Archive for March 8th, 2008

Since I live less than thirty kilometers from where I grew up, I revisit the area every month or two. It’s always an unsettling feeling.

For one thing, I can hardly walk a pace without some memory returning to me from my childhood or teen years. There is the elementary school I attended, and the grass slope going down to the playing fields where the boys and girls with whom I hung out used to gather on their bicycles when we were in high school. To one side is the small woods, carefully denuded of any undergrowth, where I played endless games of tag at lunch and recess, learning in the process that, if I wasn’t the fastest runner in the crowd, I was the one with the greatest endurance.

Above that is the house of one of my elementary school crushes; I used to deliver the local paper there, and I was always nervous that my crush might answer the door. A few doors over is the house of a high school crush. Sometimes, on a visit, I walk or jog by the two houses, and wonder what their former inhabitants are doing. I did meet both at my high school reunion a couple of years ago, but one cut off contact in circumstances that I am only now starting to understand, and the other looked prematurely aged by her life experiences, so I am probably better off not knowing how they are faring.

But if I walk a couple of blocks south, I come to the corner where I kissed one of them. Then, going east towards my old high school, I can name more former inhabitants: The brash bully, the quiet, artistic girl, the wimp, the bad boy, and another crush. At the school, I can stand, if I like on the track, and remember old victories from when it was paved with only cinders, or recall the end of year award ceremony when I saw in the bleachers and watches the measles slowly break out on my arm. Then I can pass the auto shop where I received my first and only detention (well, how was I to know that the teacher had returned while I was under the desk on a retaliatory raid on the shoelaces of two friends sitting across from me?), and cross the ramp – formerly covered – that I used to do wind sprints up on rainy days, past the smoke-hole.

And that’s just one direction. I can go in any of the others and recite a similar litany of memories. No doubt all of them are stronger for being among my first. Not being given much to nostalgia, I’m always surprised by them.

At the same time, for all the familiarity, I am also walking through a strange land. The woods where I once played at Robin Hood have been had their undergrowth clearcut – presumably to deny cover to the child-molesters and evil homeless with whom the popular imagination peoples them. The stump of the tree blown over in the big hurricane, whose top was a reading seat for me for years, has been cut away to a fraction of its former glory. The building where I attended junior high has been replaced by portables, all except the gym and the unheated west wing. At the senior building, the wing where I took creative writing and English with my favorite teacher has been torn down. In fact, the entire building has been heavily made over, and I suspect that, were I to enter it, I would quickly become disoriented.

As things are, I soon realize that I am not really looking at the places I remember. I’m looking at their successors, or what they have evolved into. The people that go with my memories aren’t there, and they wouldn’t be those I remember if they were (any more than I am). If I want the places I remember, I have to wait for them to appear in my nightly dreams. The truth is, those places don’t exist any more, and I am always a bit relieved after walking through their remnants for an hour, to leave them behind for my present life.

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