that I still have a bed there ready for me at the end of a long dark night spent outside in the cold walking in loops and talking.
I would ask what you’ve been up to and what movies you’d seen, maybe, and how scchool was going because the thought I have going back to Cheney is that of a student: that’s how we were, that’s what we did when we went back. Life was that walk: settling back into steady orbit around some larger star; the gravitational pull of Cheney was always family and friends andn we’ve been scattered to the four winds since then: Michigan, North Carolina, California. I fear I’d go back only to remember that you can’t go back: the physical changes and way we’ve grown up, grown apart have left me without roots in the north. My life is here, my home is here, my heart is here, for better or worse I’ve staked our family on this so Cal life. There must be something academic to it: this alienation of life and purpose, this continued feeling of stranger in a strange land.