I went to Winston-Salem today to retrieve a lift chair for my mother. The chair belonged to the father of a close friend. She and her sister have been trying to get the house they grew up in ready to be sold, and they had offered us the chair months ago for my father's use. Now, as the proud owner of a 1993 VW Eurovan, I was finally able to get it from them and take the chair to my mom.
My friend was to meet me after she got off work at five. I dawdled a little and headed over to the house closer to five-thirty, but no one was there yet. I shut off the motor and stood outside in the clear blue chilly afternoon. I had been to her house a couple times in high school, but I still needed directions from her today.
It was very quiet in her old neighborhood. Apart from a few cars and their owners coming home from their jobs, I was the only person outside.
A strange feeling came over me as I waited. The cool air, the bare trees struggling to bloom before April, the lowered sun in the cloudless sky all overcame me, and suddenly I wished I was ten years old again, hopping on my Schwinn Sting Ray and riding around my own piney old neighborhood a few miles away like I would have after school in 1966. I wanted to be riding the streets and the paths and the routes my friends and I rode back then, past sunken trampolines and creeks and church parking lots; and I wanted to feel like I knew I was heading home for dinner at the house on Knollwood Street a little before six o'clock, and then homework at the old writing desk. I felt enveloped by sadness and longing. I wanted to be free and little and unencumbered with reality and still have both parents and my brother. Tears formed in my eyes: I pulled up the grey hood on my sweatshirt around my bald, 52 year old head, against the mounting cold.
My friend, her husband and her sister arrived on the scene moments later; by then, I was composed again, and with the husband's help, I swiveled the lift chair into the Eurovan and left for Mom's.
I am rarely given to emotional episodes like the one I had this afternoon. My life as a grown up is so satisfying; I love being a husband to my wife and a father to my three children. I've had an interesting career for years, doing what I love to do. I accept the responsibility of adulthood gratefully. I try to follow the Golden Rule, even when it doesn't seem applicable. And while my juvenile years were pretty sedate, any desire to return to it any other day of the week would be tempered by memories of being bullied and kid neuroses, nothing I'd want to see again.
But today, there was an odd chink in my armor. Hard to tell if it is delayed grief for my father, or my brother, or seeing Mom so lonely for Dad, or whether it's something else entirely. It didn't feel good or refreshing or even really necessary, just disconcerting as it seemed to come from nowhere.
My friend and I had been talking about how the phone numbers each of us had had since we were children in Winston were now going to be assigned to someone else's telephones. When my mother moves near where we live, there will no longer be any family in the town I grew up in. So many memories are tied up there, many of which have resurfaced vibrantly after I stopped drinking.
I will still have friends there, some of the people who I rode bikes with, even; my graduating class from high school will have their thirty-fifth reunion next year, and, God willing, I will be there, having never gone to any previous gatherings of the sort.
However, my connection with Winston-Salem will have moved into the ether, confined to reckless memories and expansive emotions that surface when the weather's just right, or when the smell of curing tobacco sweetens the air or when I think of dead friends and family or hear a specific song. It will always be a part of me, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, but it will seem eternally at odds with what my mind is accustomed to believing is real.