It’s strange to walk the streets of a place/city you’ve once lived in, grown in, cried in, and thrived in. It’s strange because you remember exactly what it felt like, what the routine of sounds and sights consisted of, and how familiar it all became during your time there. You remember the exact shade of yellow all the license plates were, and you remember the old smell of the library and the chiming tone of the elevator in your best friend’s halls when the doors opened. You remember how wobbly the buses were and exactly what the raindrops felt like while you waited for that bus to arrive.
It’s strange because you remember her thoughts. Her fears. Her questions that you now have answers to through the mistakes that she made searching for them. You remember her laughing as she ran places in the rain, perpetually forgetting an umbrella. Her blushes. Her top 5 embarrassing moments. You remember her fear that she was so small in a world so big that felt so overwhelming, and how she had to swing back at that fear with each step on the rain-coated pavement. You remember her relief when helping hands guided, embraced, welcomed, and kindly pointed toward north when her compass seemed to spin in circles. You remember her top 5 invincible moments too and that she began to associate safety, warmth, and welcome with wet shoes left at the front door, hot tea in ceramic mugs with painted watercolor flowers, ivory corduroy couches, and tv light flickering across 5 sleepy faces.
You remember what it felt like. And yet, you are not her anymore.
You aren’t afraid of the strange city, or meeting those new people anymore. You aren’t running away from something you’re subconsciously still holding onto, or walking along the beach to remind yourself that you can survive the tidal wave of tiny differences that remind you how far from home you are.
There was so much she didn’t know, and so much that people taught her. There. Near the lighthouse, and there, on that couch, and there in that house on the corner that is home to someone else now. You remember what it felt like and you miss feeling that way, yet simultaneously celebrate that you are not her anymore. Not quite so afraid. Not quite so uncomfortable in her own skin. Not quite so hesitant to look goofy and have fun. Not quite so nervous about new things.
It’s strange because most of this place is exactly like you remember. You remember the fastest route from the beach to the shop that sells your favorite sweaters (that happens to be next door to a bookstore with a coffee shop on the second floor), and you remember your usual order from that corner café. You recognize some of the staff in subway and know which pedestrian crossings gave you the shortest amount of time to bolt across the street.
There’s a sense of surreal in these faces and places because it feels like stepping out of a time machine. There’s a part of you hoping to see everything exactly the way it was before. Yet even if you managed to teleport everyone back, to be in this place with you like they were for those years, your brain would still sense the forgery. There is a kind of helpless anger in this realization. That it will never be the way it was again. That you can’t recreate it simply by walking these streets. That this city doesn’t even seem to notice your return even though you have been planning this for months. It creates a melancholy, a longing, a bittersweet.
It makes you wonder: Are we meant to revisit such things? Or are we meant to plow forward into the present without looking back?
You can’t seem to help looking back every now and again. And again. There was simply so much that happened. So much becoming. You can’t help but hear the get-to-know-you questions, and the clinking of plates and cups on tables on Monday nights in this place you sit in now, years later.
Sometimes you wish all of that could still be in present tense. There’s this itch to repeat exactly what you used to do. To go to all your favorite places and order the exact same food. There’s this sense of avoiding anything new that hasn’t been etched into one of those memories. There’s this fear that the more the city changes (any new things you notice), the more your memories will be overwritten with what is current.
You can’t not envision it. It’s a ghost town now, filled with people and songs and dances and conversations and victories that only you can see and hear. And since you project your memories all over the city, you feel out of place in the midst of them, because the person you are now wasn’t present then.
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You look around at the people who walk these streets now and wonder: How can you walk around and not KNOW all that has happened in this place? You wonder how one city can house so many people’s lives and yet go on changing and staying the same all at once. You see that despite all the time you spent committing it all to memory, the city feels different now. It’s a realization that feels heavy and light. You re-walk the streets feeling significant and yet anonymous, looking and seeing previous days and nights, and your pulse beats out I-WAS-HERE.
There’s a stretch of road between your old dorm and a tesco express, and you resist the urge to speak aloud to the air, to the buildings you pass once again:
Do you remember how it took me over a year to buy a duvet because it felt like “settling in” too much any earlier? Do you remember when I had the flu for 3 days and on the first day I could stand upright, I stumbled to this tesco to buy a green, healthy-ish juice to drink and how accomplished I felt when I made it? Do you remember when I finished a coursework deadline with 17-minutes to spare (when I thought I would never make it), and in celebration I strayed from my normal blue color-scheme and bought hot pink nail polish and a berry smoothie? Do you remember when it was Varsity day but it started raining so my friends and I went to try on prom dresses and eat cake instead? Do you remember when I was so scared of strangers and felt like such an outsider/foreigner that I could barely keep a conversation or eye contact with anyone new? Do you remember the songs I would listen to in my earbuds over and over whenever I walked around the city by myself? Do you remember that night in an old church building when I clutched a microphone and felt like I would be sick all over the floor? Do you remember when I walked these streets at midnight with friends of mine to ask how people were actually doing and help them get taxis home after a night of clubbing? Do you remember when I avoided a hard truth for so long that I lost a good friend? Do you remember when I met with two strangers in a coffee shop, not knowing they would become my closest life-long friends? Do you remember the first time I said, “Let’s go home” referring to the house I lived in here during my second year? Do you remember when I had to read my words aloud to a room of strangers and wait in silence for the criticism to roar? Do you remember how surprised I was by their kindness instead? Do you remember how consistent kindness helped some of those fears gradually fade away? Do you see me now? Walking these same streets, ordering new coffee from familiar shops, carrying none of those fears now?
Half of you wants to be recognizable. But the other half wants the transformation to have been so complete that a double-take is required. You want to have changed. Improved. Grown stronger. Smarter. Wiser. Almost beyond recognition.
Why were you so afraid? You wish you could tell her that she didn’t need to be. But you know that she wouldn’t have suddenly become fearless with those words. She’d have to walk those streets scared for some time before she woke up one day and realized she wasn’t anymore. For fear is conquered gradually. You know this now.
It is the strangest feeling to walk where she once did, without a trace of her fear. Yet you can’t hate her for it. How else would she learn? You do the best you can with what you know at the time. And this place, this place witnessed it all.
You can forgive her for what she didn’t know, just like you hope that who you are in the future will forgive who you are today.
I hope that when you remember the person you were in the past, you can forgive yourself for what you didn’t yet know.
And in turn, I hope that your consistent kindness helps people remember who they are becoming, rather than remind them of who they used to be.
The world needs more of that, no matter what city you are in.
You eventually get on a train and leave the city you were revisiting. You watch it fade away into the grey of a rainy day, and you wonder at the knot that begins to loosen in your chest that you hadn’t realized was squeezing tight. You have returned and remembered her, and yet, you have not reverted backwards. You have not become her again.
You have not lost the ground you took so many months ago. And you realize that even though you left a place that contributed to so much of you, and flew many miles away, you did not leave growth behind, but rather pursued it instead. And now, returning to a place where you started out feeling small, has perhaps made you feel a bit taller than you realized you have become.
It is a comfort and a melancholy. A comfort to know that you did not leave behind what made you want to grow. And a melancholy because you see now that you have outgrown what was perfect for you at the time. You love the memory, you truly do, but you know at the same time, that you are not meant to be there anymore. It has become too small for all that you are now. The place that has enough space for your new dreams and new worries, a place where you can breathe in all the way and let it all out again, is a different location entirely.
The train continues on. Oblivious to all this. And you sit there wrestling with it all. You feel heavy. And you feel light. Significant, yet anonymous.