This weekend, I went home to my Mom’s house to see my sister who was visiting from LA. I arrived in the 2 square mile town I grew up in the suburbs of New York city right before the sun set on Saturday evening. My sister wouldn’t arrive for another couple hours and I was feeling rather agitated from life, so I decided to take advantage of the last dusky hour of the day by going for a walk around my town to soothe and quiet my mind.
My slow sweet walk home started off by winding my way to the park. As I approached the field, I heard blaring pop music ala Jesse McCartney “Leavin'” and saw families with young kids set up on towels and blankets speckling the grass, facing an inflatable movie screen. Behind them was one of those inflatable castles that you jump on and can’t manage to not fall down on, with squeals of fun drifting over the castle walls, and tables set up around the periphery of the track, offering, I imagine, food & drink. An overly tan woman was standing at the entrance of the park smoking a cigarette, and I asked her what the occasion was, and she told me that it was “Family Fun Night,” which happens once a year. I grew up in this town my entire life and I don’t remember there ever being a “Family Fun Night,” and it seems strange and sad to me that there are now new rituals that I am not a part of, that are not a part of me. Giggling high schoolers stand near the tables, on a break from manning them perhaps, and I don’t recognize them at all. Even the kids I babysat for are now in college, or already graduated, and it is possible that these laughing kids weren’t even born until after I graduated from high school 15 years ago. A banner hangs draped over the street in front of the other entrance to the park, proclaiming, “Congratulations Class of 2008!” The town doesn’t belong to me anymore, like it did in the days when I knew everyone I passed in the streets, when I was the class being celebrated, and I realize I had to give it away to newcomers who now own it.
I walk half way around the field towards the hill on the opposite side that leads up to the high school, and move through at least half a dozen memories on my way there, and I feel like this town is full of my dormant memories, lying there sleepily, waiting to be remembered, waiting for me to walk through them and bring them back to life with my presence. This is the field where the home football games were played and I remember being on the kickline, dancing our half-time routine to “Move This” by Technotronic, and being a cheerleader at a freezing November game, wearing my sweatpants under my cheerleading skirt, shivering, and taking them off only at the last minute before assuming my place in front of the field with the other cheerleaders. I remember the March snowstorm that caused the Model UN to be canceled my senior year, when I had finally been made a committee chairperson, and instead of spending the day debating global issues in a high school classroom, we grabbed our sleds and skidded down the snowy hill, and then all went to the diner in town for hot chocolate with whipped cream, some of the boys smoking Marboro Lights in the booths and maybe I’d take a drag if I felt like it, back when you could still smoke in diners. The sledding hill is right next to a row of silver metallic bleachers, where the June before, at the end of my junior year, I played drunk Truth or Dare with friends, which led to me kissing a boy who would cause lots of trouble. Or maybe it was me who would cause all the trouble…
This is the field I graduated from high school on, and threw my cap up in this air, after I spent the day at Rye Beach with my best friend, and my cheeks were pink and my hair was straight-ish from the salty air, and my Dad snapped a picture of me walking down the aisle waving confidently, staring directly at the camera, so sure of myself, and all the possibilities that lay ahead.
Walking up the hill and past the high school, I come to a patch of street that was my route home on my 5 minute walk from the pool to my house. I walk through memories of me at 2 years old, toddling home from the pool with my Dad, when the pool passes were still small gold-colored pins you secured to your bathing suits, even before they were actual cards with photos in the corners. We went to the pool together and I was walking around the edge of it with my Dad, clinging to his leg, and I let go for a second and then reattached myself, walking, walking, when I saw my Dad half-way around the pool, and looked up to see that I was holding onto to some other man’s leg, some man who was wearing a similar bathing suit and had the grown-up hairy legs of a Dad, but who was not my Dad, and I was mortified, and started to cry, and then walked home with my Dad down this street, properly reattached to right the person.
I walked this route home from the pool both summers that I worked there as a cashier, walked home daydreaming about the college lifeguard I had a crush on, who lifted me up in the water and splashed around with me in the pool once, or maybe twice. Walked home this way in the rain, when the pool closed and I got to go to Red Robin or the movies with my friends, instead of sitting at the front desk making minimum wage, checking pool passes, and flirting with guys who were 3-10 years older than me, and sometimes who were my same age. Walked home on so many summer nights like tonight, as the sun was setting, and life was nothing but potential.
I kept walking and came to the house I grew up in, which my parents sold 10 years ago. The people who live there now renovated it is an understatement, so it is barely recognizable, except for a few details – the sqaure of land it sits on, the bamboo growing, unwieldy, in the backyard, the stone pathway around the side, past the garbage cans, the shape of the window in the front door…there is a stone wall the runs along the front of the property, and growing up, there were individual prickly bushes that grew small, hard red berries lining the back of the wall. My sister and I would walk up and down the length of the wall which felt so high standing twelve inches above the ground, when I was five in my yellow and orange Kermit the Frog bathing suit, and my sister at age 2, in just her diaper. Once my sister fell off the wall and didn’t even cry; she was more resislient than me from the beginning. Today the bushes are so overgrown they have morphed into one giant growth that covers the stone wall completely, and there is not even a place to put your foot for one small step. Behind the wall is a corner of my lawn where watching fireflies on a July night with the neighborhood kids was all the fun I ever needed.
I walked back to the place where my Mom now lives, through more memories, floating in front of the high school where we used to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights, waiting for some older kid to decide where the party would be, and then shoving $5 bills in the hands of another kid who had a fake id, and requesting a 4-pack of Bartles & James Very Berry wine coolers, or a 40 of Bud. Past houses that hosted keg parties, remembering walking up the front steps in a new outfit from Express and bangs teased high with Aqua Net, a combination of giddy, and nervous, with anticipation. Walking back and through and around and over myself at 2, at 5, at 10, at 17…
I feel so much longing for her, who I used to be then, all those years ago, before so so many disappointments and compromises. I miss her, and what she gave me – the giddy excitement of feeling electrifying alive, that is so hard to come by now; the ever-unfolding adventure of first-time experiences, and taking risks, and breaking rules, and getting away with it; the hope in, the belief that, the unwavering conviction, that everything is possible.
And walking through the air, thick with July humidity and a lifetime of memories, I try to pick up and salvage the pieces that I can, tuck them in pockets of my mind and my heart, and bring her back with me from my long walk home.
Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Garam