"How hard it is to escape from places! However carefully one goes they hold you—you leave bits of yourself fluttering on fences, little rags and shreds of your very life."
I've been feeling very contemplative this week, and not about motherhood. I've been wanting to sit and write it all out to help unravel the things swirling around in my head. These days when I can't seem to spit the words out right, it's only in the writing that they finally make sense.
My first childhood home is up for sale. I lived there from birth until about age 10, when we moved 4 blocks west and a half a block north. Because of this close proximity I've been past my old home countless times over the years. Sometimes I drive by with the tiniest bit of longing and nostalgia, but mostly I just hurry past on my way to somewhere else.
The house is on a little dead-end street. I have driven down it, too, a number of times, always shocked at all the changes. About half of the original homes remain, and I don't know how many more have been built where fields once stood—the fields where we built forts, and explored the Crane's old tool shed, and fed Whitney's horse, and got trapped in Grandpa Crane's chicken coop while a mad turkey shrieked and pecked at the door, and crossed the stream to sell soda on the 9th hole of the golf course.
It's easy to conjure up memories when you're staring at the place they used to be. When confronted with change, it's impossible not to see the way things were instead of the way things are or will forever be.
That's why, when I drove by my childhood home yesterday, I had to stop and get out of the car. Not only is the house for sale, but it has been completely remodeled, as the sign on the front lawn says. I wanted to see for myself instead of wonder about the way things will forever be.
It was a long shot, but I knocked on the door to ask for a tour. As I stood there waiting, the strangeness of it all started to hit me. It was the first time I had stood in the yard in 20 years. I had stepped over the driveway where I learned to ride a bike, my hot pink Huffy with the white seat. It's the same driveway where I taught myself to rollerblade, going in circles one foot at a time. It's where I pushed my little sister on the scooter and she screamed because I couldn't make it reverse. Right next to the carport where my brother and I hid from a lightning storm in a giant cardboard box, where my dad parked the boat before loading it up for a week at Lake Powell.
Nobody answered the door, but as I turned to go I noticed someone working in the yard. I walked, over the ground where an enormous blue spruce once stood, across the driveway and onto the grass where a small landscaping hill used to be. He was only a neighbor boy there to mow the lawn, and he told me the homeowners were gone and I should check back on Friday when there might be an Open House. I thanked him and told him I would.
As I turned to leave I realized for the first time that the yard wasn't huge; it was really quite average, maybe even on the small side. It's not that my memories deceived me—rather, they were just from the perspective of a small child. In that child's world, everything and everyone was big.
That's what got me thinking: Does it really matter that memories and perception are different than the cold facts of reality? Is it more important to remember every detail to perfection, or are the tone and feeling of a memory what matter most?
Late at night when I can't sleep, I close my eyes and take a mental tour through the places of my past. My childhood home is a location I frequent, and along the tour I stop at the two little stairs where we waited to see what Santa brought us, the unfinished basement with the blue-green carpet scraps where I used to play library with my toy kitchen as the check-out stall, the sewing room where my mom hung my drawing of a llama, the upstairs master bedroom with the small window where we stood on chairs to watch fireworks on the 4th of July. Taking a tour of the children's bedrooms depended on the year of my memory; was I visiting the room I shared with my brother and later my little sister, or when they shared it together and I moved to the room next door, the room I chose to paint pink with a wallpaper ballerina bear border?
All these memories and more flooded into me as I turned to get into my car, and to my great surprise I found myself becoming a bit emotional. (If you know me, you know why this is a surprise. I am not sentimental and I do not cry at things like this.) That's probably because of the reason I found myself at my house in the first place.
I was on my way back from the doctor's office, which was just a bit further east of the house. I was at the doctor's to see whether or not a lump I found in my armpit is cancerous.
Unfortunately, as of right now we just don't know what this lump is. It could be one of several things, either perfectly harmless or very dangerous. So, we have to go through the process of elimination until we know exactly what is going on. I'm taking an antibiotic to see if the lump is a reaction to an infection and we'll check again in 10 days.
At a time like this, it's easy to become wrapped up in emotion and sentiment and entangled in conflicting visions of the way things were vs. the way things will forever be. I am doing my best not to jump to the worst-case scenario, which is neither likely nor unlikely. I am stuck in the middle, in the land of the way things are.
Maybe that's why I dwelled so much that day on the memory of a place. Maybe it's because I was scared that I would soon become a memory rather than a living, changing person—that I would be someone my son would have to close his eyes at night to remember, to wonder about, to cherish and to miss.
I have to stop there, because I'm getting way ahead of myself. I don't want to wander too far down that morose path. The chances of this being cancer are not enormous; it's more likely that I have a clogged sweat gland or a cyst or a lingering infection. And anyway, it seldom does much good to dwell on what may or may not be. Worrying does nothing but ruin your chances of happiness.
All I can do is to keep living life one day at a time. And the way I feel, there is never any cause for fear when you live your life to the absolute best of your abilities. Whether I die in a year or 10 or 50, if I do my best to learn from my mistakes, to uplift others, to beautify my corner of the world, and to show love to others, my life will be worthwhile—every day of it.
If I'm doing my best to live up to my potential and help others reach theirs, I won't have to worry that my present doesn't live up to the past or the future, or vice versa. There will be no discord between the memories and realities of my life—I will be a person to be loved, remembered, and cherished, and when I do finally move on, I will still be looked to with fondness.
And just like my childhood home, what happens to me in the future is really irrelevant to the memories that others have of me. They can remodel every inch of that house, tear down walls and pull up carpet and leave nothing of what used to be, but it will still live in my mind just as clearly as it ever did in the past. It will be forever treasured, a part of me that is eternally protected from the way things will forever be.