Jesus, it’s been years since I’ve written anything like this. I’m not even sure where to start… This is almost embarrassing.
Y’know, I tried for a long time to keep up with it after I left… I’m not even sure if I can explain why I stopped. I just started writing less and less until eventually, I put down the pen for the last time.
By the time my grandfather died, I’d given it up completely. And there was something about it that just sort of hit me. He was the one who’d started the tradition of keeping a journal in our family. He was the one I’d looked up to so much as a kid. I think I felt like I was letting him down or something by not writing anymore. It had become such an important tradition in my family… One I tossed aside after I left. The least I could do was help make sure it continued on.
It was more than thirty years ago now, but I’ll never forget it. It was kind of an impulsive decision — I stopped at the store on my way to the airport and bought a journal. I ended up giving it to my niece right after the funeral, after we’d said our last goodbyes to grandpa. I just knew if I could count on anyone to keep the writing going, it would be Jocelyne. And thankfully, it looks like I made the right choice.
Just the other day while I was visiting, I overheard her talking with Colette about having a hard time with something, and she joked about what a “great therapist” her journal has been. And I guess that’s what got me thinking.
I’ve had so much weighing on my mind ever since Madalyn and I came here… Why not try getting some of it down on paper, like I used to?
God, this feels so damn awkward. But I should at least give it a try, shouldn’t I?
I suppose the best way to describe things right now is that I just feel… Lost. Being back home after all these years is amazing. And I know I made the right choice. But my God, is it hard.
Back when I was a kid, I knew leaving Windenburg was what was best for me. I needed to get away from it all, have a fresh start, make something of myself… Know what I mean? But all those years away from my parents and siblings… It changed everything. I don’t think it was something I’d really prepared myself for.
I almost feel like a stranger now. An outsider. I used to come back home three or four times a year when I first left. But for a while now, I’ve been lucky enough if I made it once or twice. You get so wrapped up in your own life with your own family… It’s hard to keep up all that back and forth. That’s such a shitty excuse, I know. But it’s the only one I’ve got, really.
Josh and his family did a great job filling the role, for a while. I really loved them, and I know they loved me too. It’s just hard not to feel guilty now, looking back. Mama was so scared when I left — she felt so sure I was trying to replace my family or something. And… in a horrible way, I almost did.
I’ve been trying so hard to connect with everyone again, now that I’m back. But it’s not easy. I feel like I’ve lost so much being gone for so long… And I don’t think I can ever get it back again.
I think the first time it really hit me that I needed to come home was back when we lost Lucas. It was such a shock to all of us… It was devastating. And from the moment I got that phone call, all I could think of was all the things I could have done differently over the years. How much closer I could have been with him. How I could have called more or visited more… But I didn’t. And then suddenly it was too late.
When Jocelyne left and went back home, it was so damn hard. Having her back in Willow Creek with us made me feel connected to my family for the first time in years. I was so close with her and the girls. It felt like I finally had a piece of home there with me. It was so selfish, but I really didn’t want her to go.
And part of me was so jealous that I couldn’t leave too. It still makes me sick knowing I couldn’t come home and be there for Tobi after it happened. I mean Christ, can you even imagine what losing your child would be like? I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel if anything happened to one of my kids. I was only back in Windenburg for about two weeks after the fire, and even after all these years, I will never forget the look on my brother’s face when I saw him. He wasn’t the same anymore. And maybe if I’d been able to stay, I could have done more to help get the old Tobi back.
But it was impossible. My kids were still in school, Madalyn and I were both still working… I had a life in Willow Creek. I couldn’t just drop everything and leave. I didn’t have a choice. I had to stay.
When Jonas got sick last year, that was finally my wakeup call. My kids were all grown and had families of their own. Madalyn had just retired… And that was when I realized that it was time for me to do the same. I needed to retire, sell the house, and head back to Germany.
I had an amazing life in Willow Creek, and I’ll never regret leaving Windenburg all those years ago. But I think part of me will always wish I’d come home sooner.
I feel like I wasted so much time. I lost so many years, became so disconnected… I’ll never forget sitting in that hospital room next to Jonas – my true Papa… The man who’d loved me like his own son for nearly my entire life – and I still felt like a stranger there. Like I was some outsider sitting in on another family’s moment of grief. I’d allowed myself to become so disconnected from everyone for so long. I should have done so much more. I should have tried harder to not let myself drift away…
And now it’s too late. I wasted so many years distancing myself from everyone, and I can’t do anything to take it back.
Madalyn’s been amazing through this whole thing, of course. She never once questioned me when I told her I wanted to come back home. And now that we’re here, she keeps telling me I have to stop worrying about the past. “You’re here now,” she keeps telling me. “That’s what matters.” And I’m trying so hard to hold on to that.
I’m doing everything I can to be there for Mama.
I’m trying to connect with Clara and Tobi again.
I’m working on getting to know all the kids a little better.
I’m trying so hard to feel like I’m a part of the family again.
But some days, it just doesn’t feel like it’s enough.