But it wasn't there. None of it. Not a lick. I was with two friends who I didn't know when we were students here. It was a big school. We pointed out some differences in the place, but nothing really sat with me and said, "I remember seeing Rob F. over by those doors every day at lunch," or "Isn't this where Amy punched Jody because of Adam?"
This was no longer a brick-and-mortar harbinger of my youth. This place held no solace for me, no great inspiration of what it means to have gone out in the world and live a life of my own for ten years. My youth is now held in my mind, and in random messages on MySpace from old schoolmates who track me down from time to time. The friends I had when I was in high school have blown to the four winds. Even the ones I kept in touch with regularly are no longer a part of my life. I let the last one go down his alcohol-induced rabbit hole six months ago.
But the books! Oh, the books brought back memories. "Yellow Raft in Blue Water" was on every table in the room. It was required reading for sophomores at the school. Other titles from English class peered at me between broken spines of less nostalgic tomes to remind me of this teacher or that class, or that fight I was in where I lost this book.
The smell of the old books brought back years and years of memories, from books handed down to me from my mom or libraries where I spent my time with books that didn't harass or make fun of me like my siblings and classmates. Most people describe it as a musty smell. To me, it smells like youth and weary happiness. Flipping through an old hardcover with a spine that always makes that old hardcover noise that's half-squeak, half-pop - that's where my youth lives. In Dicey's Song and Behind the Attic Wall and myriad other stories that swept me out of my humdrum life and took me everywhere I needed to go, that's where my solace lives.
Spending an hour in that old cafeteria among the yellowed pages of homeless books was like my own little Saturday afternoon heaven in the adolescent hell that I've too many grudges against.
No, you can't go home again. But sometimes, unexpectedly, your home - and your youth - can find you all too easily.