Restlessness seeped in. My hips and legs ached and my head was full. In what seemed like a counterintuitive decision (sore legs and more walking) I put on my runners and a warm jacket which was sadly still required—and headed outside. I hoped that outside would loosen my limbs and shake the cerebral dust. Just to get out into the world a bit. To get some fresh air. It’s medicine, you know.
The start of the wander
I had no destination and only a need to wander. Down the street from my place I stopped at the Free Little Library to see if there had been any new donations made. No. Not this evening. I carried on. The light of day dwindled and night started falling lightly. So did my foot falls. There’s a quiet in the spring that is different than the fall. There are no paper crisp leaves to be blown around or shuffle through. No crunching. No crackling. It’s a different kind of shush. I like it.
I approached the main street and darkness highlighted a cluster of firetrucks, their lights flashed red, blocking my intended route. Curiosity did not get the better of me. I was more interested in weaving my way through this old neighborhood than gawking at potential tragedy.
I walked by the Odd Fellows Temple and remembered standing on the corner, a little one, just learning to read and wondering what kind of odd fellows lived in that brick building. The best my brain could conjure was some Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum types from Alice in Wonderland. These imaginary odd people scared me, twisty, loud and drunk. I would never cross the busy street to go near this building as a child. I snickered at my imagination and how alive it was with mythical beings.
I followed the street one block south to a small apartment building made of brick. My first best friend, Tammy Coldwell, lived there. She had perfect blonde locks and nice dresses. But she ran on her toes, weirdly, like an awkward deer. And she seemed skittish—again like a deer. Her mom was blonde too, and pretty and she reminded me of Tammy Wynette. She wasn’t skittish at all. She was divorced and my mom would talk about that like it was something bad. Decades later I understand that divorce isn’t always bad. I wondered how my mom’s opinion has changed. I also wonder how Tammy and I found each other. Their blondness stood out along with their feminist, independent, divorced life. They felt so different than me and my immigrant status. At a birthday party Tammy played a Candyman record and I remember thinking that was really cool.
Across the street from Tammy’s fancy apartment building were three houses. I lived in two. The corner dwelling was a character home that housed several immigrant families living together. To save money. To feel safe. To have a familiar community in a place where nothing was familiar. A family on every floor. Safety in numbers. Someone was always around and that was good because no one spoke English, or at least not well. I have vague recollections of this place. Sitting in the sunshine. A boy chasing me with a lady bug. Too many thistles and crab grass to want to be in the grass at all. Watching my mom bath my brother in a blue tub on the floor. All these memories were generally sweet but a coldness lurked.
Our neighbors to the north became our friends. The adults would socialize. I’d hang out with Diana, their daughter. She was older and I thought she was cool. She was pretty and had shiny long black hair. Her dad was white and her mom was Indigenous. She definitely got her looks from her mom. I always wondered how her dad, this pasty thin man with a receding hair line and freckles got such a pretty lady. One night, unsupervised as we usually were, I lost my two front teeth, in an incident where Diana thought it would be funny to trip me. I landed on my face and my two front teeth went flying way—way—way ahead of schedule. I was toothless forever. I stopped eating apples.
The first house my immigrant parents purchased was between these two. It was three stories. It was eerie. I spent a lot of time as a little one courageously self talking my way across dark rooms to flick on lights, or go up or down dim stairs. I was a jumpy kid. Not skittish like Tammy but in my imagination I would filled cupboards, closets and corners with dark things I couldn’t name. Although it was home, my over active mind kept me wired and unsettled. I do have memories of marigolds in short glass vases, games of tag throughout the entire house with my brother, our first family dog and the day my dad walked in with my little sister after her birth. So, it wasn’t all bad.
Leaving these houses behind me I turned the corner, looking at the back yards noticing how, even after five decades they were still so incredibly uninviting. Nearby a square building stood alone, awkwardly placed between the alley and another backyard. It used to be a confectionary. It’s a home now. I remember wearing a yellow dress walking there with my parents to buy cigarettes and candy. I remember the sunshine. It felt miles away to my three year old legs, but in actuality it was around the corner. Around the corner felt like around the world.
I passed Holy Rosary church with its steeples and paused across the street from the ice cream shop. Adult memories were here as I moved into a different part of the neighborhood.
I looped around and passed the home my first husband and I lived in, in the attic. We lived semi-communally with pot heads, dealers, musicians and construction workers. I remember those days like music videos of my favorite songs that I couldn’t quite hear the lyrics to anymore. How I loved that apartment with the abundance of light and crystals in the windows, playing rainbows on the walls. People coming and going. Church bells on Sunday morning from Holy Rosary. Distant trains.
One evening on the way back from returning a VHS tape to the corner store (yes, it was that long ago) my friend and I mused on the house at the intersection, how cool it looked with richly painted walls, plants, heavy dark wood. A man on a bicycle slowed beside us. “Come on in for a tour.” Treena and I did. We went in. He gave us a tour and it was as cool standing in the middle of it as peering from the street on toes. He offered us weed and bourbon. I declined but Treena took a glass on the rocks. She was badass. We added 30 minutes to our errand but the spontaneity of the offer seemed like an opportunity we should accept. No cell phones. No thoughts of danger and no seeing that man again. Strange. The house didn’t lure me tonight as I walked by it. I didn’t covet the artsy vibe in it.
The end of the wander—for that night
What every preoccupied my mind at the start of my walk was now pushed away with memories. Maybe real and maybe fabricated. Memories are weird that way. I know I impose my emotional filters on those long ago moments. As an adult looking back it all feels a bit somber. As a child it was much more open and hopeful.
I didn’t leave my house this evening with the directive to recall chunks of my life in this neighborhood. I just wanted to shake the “antsy” out of my legs and my head. Wandering my neighborhood got me thinking about my personal history in all its layers. There was a nostalgic softness to each memory—however dark some were. As I moved around and these vignettes popped up sometimes surprising me but always evoking something emotional.
I used to wondered about those people in big cities who were born, worked, lived and died in their neighborhood and I was curious how someone could do that. But now I understand. I get it. Home isn’t just a house. It’s a place where stories are stacked. Tonight wasn’t the whole story but something more like flipping through a time traveling manual.