We stopped in a smallish city where we lived when I was nine and ten, decided to have a look at our old house. My parents were unsure of the direction but I knew those streets, having traced them into my brain summer day by summer day, bicycling back and forth to the fairgrounds swimming pool on my mother’s old one-speed. The blue one with the basket. I once tried to steer it while also holding a snow cone, which ended up in the street when I came to a quick stop. Beautiful red ice and my last fifty cents. I picked off the stones and put it back in the paper cone.
Most of the houses still looked the same. If anyone repainted their house then they had chosen the same mustard yellow or olive brown. Bigger trucks parked in tiny driveways. Our house now had a connected garage but was otherwise unchanged. The biggest difference was the height of the trees and the size of the sled hill at the park across from my school, which had seemed so looming. Especially because the older boy across the street had shattered his leg there one winter, failing to navigate around a pine. His little sister was my age and we used to play but she threatened during one ill-fated game of something to never speak to me again and made good on her threat.
The visit made me dig out our VHS copy of Grease. My friends and I watched it back then as many times as their cable channel played it during waking hours, with no notion of its innuendo or generational significance. Or that the actors who played the Rydell High students were probably in their thirties, because that’s what high school kids looked like to us. We danced like maniacs to John Travolta singing “Greased Lightning” and begged our mothers to buy us rummage sale shoes that vaguely resembled the ones Sandy wore in the final number.
We measured and compared our wealth by our collection of Breyer horses. At twilight we clandestinely ran through our neighbors’ backyards instead of using the sidewalks, because that imaginary world where we were unseen and invincible belonged to us. That short time seems forever long and forever preserved somewhere, a section of memory hardwired. So powerful that I wondered aloud whether our sweet old neighbor still lived there, my mind tricked by her unchanged house and the plastic Easter eggs hanging in the window. But as soon as I said it I realized how ridiculous it was.
But in that time and place she’ll always live next door.