Last weekend I found myself in my old neighborhood near Wellington Circle in Medford, just a mile or two from where I live now. The same suburb, the same town, and yet I rarely visit the mostly Italian-American enclave where I lived from 1989 to ’93. Twenty years later I was back, startled by the familiarity, the closeness of this encounter—and the realization that two decades—a lifetime—had passed me by.
It all seemed to fit somehow. Lately I’ve been using a Marc Cohen CD in my writing classes—his first, breakthrough album—which featured the hit, Walking in Memphis, and came out in 1991. I’ve visited several friends I knew at Kripalu, the yoga center in the Berkshires where I stayed for a year after I left Medford. And this year’s pride celebration featured a retrospective look at 1992 Pride, all reminding me of this era, and the rapid passage of time.
During those years I was in constant motion, anxious, restless in my own skin, as if I’d stumbled into a patch of poison ivy. The early ‘90s, which corresponded with my early to mid thirties, passed in a blur. Current events, like the presidency of George H.W. Bush, the San Francisco Bay Area earthquake, and pop culture, like the music of Rick Astley and Mariah Carey, swirled around me without leaving much of an impression; I spent those days lost in my own mind, trying to calm the anxiety and depression that followed me everywhere, a constant companion.
Living in my head, burdened with a list of fears as long as my arm, I didn’t have many friends or social connections. Now, on this humid Saturday morning, I had a taste of what I felt then, a visceral sense of déjà vu. It didn’t take me long to piece things together.
On this morning, after months and years of procrastination, I was finally crossing over to the ‘dark side’ and buying an iPhone.
Whenever I face a major decision—alone—I pine for someone to come with me, to guide me through the process, to tell me that everything will turn out OK. There’s something about navigating life’s passages alone that reminds me of my single status, and reinforces my fear that a companion may not show up in this lifetime. Because that ‘someone’ has been AWOL for most of my adult life, I often avoid venturing outside my comfort zone. But eventually, I grow tired of waiting, delay, inertia. Sometimes fate, (in this case, a technical malfunction on my $20 phone), conspires to spur me to action.
On this particular morning, as I drove to the phone store, I found myself on my old block. I cruised slowly along a route I used to run regularly, my memories fell into place.
My old house looked almost the same as I remembered it, just a bit neater—the gray vinyl siding an improvement from the fading paint evident when I first moved in. Just past the house, the street ended in a T-intersection, and then a high wall. The wall, about 12-feet high, was barren and forbidding, with all the charm of East Berlin in the 1980s. It seemed to enclose the neighborhood, creating a separation from the new townhouse-style apartments and the Orange Line tracks on the other side of the wall.
Back when I lived in the ‘hood, only barbed wire and tangled vines between separated us from the Orange Line tracks. Now I’m not sure if the wall, bare and stark as it is, is much of an improvement. I turn around and drive past the house again, noting the fenced-in back yard, a rack for hanging laundry, small changes that went along with the upgrades I noticed before.
From the street, I glanced toward the first floor living-room window, and imagined myself sitting in that shadowed room, on the same striped couch I have today—new then, pock marked and stained now—and felt the slipstream of time. I wished, on some level, that I could go back and tell the young man I was then that life would get better—if not easy, at least easier.
As I made my way toward the Verizon store, I felt those years recede a bit, like a dream that fades in the light of morning. A short time later, I had my iPhone. Learning the basics—making phone calls, sending texts—along with buying the phone and choosing my data plan, turned out to be easier than I had imagined. I used the phone to call a friend, and to tell her I was looking for a little company. An hour later I was with her, having a drink and showing off my new phone.
I miss a few things about my thirties—my yoga-toned body, my thick red/brown hair, and my sense of youth, as I wondered what I might be and do when I finally grew up. But sitting with my friend in a noisy Davis Square restaurant and making silly jokes over a glass of sangria I was thankful to be back in the present, anchored in my life in middle age.