This Thanksgiving marks the thirteenth anniversary of finishing my first Harry Potter book. I remember spending that whole holiday transfixed by the book, reading it in the kitchen while my mom was cooking, and in the car with my dad when he was sent to the store to get something my mom forgot. When I finished the book that day, even in the midst of the chaos that ensues during holidays, I felt that something big had happened in my life.
Lately I’ve been nostalgic thinking about Thanksgiving and holidays and home and Harry Potter and the big things that happen in life.
In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort divides his soul into seven pieces in order to achieve immortality. He splits his soul each time by killing another, and he hides the pieces of his soul, or “horcruxes” in various locations so they won’t be destroyed. Of course, you can imagine what Harry Potter’s job is for 7 books:
cry about his dead parents DESTROY THE HORCRUXES!!!!!
But here is the thing that always struck me about Voldemort and his horcruxes: he never went back to check on them. I mean, when I hide pieces of my soul in spell-encapsulated caves and/or snakes, I generally try to keep an eye on them. But Voldy doesn’t. I could go on a diatribe about how Regulus Black had been dead for years before Voldemort figured out part of his soul was dead, but I won’t. I will merely state that once Voldemort created his horcruxes and placed them where he wanted them, he left them alone.
And for the first time, I think I understand it.
It’s incredibly hard to go back to the places where you leave parts of your soul, parts of your heart. I know it’s cliche to say, like those bumper stickers that read, “I left my heart in St. Petersburg!” or whatever. Wherever. And maybe it’s not even accurate. I think I’ve come to see that saying I left a piece of my heart in a place doesn’t express what I really mean. It’s not that I’m missing something, or that I’m passing out pieces of my soul anytime I go on vacation. I think what I mean is that I have been forever changed because of a place, and it is impossible to go back to the place as the person I was before.
I don’t know why I’m making this abstract. It is my daily reality.
I now live in a place that I had visited many times before. I came here often with a boy I loved very much, and it was with him that I saw the mountains for the first time in my life. The gas station where we bought sodas while walking down Santa Fe Drive is now hiring. I live right by the weird, underground King Sooper’s, where we sat at the tables and homeless men ate turkey sandwiches and read GQ and I swore to myself that if I ever moved to Denver I would never live in that neighborhood. Everyday I pass the huge yellow sculpture I said looked like french fries and he said he wanted to climb. These things don’t bother me too much anymore. They have become the mundane aspects of my life here, scribbled over with new memories, and they don’t make me remember like they used to.
There are places I’ve been in my life that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to return. I’ve been profoundly fortunate to have been to beautiful and remarkable locations, met amazing people, and had my life shaped by these experiences. But it hurts to go back. Something’s always changed, even if it’s only me.
Many people, when they find out I studied in Amsterdam, want me to go with them to Amsterdam. I guess so I can point out the coffeeshops deemed to be the best after a semester spent there. I play along–“Sure, sure, we’ll go to Amsterdam! We’ll eat stroopwaffels! I’ll show you my favorite bar!”–but I don’t mean it. I don’t want to go to Amsterdam with just anyone. I think it would even be difficult to go with my beloved friends I met there and whom I haven’t seen since I left.. My friends won’t be the same people they were when we had Thursday night dinner parties and drank Albert Heijn wine. The city, though assuredly still lovely and interesting and perfect, won’t be the same. And I’m sure as hell not the person I was then.
Maybe it’s cowardice that I don’t want to witness the changes that have happened to the places and people I love. Maybe I’m weak for being sad in places that used to make me happy. But part of me thinks that all this dividing of my heart into little pieces for the places I love has made it that much harder to destroy.