In the dream I’m trying to go back where my father died. I want to pay my respects, see the woods that I ran through carelessly with our dogs. Spend some time in the humble barn-turned-house, poorly insulated but with all the space you could want. Or go to the nearby pond and try to catch some fish after a nice swim. These were the last places I was a child. I left too suddenly to say goodbye. Maybe I’ll sit under the shade of the sapling we planted decades ago, now that it’s grown. I’ll save that for last.

I reach the small, withered town of a few hundred. Ivy overgrowth creeps across ruined brick buildings in the distance, where as a boy I imagined outlaws hid during the days of the old West. I cross the railroad tracks that mark town’s center, looking at blurry shop signs I can’t quite make out. There’s a chain drive-in that was the talk of town when it first opened at one corner. On the other side, a greasy burger spot where I spent Saturday nights playing the already-decaying arcade machines. I find I cannot remember the way to the barn that was home in another life. This place has become foreign to me. Asking around doesn’t help, because I can’t tell the people on Main Street enough about where I’m going to get proper direction.

Undeterred, I pick a dirt road to the east and begin walking. I know it’s bound to take hours, but if I circle town a few times, I’ll catch sight of the cattle pastures and know I’m on the right road. I’ll be sure to call out “Good morning, ladies” like I used to as I pass by. It never gets more familiar, though, and as I struggle along it begins to snow. The wind picks up, shaking the trees crowding the narrow road ahead.

This place is pushing back on me as if to say “you do not belong here”; I can feel it. And it’s right: I’m a trespasser, a greedy invader. If this really is home, why can’t I remember the way? I cut a path into the woods now, desperately trying to find another road and praying it’s the right one. I end up completely lost, no other road in sight and no easy way of doubling back.

As the snow begins to pile up, the cold bites into my skin. I’ve only seen snow once out here; this is a sign. No matter how hard I try, this land will not let me see my barn, my new tree, my pond. My three-legged dog, with my parents smiling at me as I play with her out in the prairie sunset. The room where my father told me “goodnight” and that he loved me for the last time, and the room where a few hours later I saw him dead as my neighbors carried me out. I can’t recognize anything around me, and my vision fades as I beg to remember.

It’s still cold when I wake up. The day is brand new, and it’s so early it feels like the whole world is still asleep. I recognize and remember every little detail of the four grey walls of my little bedroom surrounding me, but they make me feel absolutely nothing. I guess you can’t always go home.