I did some thinking about home today. I haven’t found a dentist or doctor in my area, so I came to my hometown for the day and stayed at my parents’ while they were on vacation. Strange, to walk around the darkened, empty house at night. It’s not as though I have never been alone in a house — for someone who lives with three roommates, I’m alone in my apartment surprisingly often — but I couldn’t recall being alone overnight in that one. The only bed left is theirs; they sold mine some months ago. I slept on my father’s Tempurpedic pillow. Comfortable, but strange. But of course I slept well.
I need to get surgery on my head, the doctor says. But this is nothing to worry about, she told me; I do not have skull cancer; that is not even a thing.
Afterward, I went for a drive because I could. Driving, just to drive, felt wonderful. I must have missed it more than I realized. (And my mom’s car is brand new, which doesn’t hurt.) I drove around and through my old neighborhood, went to see the house I lived in my first twelve years. We lived on the right side of a white condex that looked pretty much identical to three-quarters of the other houses on our street, which was paved with purple gravel and terraced, so each house had a hill in the backyard. The street has been repaved in the past dozen years; the gravel is gone. The house looks much smaller and duller than I remembered; the dog pen has been disassembled and leant against the shed. They have boarded up our side porch. When you drive up, you can see a plastic toddler’s playground in the back. I was happy to see the shutters are still pink. Do my old neighbors still live on the other side? Two years ago, they did. It’s difficult picturing them anywhere else. It’s been half my lifetime and I still imagine us all sitting on the shared stoop, or winding up the tire swing so it spins like crazy when you let go, or kicking [redacted]‘s shitbox car in the driveway.
I had forgotten the sheer number of trees, how they bend over the road to form a tunnel. A ceiling of leaves. Made, and makes, it almost impossible to see the sky as you drive down the perpendicular road, at least until you reach the dairy farm. But the cows are all gone now, of course. The farm went out of business and sold the cows when I lived in the neighborhood, and that was a dozen years ago.
The trees were overwhelming, in a good way. I drove another hour just to see more trees. For all its flaws, and all the reasons I so hated that town when I grew up there, it’s beautiful. That surprised me. In spite of all the time I spent hating my hometown, hardening myself against the boredom and nature and smallness, I really loved that neighborhood. (Once, when we were making apple crisp, I told Rachel about the apple-peeling competitions my mom would have with our neighbor. She turned to me and stared. “Where did you grow up, Pleasantville?” And it seemed like it, in some ways, it did.)
In my fervor over my new life, I think, I have neglected some people back home. I must do better. I will be better.