What you are about to read isn’t at all how I envisioned this column turning out.
This column was supposed to be feel-good, nostalgic, sentimental, a circle-of-life tale.
Instead, it was (spoiler alert!) the biggest buzzkill ever.
I went back to the East Coast recently to see my family. Because of scheduling, I had four hours to kill after I landed in Baltimore, so I figured that I’d drive around the roads on which I used to merrily cavort, and go by the home I grew up in and hadn’t seen in 25 years, since my parents got divorced.
Smaller. That is how I would describe everything along Memory Lane. Things just look smaller than you remember them as a kid – except of course for the trees, which all have grown much thicker and much larger.
I have to admit, I was a little intimidated going by my old house. Not by asking the owner to see it. But by the house itself. We moved there when I was 3 years old, and I left for good after college. A lot of formative memories there. A lot happened in that house, as it does in any house.
It was the middle of the afternoon, so I wasn’t sure anybody would even be there. But there were three cars in the driveway, so that was a good sign. I parked in front of the house across the street, where an old couple used to live. I once got in a fistfight with a kid from the neighborhood in their front yard. That was a long time ago.
There was a guy working in the driveway. I approached him. I had thought about how I wanted to present this. You can’t just walk up and walk in the front door of your old house like you did thousands of times in the past.
“Excuse me, do you live here?” I asked.
“Yes,” came the reply.
“I know this is a bit out of the box, but I grew up in this house,” I said. “I haven’t been here in 25 years. I’m visiting from California. I was wondering if I can just look around, see my old house?”
Now, if the roles had been reversed, I would have thought that was cool. I’ve always wondered about the history of the homes where I’ve lived. Who has lived there? What has happened in each room? How has the house changed? I don’t think there is anything in the world that harbors better untold stories than the walls and floors of somebody’s house.
You know how you play things out in your head beforehand? I had wondered what questions the owner would ask. When did you move here? When was this built? Was this added on? Why was this changed? Every house has its nuances, its secrets. I had wondered what stories I might tell – and which I most definitely would not tell.
“No, but thanks,” the owner said.
That was not what I was expecting. In fact, it was the last thing I was expecting. That response had never even crossed my mind. I think I was naive. I know I had a look of shock on my face.
“Really?” I asked. I almost laughed it seemed so comical.
“No, but I appreciate you coming by,” he said. “Thanks.”
It’s amazing, really, how many thoughts rip through your brain in a span of two seconds. Does he not understand what I’m asking? But I could tell; he understood. Should I confront him – maybe get in another fistfight in the yard across the street, like a couple of 9-year-olds? But what is that going to accomplish? We’d have a confrontation, and then he’d give me a tour?
What was he worried about? It didn’t really matter, I knew. It was my house, but it wasn’t my house, if you know what I mean.
“OK, well, thanks,” I said, and walked away, knowing we both missed an opportunity.
I sat in the car for a little bit, I must admit, saddened by the prospect that I’d never again see the house I grew up in.
But as I drove away, looking at it one last time, I realized: If that is who and what is living there now, I’d rather just take the memories.