I pass through her shadow much like passing through a lake spring. I catch a glimpse of her in baggy shirt and jeans by the State theater, but it’s only a ghost that passes into the shade of an elm. I felt her pulling my steps into the same sixteen year old’s rhythm on Washington Blvd and I forced myself to pick up the pace. She haunted me at the corner of Summer and Broad where the old Caldor’s Department store used to be. Just thinking about that old five and dime throws my thinking back forty years. I shiver as the closed in feeling of a girl’s bathroom swims into view. Children laughing and pulling at my clothes as they shove me into the stall door. I dressed in hand-me downs and cheap clothing that all the kids knew where it had been bought. I stop walking and let her ghost drift past as I turn my face into the sun on Atlantic.
I look in boutique windows that I would have never looked in as a child and her ten year old shadow hovers at my hip. We were too poor to buy clothes in such places. Now I dally vaguely window shopping, I suspect because I can, but I need nothing. As I walk past the first McDonald’s in our town I remember my mother bringing home fries once when I was sick. Probably sounds like a curious luxury to a world gone wild on fast food, but in the 70’s it was a big deal. I had strep throat for the umpteenth time with fevers that got as high as 105. She packed me once in ice to bring the fever down and would lay with me running her fingers through my sweaty hair until I’d fall asleep. I often slept on the floor with the fans because it was the only cool place to be in the summer. Even now I remember how unbearably hot I felt and the gallons of ginger ale I drank. As the scent of the fryers comes to me on the street I remember the taste of the salted fries she brought home. She sat with me by the sliding glass doors where a breeze came in and we shared them. It makes me weep to think about it. The ten year old shadow takes my hand and we keep walking.
This is my hometown and yet I could not feel any less at home. Walking along is an immersion in a time capsule. I no longer run from my previous selves, but I feel their weight here. I feel the lack of self-worth and fear she had. So much confusion of how to act or how to be. Loneliness. Isolation. I am a thousand light years from here and yet I find I want to find her on the next street. Take her shopping. Hear her laugh and see that lightning smile. Tell her, as Dr Seuss told us all, “Oh the places you will go, my love. Oh the places you will go.”