You park by the side of the road by the apartments, the place you grew up. A sign says residents only but you feel a sense of entitlement being here. You imagine the conversation you will have if someone stops you. You pick your route and take it. It is not as precious as you thought it would be and that’s both a disappointment and a relief. Because you thought there was more.
You take a picture of the front door with the numbers to the unit where you lived. There is a set of windows you put your arms through in the summer of ’76, they look so small. And it is always that way with the scale, always so much smaller. The walk up the road to that store you used to take, now 40 years or more. In fact you poke your head in the store and something weird happens. They just have gambling machines in the back and nothing for sale, the place is mostly empty. Some figures look up, surprised. You close the door and hurry off.
And that is the extent of your walk down memory lane, at least for scene one. You get back in the car and drive to the next house. You have to use the navigator. You’ve tried this before with the family but this is the kind of thing that’s best done alone, solemn work. There, the cemetery by the school and the place you once got paid to rake leaves. An art competition with the school around Halloween where they put all the pictures the kids drew in the window of a local store and you could see yours by the others, a grave with an ominous hand poking out of the earth. You didn’t win.
Here is the next house now and then the drive to your best friend’s place up the road. Their names are coming out of the woodwork. It’s a funny expression, but that’s where things go when you leave them. And these houses have a sad feeling because it looks like no one lives here and they look exactly the way they did in 1982 which is to say no one has lifted a finger since then or before, and that’s a long time. There is a rope where Jimmy Long swung and you hit him in the ankle with a Chinese throwing star and how he wept and ran back home to his mother to complain. It was a direct hit, you were both ashamed of yourself and proud.
You are out of nostalgia for a time. You find your breathing has changed and it’s time to return to the present, to go back and see your dad. He will be waiting and checking the time, perhaps getting nervous. He’s worried you won’t know about ringing the bell and the problems that will cause with the dogs so he’s hoping to intercept you by the garage so you can come in that way instead.
You go for your hike and the sky is a perfect autumn blue. Your dad has to stop though and he can’t make it to the top. It’s alright, of course. There’s not much to see at the top. Your dad’s got problems with one of his eyes and his balance is off. You go and find him a stick for the way down, offer him your hand at key check points along the trail.
You come back to the car and use the streaming service to play a record that feels about right for the drive. Both of you critique the navigator’s route but agree at least you’re getting to see more of the countryside this way. It is a good day but it goes by quickly. You are thinking about it as you sit in the airport waiting to leave, you play back scenes like this. To live is to lose. Your old man knows this, and so will you.
The house is dark because it’s so early it’s just you and the dog smacking her lips. You have to use the flashlight on your phone to open the CD tray because you’ve lost your feel for things in the dark, you can’t see as well. You look for yourself in old photos or old things or go back to places you once knew and find there isn’t as much as you hoped there would be but maybe you just can’t see it, you tell yourself that.
We come to a new wisdom when we learn to let go. A place, a time when we are freed by all we once had and realize we don’t need. I am just beginning to see this now, these empty spaces are full.