Tuesday, June 4, 2013

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down in the City That We Loved...



I step onto a metro car upon my arrival at DC's Union Station, the first notes of my new favorite song playing through my headphones.

I lunge lazily, shoulders hunched, head lolling, gum snapping, as I hold onto the bar that runs across the low ceiling of the train car. Later, it will occur to me that I'm subconsciously trying to look cooler & younger & more a part of this city than I really am as I survey my fellow riders: a middle-aged man with a cane wearing overalls & a straw hat; a morbidly obese couple in neon T-shirts, one yellow & one green, so bright they hurt my eyes; a sleepy old woman struggling to stay awake as she listens for her stop; a pair of tiny Asian tourists sporting fake blue eyelashes & cartoon character fannypacks. Dozens of them, these strangers with stories to tell & lives to live, going about their days with unique perspectives & values & concerns.

I get off at Chinatown, just two stops, intuitive, without checking the map to be sure, & along the way I help a lost rider get her bearings. As I point & tell her, "That way," I think: Every person is a stranger but every step feels familiar, just like it's always been. Different people in the exact same place, & me at the center of it all.

And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?

It's a sunny Sunday afternoon, just after a memorial service for a close friend who died far before her time. So many of us have come back to town to remember her, donning bright colors to the ceremony to pay small homage to her zest for life, & now we're headed to lunch together, respite from the sadness. Ella's, Matchbox, La Tasca? We settle on Spanish tapas, have our standard period of indecision about what to order & which dishes we could split before we decide to proceed with reckless culinary abandon, placing three orders of the bacon-wrapped dates with apricot dipping sauce, among other things.

Our food takes too long for an establishment so empty, but we hardly notice for the time it allows us together. We tell the same stories, we share new ones, we ask one another for guidance on current goings-on in our lives - an apartment hunt, a big job decision, a general lack of directional clarity. We reminisce, we laugh, we argue, & we part ways with hugs & promises to do it again soon. Soon, we promise, but never soon enough for me.

And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?

It's the same sunny Sunday afternoon, but the clouds are rolling in, just before the rain, & I'm walking through Dupont Circle alone, exploring all the shops I've always liked best. They're still there, most of them, now interspersed with restaurants I've never heard of, new places I've never been. Most of my old standbys remain, & even in the places where they don't, the spaces they used to inhabit still feel painfully familiar, like I could transport myself back to a different place & time if I just think hard enough about it.

And I do think about it. I think hard about it, and often. I think of 2007, when I showed up here for the first time, a new face in an old city, young & smart & pretty, full of hope & fear in equal measure. I think of three years spent hanging out in Cleveland Park & Woodley Park & Adams Morgan, neighborhoods that have since ceased to be cool; they've been replaced on locals' radar by trendy new ones like Bloomingdale & H Street & NoMa, places that didn't used to be places. I think of three years of failing to fully recognize or appreciate the family & the home I'd created for myself. Three years of happiness, literally almost all the time.

And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?

I'm not so naive to believe that reclaiming those days is as simple as relocation. It's not just the places that are different; it's us, too. We're adults now, with jobs & degrees & spouses & condos, with broken old dreams & burgeoning new ones. I'm not the only one who left, & even if I returned - even if we somehow all returned - it wouldn't feel now like it felt then.

No, I know better. It's today now, & no matter how hard I think about it, that time is gone. Everything has changed, & so have we.

But if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you've been here before?

0 comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...