Jimmies. Grinnies. The Rankin Bridge. Ardmore. “Pump an Iron.” Panther Hollow. Normalville.

My head is spinning with threads of memories snapping back like a gumband stretched into a dark room. Whap! Lunchtime runs for pepperoni rolls. Snap! Driving through McKees Rocks. Slap!! The bridge between a parking garage and a cancer ward where I took my sister daily.

I walked away from Pittsburgh 12 years ago to shut the door on the most painful chapter of my life: trying, and failing, to save my sister from cancer. I’m the oldest. I took it personally. I left a cloud of painful memories and abruptly broken ties in my wake. It was not my finest hour, but it was a hellish time. When I packed my car and left, I let the memories fade as fast as they would.

I’ve been in and around my old haunts for a week, and they’re speaking to me. Some whisper how they miss me. My heart leapt – a feeling I haven’t had in years – when I stepped out into the cool green of the Laurel Highlands, one of my favorite places on Earth. The story threads of my life here are wound around streetsigns and pizza joints, pathways and monuments, steep hillsides and old mining towns. It’s a web, a maze, triggering so many forgotten things.

I haven’t made sense of it all yet, but one thing is clear: I’m not afraid of it anymore. I’m riding the emotions like the Thunderbolt to see where they’ll lead me next.