The Balcony. It's that place where throughout my life, I have processed my greatest heartbreaks, and my greatest joys. Often when you stand on the balcony, a warm breeze hits your face. The breeze has always had a certain comfortable familiar smell to it. To me, that smell is home. I can't describe it, I could never describe this smell of home. But its a smell that takes your mind and heart to memories you thought were long gone.
They are still here.
The sound too. The constant chirping of birds, dogs barking in the distance. Somewhere, someone is mowing a lawn. To anyone else, these might just be sounds they hear every day. But I haven't heard them in over 6 months. The birds will return to my frozen home soon. But not these birds, with these songs. To me, these are the sounds of a home I can't really return to. To me, these are the sounds of memories that are not forgotten.
I am fourteen, my mom is late to pick me up from school. My boyfriend at the time decides to walk me home. We stop at an ice cream shop, and I savor that vanilla cone all the way back to my house. It's a memory that I haven't thought about in years. A memory I didn't even know I still had. Apparently I do. And suddenly I am sad for that moment. I want to be back in that moment. It has nothing to do with boy, or the ice cream. But the innocence I had in that moment, an innocence that could never be replaced. It's about the hope I had at the moment. The hope that life was going to be perfect and easy and that I would never experience the kind of pain that I have experienced. It's about the dreams.
I don't even like ice cream anymore.
I miss my naivety, that somehow, if you try hard enough, you can control your feelings. That you can prevent yourself from experiencing pain. I have learned that life will be painful no matter what.
But if you don't allow yourself to feel, you won't experience the joys either.
That friend has moved away, that tree has been cut down, and that boy is married.
Now I face fires alone. Thousands of miles away from the family I swore I would never leave.
My dreams finally came to fruition.
I wish I could somehow feel that way again.
The days were long, but the years short.
Sometimes, I fight the memories. I tell myself, not now. Somewhere in my head lives the idea that when I die, I will have the opportunity to watch the DVD of my life. I can relive every experience I have had, and that is the time in which I am allowed to remember. But life does not work this way. There is no "DVD of life." I need to remember these things now, before the memories grow distant and blurry. I am only going to get farther away. Not closer.
Within the next years, my parents will leave. The house I grew up in will no longer be our house. I will have no reason to visit Moreno Valley. This will just be the place I came from. And nothing more.
Someday, I will bring my kids here. I will drive up this house and point it out and say "Thats where I grew up." They will show the same disinterest in it that I showed my parents when they showed me the house that they grew up in.
But I will look at them and smile. Hoping that I can give them the kind of memories in our home that I have in this house.
I get off the plane on the tarmac at the Jackson Hole airport. I breathe in deeply.
I smell Home.
I am Home.
Except the people. The people are the same. At least for now. Soon another family will call this place home. But for now at least, its still ours. The first person I see is my brother. The last time I saw him was at his wedding, and yet here he is at 11 at night, at home playing Battlefront in the family room with his wife nowhere to be seen. For a second, I forget he is married now, I forget that I live far away, I forget this might be the last time we tread time like this. For now its like any other night where I came home late, but he is still up playing. We usually use this time to debrief about everything thats going on in our lives. He may be younger than me by 4 years, but he is infinitely wiser, always offering an opinion I can rely on. Those opinions and advice got me through some tough times, and they often came in these late night convos. Only tonight, I dont have much to say. I dont know what to say. Seeing home become something other than "home" gives me feelings I dont yet know how to express. So I just say hi. And fall asleep on the couch.
Bye, Bye Baby. Baby goodbye. Bye bye, baby. Don't make me cry.
Most of our walk is in silence as I am too much in my own head to carry on conversation. At one point I ask my mother to walk slower so I can cherish it more. We pause to watch a man reel in a catfish and applaud his efforts. The last bit of light has now disappeared from the sky. We walk by the pool, and there are actually people in it. A clear sign of summer-a season that I have not spend here in almost a decade. I start reminiscing about all the summers where every single day was spent at that pool. For the life of me, I can't remember the last time I swam there. What I do know is that not much has changed for me, as summer still means swimming every day, only in rivers and lakes and streams.
We reach the bench at the end of the walk, for here its back into the neighborhood away from the lake, We sit. All I can do is stare at the water. Finally, I speak.
"This is what I am going to miss the most.""Remember, it wasn't always good times here though." Christina." "Yea mom, I know. Actually its the hard times I remember the most here. All of the most difficult conversations of my life have happened on this bench. I want to remember those." "Why would you want to do that?" "Because life is so easy now, and I like to be reminded that it wasn't always this way. I like to remind myself of the lessons I learned and the ways I grew. I feel like this is one of the only places in which I can truly feel that... You know.. Its like that saying, I don't wanna gain the whole world and lose my soul."
We fall into comfortable silence after this. Then she speaks "You know Christina, Moreno Valley isn't the same place you remember as a child, you miss the way it was, not the way it is." "Yea I know." I continue to stare at the lake, memories flashing through my mind inhaling and cherishing the smell and sounds.
As if on cue, a group of teenagers interrupt our reverie, blasting music, playing Pokemon Go, reeking of marijuana. Even as they leave, their stench stays. The moment is gone. Its okay. I needed the interruption, otherwise I would have stayed transfixed on that lake all night long. It was time to say the final goodbye.
It's a goodbye I have said hundreds of times before. But each previous time it was said, it was with the knowledge that I could someday return. And I always did. But this time is different. This time I know I won't return. This time its forever. That fact stabs me through the heart.
I give the house one last walk through. I pause in my kitchen and glance at the bar, flashbacks of every party ever held here go through my head, flashbacks of dozens of people crowded around the food here laughing and eating. I glance at the couch, remembering all the family nights spent watching Andy Griffith there. The nights spent playing board games. This continues all the way through the downstairs, and then up the stairs into the second story. My eyes scanning over everything while memories scream through my mind. Its as if each of them were fighting for my attention. They get louder and louder. I can't stop the memories flooding through my mind. They get more and more frantic as if each was screaming "Don't forget me!!". This needs to end. I need silence. I crawl into my childhood twin bed in my temporarily reclaimed bedroom hoping to fall asleep. The lights go off.
Suddenly a peace falls over me, a quiet. I open my eyes. The full moon is shining through the balcony windows. Suddenly only one memory fills my head. A memory of lying in the same bed I now lie in, facing the same direction -only I am a child. I can hear Silent Night playing downstairs and echoing throughout the home. The light shining through my window is the light of the Christmas lights decorating the house across street.
All is calm.
And then, All is right.
At 400 AM my alarm goes off. I rise silently, put on my clothes and load my car. I give the living room one last look over and close the door behind me. I am on the road. The neighborhood is silent, the full moon hangs just over the mountain on the horizon. It's a beautiful picture, but I don't stop to take it. I hit the gas.
I am Yosemite bound.