It's kind of like a computer game. The menu screen of the computer game. I have this image in my head of a map, and it's full of areas of the game you can visit, but only certain ones can be active at a time. Some of the places on the map are dormant, and when you mouse over them, they don't light up. You can see them, faintly, just the image, just the outline. But you cannot open them and go inside.
I'm back in a town I first lived in a decade ago. I lived here for six years and left for four, and now here I am again, driving familiar streets, shopping familiar stores. It is startling how little changes when you leave a place for a while. How easy it is to slip back into the routine of living there.
On my way to Kroger, I pass the building that once housed the offices of the job I held at the time. Below that building, in the alley out back, is the first gay bar I ever entered, out and proud, and scared to death, at the age of 20. I remember my sister taking me there for my 21st birthday. I remember watching her dance months later with a boy who would break her heart.
I remember dancing there myself with a girl I barely knew, a girl who is now a man named Jakob, my husband. I mean, who could have predicted that, on a dance floor seven years ago? Who could possibly see where the map would lead and which sections I had yet to unlock?
Kroger has great produce, but their freezer section is lacking. Which means I turn around and head for Wal-Mart. And on the way to Wal-Mart, I pass a bus station that used to make me cry. I pass a balcony I used to stand on at sunset, looking toward the horizon, thinking about the future. I pass a college I used to attend, a house, an apartment, a trailer I used to live in. All of these so vivid, so familiar. But I can only see the outline now. I can't click. Although the memories are so vivid I can taste the oatmeal cookies I used to bake and smell the laundry detergent I used to use, these sections of my life aren't active anymore. They don't light up when I mouse over them.
Just past Wal-Mart is a little yellow house. It isn't mine, but I've got high hopes for it. I can't help but look at it and wonder whether it's on the map. Whether the outline is there, waiting to become active so I can click on it, so I can enter. I can't help but hope for oatmeal cookies in that place, for the homey smell of laundry detergent and a headful of memories I've yet to know.
Once, I walked past a kid in a dance club and half-turned, thought, I'm going to know that person someday. And once, ten years ago, I walked around this city fresh, without knowing a single face, a single building.
It's funny how many times you can walk past your home and not know it.