The first 18 years of my life were spent in a one-story bungalow that my dad bought as a grad student in the 90s. We finally scrimped and saved enough to renovate it when I was 7. We lived in the part of the city where kids would knock on their younger neighbours doors to play, spray each other with the garden hose, and run barefoot to the playground. I’d walk with my parents to Central Street, saying ‘hi’ to Hank the stray cat who would always flop onto his back when he saw you coming. The triangle park beside Hank’s little corner had the fanciest sandbox I’ve ever seen. Back then, we’d go to the RadioShack and Video Adventure, where I’d rent the Incredibles every time, and my dad would grab himself a season of Star Trek. Across the street was Prairie Joe’s — the dirt cheap, cash-only breakfast place with the kind waiters, whom I’d given my patronage from infancy till high school. There was the little storefront art gallery, the 10¢ candy shop, and the honorary Starbucks – this was before they overran all cities. Next door was Great Harvest, which made the best bread I had ever tasted and was owned by the biggest asshole I had ever met. As I grew older and got busier, I didn’t visit those places all that often.
My dad passed away in my junior year of high school. We couldn’t afford to live in our big house anymore and put it on the market. I departed for my first year of college, and had to leave my mom to organise and store away the last of our stuff all by herself. Every break I came back, I unpacked my bags in a different place; our family friends’ guest bedroom, the basement of people from our congregation, the apartment next door to my high school friends. We finally snatched up a place on the edge of the city, that I now come home to every time I return. Despite all this relocating, moving to Glasgow hit me like a bus; I hadn’t been outside the US more than a dozen times, and only ever to visit family. I was so violently homesick I thought I would have to drop out – an urge that living in Maryhill certainly intensified. I thought that meeting other Americans would help fill the pit of sadness in my heart, but everyone I encountered had lived in a plethora of countries, were used to change and had relatives that could visit them in Glasgow whenever. This added level of isolation, in turn, transformed that pit of sadness into a ravine. To remedy this, I would go home for stretches as long as I could justify in our already long breaks. But upon arrival at O’Hare, the unfamiliarity sinks in quickly.
The city is full of expensive chain-stores and increasingly out-of-touch millennial residents. The once renowned arts program has been defunded and as a result, less kids will enjoy orchestra like my friends and I once did. Friends I used to play in the school band with. None of those friends come back home for holidays anymore. One of my old neighbours, who I’ve been inseparable with since we were babies, now resides a 15 minute drive away instead of a run across the street. I have to pass by our old house to get to theirs. When I see the twin ginkgo trees in the front yard, I want to steer my car into the driveway and roll over those stinky, slippery berries. My parents used to press leaves from that tree in books. A family we were friendly with would drive to our house and pick its fruit to cook Korean food. They don’t come around anymore. My mom doesn’t press leaves anymore, and the kids don’t play outside.
After my visit, I drive home via Central Street, even though it’s out of the way, just to see what’s changed since last time. Only one or two shops have stuck around. Not even Starbucks stood a chance. The asshole and his bakery, naturally, remain. It seems that loss is all around me at home; even the old arboretum where our Scouts meetings were held now houses memorials for two of my high school friends. My city is so small that you used to see at least five people you know every time you leave the house. That frequency has dwindled now to five per week. It makes sense; old families and empty-nesters alike are moving out and new families are coming in. The sacred cycle. It feels to me like a place that was once in the palm of my hands has slipped through the next generation’s fingers onto the ground. The regular cast of characters has been written out. Initially, when I dreaded coming home, I assumed my sentiments were isolated, but talking to old friends has shown that these feelings are shared. Childhood companions are drifting apart or breaking up completely. The landscape is no longer ready to be re-explored, instead seeming sequestered and limited. Even more so that there’s no one around to traverse it with. The only thing I know is still mine are the four stickers on the face of my old band locker, printing out my name and buried underneath the etchings of my successors. Every time I go home it feels like I’m witnessing a transition to some new society. Between COVID, the shifting lives of all of my friends, and living 3,660 miles away for most of the year, home does not seem to belong to me anymore.
by Ari Badr [he/they]
Image credits: https://wellcomecollection.org/series/X24JnhEAAMplRFYN