Memories are films about ghosts: you can can’t capture them, grasp them, or—definitely not—photograph them. Yes, I know what you’re going to say next: you can retrieve them, recall them, speak them. Well, while technically true, how accurate are the things that we call “memories?” Are they always accurate, on point, vivid in rich detail? Doubtfully.

If dreams are like movies / Then memories are films about ghosts / You can never escape / You can only move south down the coast ~ Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby by Counting Crows

My childhood home, on Jacktown Road, is the cerebral stage for many recurring dreams. Well, perhaps recurring isn’t the best word, because the dreams are never the same. The house is more like a backdrop to a play, a piece of canvas that is dropped from the ceiling of my mind, where many different scenarios are portrayed, between cycles of REM sleep.

Usually, I cannot remember specific details about that house such as the type of hardwood flooring, color of the curtains, or names of neighbors; although, I can recall the single-pane windows, and wrap-around porch, among other things. It seems that most of my memories are related more to feelings and emotions than that of specific events.

Memory…is the diary that we all carry about with us ~ Oscar Wilde

The route isn’t too far out of the way for me. I make the right turn, steer the van across the crumbling one-lane bridge—bus stop headquarters for #38 kids, like the eight-year-old me—past the rusty row of mailboxes, and up the hill to my childhood house.

A bizarre picket fence, as in it was never there before, borders the edge between yard and hillside.

Static is the one thing that change is not. I already know it’s all going to be different. The silhouetted house stands against a setting maroon sky, and the single-bulb porch light illuminates a twisted, unfamiliar scene: a stranger’s car is in my driveway, the driveway has been regraded, a chicken coop something-or-the-other is planted squarely in the backyard, and a delicate garden is outlined in the field. I drive by slowly, but the road feels more narrow, and the guardrail is pressed against the gravel shoulder. Continuing up the hill, my childhood home fades in the darkness, swallowed by nightfall, and I drive slowly to examine the hillside, which also seems so unfamiliar, like a movie that I once watched, but a plot that I have long forgotten.

Films about ghosts.

I’ve come to a conclusion: you can never go home.

Home is just another four-letter word, like cake or duck. In my case, with my childhood residence reclaimed by a mystery family, I can no longer equate that red brick house with my definition of home, for it now belongs to somebody else, it’s someone’s home, but not mine.

I realize now that home is not where you hang your hat, but where you keep your heart.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~ T. S. Eliot

On the way home, my GPS is curiously suggesting an alternative route to the one that I would have taken. I’ll bite; I’m game; I follow along with the charade.

At the end of Lovedale Road, I am prompted to turn right onto the road which parallels the river. In all of my 10+ years of residency in Elizabeth, PA, I never knew the official name of that road, but it appears that my GPS is much smarter than me, and it offers the answer: Lincoln Boulevard.

I’m a sucker for roads that parallel the river, and in my old stomping grounds there are plenty to choose from. There is something therapeutic about driving along the river—wide in most spots, narrower in other locations—and I can recall many instances of driving for the simple pleasure of driving. This river road, aka Lincoln Blvd., has belonged in my favorite scenic routes, since I was just eighteen.

I always enjoyed the sight of industry along the waterways—a region-defining characteristic of Pittsburgh, in general. The sun has long since set as traces of orange and red fill the sky, quickly succumbing to the creeping edge of darkness. Lights reflect off the surface of the Monongahela River, from Clairton Mill Works, as I proceed further along the roadway. The silhouetted factory buildings jut from the riverbank and, even with the van windows rolled high and tight, the familiar scent enters the vehicle— petroleum or oil or emissions billowing from the towering stacks, into the night sky, into my nostrils.

I am reminded of a scene from the movie Wonder Boys (2000), which was filmed in the Pittsburgh region, and one specific scene along this exact backdrop of industry and river. Professor Grady, along with his student James, are driving at dusk in a dark maroon 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 with black interior, and discussing one dead dog that just happens to be occupying the trunk space of same said vehicle.

For better or worse, I tend to notice cinematic inconsistencies and movie mistakes:

—the background in the movie features the mill on the right side of the car.

JAMES LEER: You’re mad at me, aren’t you?

GRADY: What?

—the background in the movie features the mill on the left side of the car.

JAMES LEER: You’re mad because I shot your girlfriend’s dog.

GRADY: It wasn’t her dog. It’s her husband’s. Who said anything about girlfriend?

—the background in the movie features the mill on the right side of the car.

GRADY: Okay, James, I wish you hadn’t shot my girlfriend’s dog. Even though Poe and I weren’t exactly what you’d call simpatico, that’s no reason for him to take two in the chest. Still, the fact remains that I’m the one who took you up into the Chancellor’s bedroom. I’m the one who has to take the blame.

—the background in the movie features the mill on the left side of the car.

So there it was. Somewhere in the night, a Manhattan book editor was prowling the streets of Pittsburgh; best-selling author at his side, dead dog in his trunk. ~ Grady Tripp, Wonder Boys

I know, I know, I’m not supposed to take a photograph while driving. Duly noted, your complain is filed with the management. While driving responsibly, I reach across the seat to find my camera on the leather seat.

After one year of photographing with this machine, I can operate it with my eyes closed—if the need ever arose. I’ve already preset the default aperture to f/2.8, as to collect as much light as possible. No time to compose, I point the camera at the window, attempt to hold it steady and parallel, while pressing the shutter button.

Fingers crossed.

When I return home, I examine the captured images. Just one, this specific image, it’s acceptable for use as today’s photograph. Due to the moving vehicle, the foreground elements (trees) are blurred, rendered in an almost-ghost-like-appearance, while the background buildings are close enough to being in focus.

Films about ghosts.