I wrote the following blogpost on March 10, 2009 for my research-related blog (which incidentally has seen less action over 5 years than this one saw in its first 6 months). Likely because of our recent move, this has been weighing on my mind, and I think the content much more appropriate to readers here. (Reposted with my own permission).
I received this message from a childhood friend yesterday on facebook, “My parents were just visiting and told me your old house has been razed….new home coming up. This follows a kitchen fire last year but I didn’t think they’d take the whole house down!”
I have known for years now that you can never really go home, but now that I know I can never revisit the place, I am pondering what that means. I can’t think of one reason I would want to return there. To remember the address, however, I typed in “Meadowview Ln” into Google Maps which suggested Meadow View Dr, and led me to click on a picture. When I turned just one click to the right, there before me was my house.
When I lived there the road wasn’t paved and cattle were kept in the field on “the hill” behind us. So now, I see the house for the first time in ages on the web, and it really no longer exists. I click up and down the street and remember Kory’s house and Kristen’s house and see a lot of houses that weren’t there before.
I told my mom the house was gone and she asked, “OK, so where’s the picture??? That is crazy and I think the kitchen is the only part we remodeled!!! Well, it has been a few years, hasn’t it.” It’s funny to think of asking for a picture of something no longer there. Proof that it’s gone? An empty lot? We can never go back. Not if we wanted, not if we had to.
Many Pieds-Noirs have been returning to Algeria in recent years. They bring back film that recaptures their homes and they play it for those who cannot physically return. When Jacques Derrida saw his homeland played back for him by Safaa Fathy, he found the past unrecognizable (see Tourner les mots), and Hélène Cixous traveled to Derrida’s Algeria with photos of his past, trying to make sense of what she was witnessing for the first time (Si près). But many Pieds-Noirs do not even see the present when they return. They only see what used to be.
In my case, this picture triggers memories of the dirt road and how big that hill to the right seemed when I rode my bike down it, and many of those houses now there were once just fields and empty lots. I see my past transposed onto the new siding and attempting to erase that ugly truck. But can I see an empty lot?