I drove down a street I had driven down a hundred times before, and I knew it like the back of my hand.
I remembered the pothole in the middle of the 24th intersection that would rip a hole in your tires if you drove too fast. I recognized the furniture store on the third block from the highway on the left, with its bright red door and glaring “ALL MUST GO SALE” sign nailed to the front door, a sign that had been there for the past five years. I could even map out the glittering lights like the stars of the small drive-thru espresso shop, the only place I could get a latte for $2.50 on a bad day.
All of these things were engraved in my subconscious, and yet driving down the street once again after being away for a few months, it hit me. The town I had grown to hate and hate to love felt foreign. The abandoned car dealership became a shiny new 7-Eleven, and the old cafe had been replaced with a new hip breakfast joint. This was the realization: All of the things I remembered in bittersweet fragments had been replaced with the new elements of the city that grew from the streets while I was gone.
I was now driving in a city that was only half mine.
I think everyone experiences this when traveling home for the first time in a while — the realization that the city we call home doesn’t hold its breath and wait for us to return. It keeps growing, decaying, expanding and even booming in our wake.
I found this realization to be a bit jarring — as if everything I had grown up with was slowly slipping through my fingertips. I wanted the city I grew up in, even if I was glad to leave it and claim I was better off without it. In a way, it’s made me who I am. I wanted the old car dealership or cafe that brought me hot coffee as soon as I sat down. But it wasn’t there anymore: It was replaced with new places where new people would make new memories.
I think this is best explained as being stuck in the middle: between what I know and what I will grow to know. I know this city sculpted my person; the core memories created and grew in the very streets of my hometown, but my realization is that the memories of my past are not my present, nor are they my future. So I stand in the middle, in the city that is only half mine, driving a car that is not my own to a place I know by heart, only to return to live in a place that is beginning to feel like home, even though it is thousands of miles away.