zird is the word (lizardek) wrote,
zird is the word
lizardek

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GHOST TOWNS

Wherever we go, the older we get, the more we are living in the past. Everything around us reminds us of it, whether we realize it or not. Every house you pass, every building, every street you drive down, or road you take is a path, a place, a memory of something from your former self, your former life. And when you live somewhere for a long time, it's even more true. Every rock, fence, tree, garden, has a history imprinted upon you.

That's the house the twins lived in, Martin's former best friends, when he was young. And that one is where Karin's first boyfriend from daycare days still lives, though he's no longer a child, and neither is she. That development used to be fields, where horses grazed. The fields used to glow yellow from the rapeseed blooming every May.

The building by the little traffic circle? It was a store once, where we stopped nearly every day and bought milk or bread or picked up the mail. Then it was vacant, then it was another store (that I never stepped foot in), then someone's home, and now? It's a brewery/pub. Every house has a history, a "used to" story: that one used to be a gas station. That one used to be a bank and then a café. It's someone's home now, but I know what the inside looks like. I know where the bank vault is. I wonder if they kept the vault door.

That smooth slope of grass used to be a wild tangle of lupines. I sometimes seem to see it, though it's only a trick of my mind's eye, when I pass by. I still mourn the loss of the lupines.

Every place is infected with memory. Infused with the ghosts of people who used to live there, who have moved or grown or passed away. Even the memory of cats who once came to visit can haunt you.

It's sharper sometimes, that peripheral impression, when you return to a place where you haven't been for a long time. The facade of former haunts veil the present. That's where I used to play, with my siblings and my cousins, when we were small. That's where my grandparents used to live. See the little iron door where the milk was delivered? The apricot tree in the yard is gone. The lilies of the valley in the tiny corridor between the houses are gone; so are the morning glories on the back fence and the army of small Papillon dogs next door, but the huge screened-in porch is still there. That's where my mother went to school. That's the big street we weren't allowed to cross. It doesn't look so big now. But it's all still there, in your head, like double vision.

Every place you go, you're laying a trail of memory. Everyone you meet, every neighbor you greet, every home you visit, every school you attend or office you work in. The bus route you take each day for years; the place where your choir practices weekly, the restaurant you and your husband frequented so often when you first moved here, that the waiters knew you by name and the chefs started making your favorite dish before you'd even ordered. We smear the present with the past and vice versa.

Every new trip to an old place causes an eruption of remember whens, probably much to our children's disinterest. You're seeing the past overlaid on the present. "I don't remember that place!" or "That's new, where did that come from?" It's an effrontery, almost, that places dare to change, the same way people do, the same way memories do. The details waver and shimmer; all we know is what it used to be. It used to be and now it is, and then will be a used-to-be again.
Tags: puttingwordstogether, thewaywewere
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