On Nostalgia

I haven’t spent much time in my childhood suburb as of late, since I’ve relocated to the adjacent Vancouver metropolis for school.  I haven’t genuinely walked the streets and weaved through shortcuts as only a native can, in a very long time.  Realistically it’s only been a year, perhaps less, but I am young and in one’s days of youth a year is a lifetime.

I look at the streets differently now, much more differently than I did as a child.  Somehow home never looks the same when you return following a period of maturation.  It doesn’t feel like home anymore, not like it ever did, really.  Even the shortcuts learned when skipping school or exploring with classmates feel foreign; alien.  I felt like an intruder, like the intimacy of these streets that no non-local should ever know about were unwillingly and unwittingly passed onto me by some accidental chance.

I felt like a shadow, one whose time has past and was clinging onto some remnant of nostalgia.  I see no one on the streets that I recognize, and so many stores and buildings have changed – not significantly, but enough – that I would look upon an intersection and not remember what memories I made there.

I suppose this emotion would be described by people as grief.  It doesn’t chill my body like it would for others, but there is something ringing intermittently there that tells me the time to move on is nearing.  One day, soon, I will leave this city and never return.  As I walked again on the deserted weekday streets, it struck me that this must have been how the ancient Romans felt as they watched their empire fall into decay.  It happens almost imperceptibly – an overgrown temple, fading marble, and abandoned villas that gradually lose the sound of children and festivities of daily life.  Things and places that once had a purpose now stand only by the mercy of humanity’s obsession with the past.  Like a mother who sits in her grown child’s bedroom – left immaculate and in the state he left it in – and gently fondles dusty toys and ragged teddy bears, whilst brokenly longing for the days of packed lunches and soccer practice and broken curfews.

I ran into him in the City Hall parking lot.

In younger years I would look to him as a superior, but now I spoke to him as equals.  He waved and beckoned me over and asked me what I had been up to in recent years.  What to say?  These sort of passing conversations on sidewalks among acquaintances were never really meant for substance, but to say nothing would be a lie.

I responded truthfully.  School, work, rinse and repeat.  It felt like I had made childhood out to be such a scam – you think you’re finished upon highschool graduation and then suddenly you realize that you are nowhere close.  There are still years of schoolwork and cliques and confusion and searching and youthful exploration left in your life, and then suddenly highschool doesn’t seem like a monumental rite of passage anymore.

But then maybe adulthood is a larger scam, because it’s a scam you don’t see coming.  You perceive children as your peers, and then suddenly and abruptly they will rebuke you because you are no longer part of their youth culture.  And then finally, finally, once you have settled into an existence of mediocre purpose, it is over, and you feel that time has been snatched away right at the moment when you have best discovered how to spend it.

On this note, I stopped and regarded him seriously.  He looked older; the wrinkles more pronounced and his hairs graying.

“I think it’s a surefire sign that you’re growing up when you come to realize that all the successes of humanity are merely instruments of which to pass time.  No better than a child building a castle with imaginary bricks – you build and build and build toward something that you define yourself; that otherwise wouldn’t exist.  And if you lose sight of where to place the moat or the gate or the tower or the lord’s manor, well…then you’re kinda’ fucked.”

Life can be summed up as a desperate scramble to pass the time, really.  Except that it’s sort of self-delusional because you scramble and scramble and then suddenly when it’s over, you feel like there was never enough – like the gods had cheated you out of a year or two or maybe three.  But really, that year would have been spent at the office, standing in the Monday morning coffee line making inane, superficial conversation, listening to the news during the 5 o’clock traffic jam, or watching re-runs of shitty soap operas and yelling at your neighbor’s dog to please shut the fuck up because it’s 4 in the morning and you need to wake up early tomorrow to do it all over again.

I really have nothing more to say.


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