Earlier this weekend I had to go briefly to UConn. I hadn’t been out that way in ages, although when I was growing up about half an hour from there I was in that area frequently. As I drove away from the interstate toward the campus my mind was full of memories. I passed a road the name of which jumped out at me, although I couldn’t place it. All I remembered was that I had once known someone who lived on that road.
After my appointment I decided to visit my father at work, and rather than getting back on the highway I tested my memory of the back roads. The ice was so thick on the branches they looked like glass, and the snow banks surrounding the street were tall enough that their crests were still unpolluted by traffic. The snow and the sun and the turns that I could still navigate just by muscle memory made my heart break with nostalgia.
When I was a kid I loved exploring. I’d go off into the woods on foot (usually in footwear that would be appropriate for whatever swamp I’d inevitably run into) just to see what was out there. I loved the crooked paths, and the places with no paths at all. I could walk where I wanted, without roads to tell me which direction I was going. Sun and trees and hills (and the occasional power lines) were my guides. Writing this now it seems romantic and silly, but it shaped me.
I enjoyed aimless car rides the same way. To take an unfamiliar turn and discover something new was a thrill. The world was so big and so beautiful, and there was so much to see. Nothing gave me goosebumps like the big green signs on the entrance ramps for 84 east, that told us that road led “to Boston”.
Boston was an hour and a half and a world away. I now could drive that route in my sleep. It seemed like the height of adventure when I was a kid, and there are still days when this small town girl gets a thrill about living here: when I get out of the train at Park Street and see the Common covered in snow, or when I go to the MFA ‘just because’.
Last night I drove across town for dinner, and realized that when I go to that neighborhood I instinctively take the route I always took to the house of friends who lived there for a few years. They have broken up now and both moved away, and I felt the same pangs of nostalgia in Boston as I do when I’m in the town I left. The place is still there, I am still here, but the time is gone.
When I left home I knew I was destined for a life of always missing someone. I’ve made peace with the helplessness of those attachments. I tell myself that the love and the missing are worth it, but I don’t know for sure that they are. What I know is that they’re what I have, and they’re what has stayed the same down all of my life’s roads.