You Can Go Home Again


And you should.

by Cherri Ellis

 

This week I returned from five days in my hometown, the warm and cheerful Centerville, Ohio. (We always refer to it that way, since that is what is on the wooden welcome sign at the edge of town.) I had carved out time and bought a ticket to fly home, stay at my mom’s, and attend my college reunion.   

My early education was rife with unwieldy mascots. I went to Beavertown Elementary School, and I graduated from high school as a proud Centerville elk. After one awkward year at Denison University, I transferred to Wright State University. There, although the mascot inexplicably changed from a pirate to a Viking to a wolf, we were called the Raiders. I never even knew this, because I was in the theater department.

My college experience could not have been more different than my daughter’s four years at the University of Alabama. I adored my front row seat to hers. It appeared to be a beautiful blur of friends, national football championships, college bars, spring break trips, and group selfies. It must have also had its share of hardcore academics, because she got out of there with a hefty scholarship to law school, but I’m just saying…her Instagram account is not full of shots of the library. She went in with a plan, executed it, and is now on to her next plan. That is not how we rolled in the theater and dance department of WSU.

DSCN3439The school mounted shows of staggering quality. The main stage seasons were spectacles with elaborate sets, custom designed costumes, and a fully outfitted stage with a proscenium arch and fly rigging. Most anyone could enroll to receive a bachelor of fine arts in the performing arts, but you auditioned at the end of your sophomore year to make the exclusive studio program. This put you into a conservatory of very specific training. My class had about 20 kids, and we spent every waking minute of the following two years together. We were in classes all day and rehearsals all night, and most of us lived together in various run-down abodes in between. Nobody had any money or much of a plan. We didn’t say “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.” We said things like, “I’ve got fencing after Tai Chi” and, “Aren’t those my leg warmers?” We consumed massive amounts of the cheapest beer sold, purchased from the local drive-thru liquor store. Yes…it was legal to pass cold six packs through the open car window to a group of teenagers wearing unitards. (Flashdance may have introduced the rest of the world to dance fashion, but we were rocking the cut-up sweatshirt long before then. I believe I went four straight years with one shoulder exposed.)

The difference in people who do and don’t make it in the theater is vast. Maybe 4 percent of trained performers make their living exclusively off their craft. The difference, however, in the talent level of performers who do and don’t make it is miniscule. I was surrounded by rapier wit, awe-inspiring voices, and lithe bodies that could hinge till their shoulders touched the stage. We steel-cage-death-match competed for roles and bolstered each other’s shattered confidence when we didn’t get cast. We were completely immersed in each other for two years, and then all at once, we were scattered to the wind.

The reunion brought some of us together again for the first time in many, many years. As is so common now, it was the Internet that assembled us. The idea to convene was spawned by one of us on a group web page, and through the dogged efforts of two local attendees, it actually came to be.

It was magic. Life doesn’t bring you goodness in chunks that big very often. For five solid days, tarmac to tarmac, every minute got better than the one before. When I wasn’t reliving stories with friends who had miraculously come back into my life, I was surrounded by my family. My mother treats me like I treat my daughter, and there is nothing not fun about that. Every room I walked into, someone handed me chardonnay. I didn’t cook one single thing. Hell—I didn’t pour my own cup of coffee. I ate Mom’s famous cheese ball and my brother-in-law’s overnight pork roast and split a life-saving 2 a.m. pizza with my friend Paul, who lives far too far away.

The goodness reached ridiculous levels the day I was shopping to the sounds of a tinkling piano at Von Maur. Nothing says, “You’ve arrived” like trying on pants to live music. My cell phone rang, and it was my new boss offering me the job of a lifetime. I accepted with what I thought was a modicum of dignity, then threw my arms up in the air and screamed on the escalator, “HOW GOOD IS MY LIFE?” I looked down and discovered I hadn’t hung the phone up, and I didn’t even care. It is better that he knows early on that I am prone to fits of exuberance when great things happen.

Reunions can be bittersweet, but this one was pure love. The reconnections were made with a kung fu grip, and the messaging flew so fast and furious afterward that I received the following text: “I am on Facebook in a bathroom stall at work. Please get me the help I need.”

Go home when you can. Let the you who you are now dance with the you who you were then. Visit the past. Walk up and kiss it on the lips.

And when life gives you back something you didn’t even realize you were missing, hang onto it.

How good is life, indeed.

2 Responses to “You Can Go Home Again”

  1. Jeri Dickey says:

    I love this entire piece- and you from ponytail to dancer feet! We need to get together more often, since we are in the same state. <3

  2. Tony Barnett says:

    What a great article! As one who attended the Wright State reunion but didn’t go to school with Ms. Ellis, it was not only great to meet her but all the other alumni during my own “sabbatical”. It was indeed a magical weekend and an honor to be among such a talented and warm-hearted group of people.

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