The high school English curriculum is designed to teach many lessons about the human condition, many of which feel remote to the 17-year-old condition. One novel this year, however, proved particularly pertinent. We read You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe — a monstrously long novel about the travels of a man named George Webber. The title reiterates the novel’s premise: one leaves home through a one-way gate. You can’t go back again. Experiencing different places and people changes you. And in your absence, your home, your town, your familiar stores, and the people you knew — even the traffic patterns and the color of the tennis courts — have also changed. The sentimental memories we associate with our childhood, which constitute the composite of who we think we are, are, as it turns out, mutable. This brings into question the security of the persona we thought of as “me.”

As a second-semester senior with some Wilton separation anxiety, Wolfe’s idea nags in the back of my mind. In a few months I will be leaving for college, arriving at an entirely new place. The only familiar belonging I will carry with me will be the identity I forged in my childhood home town. Knowing I’ll be in exile from the East Coast for the next four years is a scary thought. I can only come home for the holiday season, and my interactions with my friends, old teachers, and the town itself will be sparse. Wolfe’s novel ennobles the virtues of living in the moment and he dismisses the values of enjoying the past. He suggests that my best hope of “enjoying” my past is to relish my memories of my home, and resist making futile attempts to return.

I disagree with Thomas Wolfe. Sure, my 17-year-old perspective feels audacious in its challenge of a critically acclaimed author, but I intend to make the best and most of both worlds. Unlike Wolfe, I can’t leave everything behind. I want to explore all that college has to offer, yet I mean to stay in touch with the quaint town that I grew up in. Every memory of my childhood is grounded in my hometown. These memories are unique and irreplaceable, invaluable to who I am.

Change and time cannot erase that sense of exhilaration and abandon that I felt running the Norwalk River Valley Trail as the first snow fell late one October day. They can’t make me forget the russet shade of autumn leaves reflecting off the reservoir at sunset. Tusk & Cup may one day vanish, but not what I learned there about building bonds and the balm of conversation with friends. My track coach may retire, but that won’t rob me of his advice that the thing to learn from losing is to try again and try harder — and the thing to learn about winning is humility and graciousness. My science teacher who taught me about patience (“You know Tyler, not all answers are found easily…”); the high school English curriculum taught me to reconsider and question conclusions from different perspectives; and my mother taught me that a positive attitude is a fundamental component of good health and of healing. All these memories belong to me, and I will always be able to go “home” to the values they instilled, experience by experience, endowing me with the confidence to move on.

Senior year is moving fast, but I still have time to share adventures, hopes, and Big Macs with the people that I have grown up with. I can live in the moment the way George Webber does in You Can’t Go Home Again, knowing that this will change but knowing, too, that I can keep it.


Tyler Zengo is a senior at Wilton High School. He shares this column with five classmates.