Every Christmas, after the turkey and stuffing and yams and mashed potatoes and trifle, the other members of my surviving family settle down for a nap. While they are snoring, I go for a walk or a run. By then, the restlessness that comes when I don’t exercise is stealing over me. Besides, I don’t get to my native West Vancouver very often, so the exercise is a chance to see what has changed in the neighborhood where I grew up.
Superficially, very little has changed over the years. True, the distances seem shorter than I remember, and the streets seem slightly shabbier, no doubt thanks to the small size of contemporary budgets for infrastructure. But the traffic is as light as ever and the trees as many, and overall, the reality syncs with my memory of a quiet suburb of moderate privilege.
The main difference is in the houses. Real estate prices being what they are, the middle class bungalows that I remember from my teen years are being steadily replaced by monster houses built as high and as close to the edges of the lots as the bylaws allow. Also, places that once seemed not worth building on are now subdivisions – never mind that they are so close to creeks that the basements are rumored to have their own pumping system. No doubt owners call these changes maximizing their investment, but to me these monster houses always seem a decline in aesthetics, especially when they pop up in unlikely places.
Every year since I moved away from my parents’ house, I half-hope that I’ll see someone I knew at school. The possibility isn’t completely unlikely; a surprising number of classmates never left the municipality, and others, like me, have family ties that might take them back on Christmas Day.
But I never have seen anyone I know, not once in all these years, although I peer hopefully at everyone I see walking or jogging, and often pass by the track at my old high school, where some of the people with whom I used to run might be expected.
Instead, as I pass by familiar scenes, I remember.
That house used to belong to a fellow athlete who, the last I heard, had been living where he grew up to take care of his mother. She’s supposed to be dead now, but I wonder if he is still living there. I heard Eighties rock from the sidewalk and wonder if he is spending Christmas alone, but somehow I don’t have the courage or the inclination to knock.
I look up at the house where a girl I once knew grew up. We never dated – we just exchanged sympathies on the miserable states of our separate (mostly theoretical) love lives – but I wouldn’t mind seeing her again. Too bad her family moved away years ago.
I pass the house where four of us used to gather for blackjack and board games when I was in grade eleven. I wonder if my former friend still has family there, but I see a basketball hoop and a hockey net, signs of teenagers, and judge it unlikely.
Cutting through a park, I glance on the bridge on the house where a boy I thought obnoxious once lived. Then I remember that at the reunion three years ago the boy had grown into an equally obnoxious man, and increase my pace, as if thinking about him might make him reappear.
Now heading home, I consider passing by the house where a girl lived who was once the object of my unrequited crush. But I tell myself that would be indulgent, to say nothing of several blocks out of my way, so I continue on my planned path.
Nearing my old elementary school, I look up at the house where yet another crush lived. After the last reunion, we emailed each other a few times, but we haven’t had any contact in months, and aren’t likely to in the future.
A few houses further on, another crush used to live. At the reunion, she had seemed prematurely aged and bitter, and somehow I hadn’t had the heart to talk to her. I wonder what her story is, and part of me is glad to realize that I’ll probably never know.
By now, the sunset is near, and what little heat remains is being leeched with the light from the air. I ask myself what I am doing, growing melancholy over people who probably haven’t thought of me in years. I am no better, I tell myself, than the ex-friend who phoned us on Christmas Eve, full of news of other ex-friends in whom I have only a passing interest.
If anything, I am worse, because I have no reason to suddenly feel lonesome. I hurry through the school grounds and back to my parents’ house, my exercise in sustained nostalgia over for another year, and no more successful than it has been in the past.