You Can’t Go Back

I grew up in the house my great-grandfather built when he and my great-grandmother moved from the city to “the country.” My great-grandmother didn’t want to leave her Baltimore rowhouse, so my great-grandfather built one for her on 12 acres in Essex. My grandmother and father both grew up there, and I lived there with my parents until I was 10. Everybody knew our house; how could you miss a rowhouse without the rest of its row?

(It’s funny; I only lived there 10 years, yet I consider it the place I grew up. How long do you have to live somewhere for it to count as the place you grew up?)

After my grandmother died, my dad and my aunt sold the property to a developer, and the house was torn down a few years later. I hadn’t been there since before the house was torn down, so when I was near Essex this summer, I decided to drive over and see what things looked like. I wasn’t quite prepared to see this:

2014-08-16 19.17.34    2014-08-16 19.17.41

2014-08-16 19.19.27See that blue dumpster? That’s about where my house used to be. I hadn’t lived there for 40 years, and I had never considered moving back to Essex, but seeing such a radical change was a shock. I stood for several minutes, remembering the days I had spent playing in the yard with my friend Patty. The day my grandparents pulled into the driveway with my new Dalmatian puppy. The smell of the gigantic lilac bush that had a secret hiding place in the center. The taste of the tomatoes I’d eat straight from the vine. The distant booms coming from Aberdeen Proving Ground that I’d thought were the footsteps of giants coming to squash me. The dank, dimly-lit basement that has left me with a lifelong fear of basements. All of those memories came flooding back as I stood there in the gathering darkness. They are what made me who I am. They are part of me, even though the house where they took place is gone. Slowly, I turned away, got in my car, and headed home.

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