Going “home” has a whole new meaning when the place you’re visiting isn’t the place you grew up knowing. It’s hard to call it “home” when you have to use Google Maps to navigate the unfamiliar neighborhood, or when you have to turn on the light to go to the bathroom because you haven’t memorized how to get there yet. What it really does show you, is that home is not a place, but rather the people in it. And forcing 4 people and a dog to share a single bedroom, rather than allowing each one a separate space to be absorbed in their computers or phones, makes “home” very apparent.
One day during my week of visiting, we drove through our old neighborhood. It’s funny how you expect everything to be the same, as if time should stop when you leave; but it doesn’t. The neighbors painted their house a whitish-grey shade, the corner cafe went from having an A rating to a B, gas at the local 76 station seems to be getting higher and higher. However, the hardest pill to swallow was seeing the house, which was once ours, look so familiar and yet feel so distant and disconnected. It’s as if I went from being a character in a beautiful mural, to viewing it hanging in an art museum.
I grew up there. I could go through each room with my eyes closed and know exactly where everything was. I knew that by stepping on my bed and reaching over to the top of my closet you could reach my past diaries, hidden from sight and covered in layers of dust. I knew that the shower had a very thin line between being scorching hot and perfectly warm and I could reach that mark instantaneously. I knew the door that had to be yanked open to enter the office, the room that I spent hours in as a child with my grandpa and his giant 90s PC. I knew every light switch and hiding place, but at that moment all I saw was the exterior of the house. I saw what the UPS saw when they delivered packages, what neighbors saw as they drove passed, what hikers and their dogs noticed walking down my street. For the first time, I saw my house as an outsider.
When we drove away, we made a right onto Sunset and I saw an obnoxious Walgreens sign that was not there before. That’s when I noticed that this absurdly large drugstore had taken the place of my favorite store growing up, Borders. I grew up in a book-loving household. My mom, a teacher, and my grandpa, a scholar, were both avid readers and made sure to pass down the value of good literature to me. When money ran short, goods were cut, but never books. We visited the Borders weekly, graduating from Shel Silverstein to the Treehouse Story books to The Giver to The Kite Runner. I would sit on the rubber padded foot pedestals meant for reaching higher shelves and lose myself in the pages. Fantasy books were always my favorite, transporting myself to a different reality than my own. How I loved the smell of the bookstore and the cafe where I would get hot chocolate with whipped cream on occasion.
But now, the aisles that were filled with children picture books and hard-bound Best Seller novels, are filled with fluorescent lights, bottles of makeup, and rows of medication. What kind of message is this sending to society, I wonder; a society more focused on hiding our blemishes and “curing” our pains, than expanding our knowledge and feeding our creativities. Take your ADHD medication and while you’re at it here’s a new pair of headphones, so you can shut up and conform. What if, instead, we handed a teen a book and helped them develop their imagination? Then, instead of focusing on covering themselves up with beauty products, young people can focus on opening themselves up by gaining a better understanding of themselves through the narrative of books. Instead of numbing ourselves with drugs, we can use books as a coping mechanism, a safe space to learn to feel.
Change is something we face as individuals and as societies, for better or for worse. We can protest it, resist it, even try and deny it, but, like it or not, it will happen. However, it doesn’t always have to be a negative thing. With change, comes our own transformations, little by little, if we stay open to it. We have to ride that wave, let go of what we’re holding onto from the past, and keep on marching forward.