There’s something strange and new about dreams that divorce familiar spaces from the contexts I had certain memories and experiences in. The ones that pop up in my mind are of my old neighborhood before I moved, my pre-school, my first elementary school, and the churches I used to attend. When I revisit these places, the real becomes surreal because of the changes in my absence. Here’s what I remember about these few places.
The first place I called home.
The faded impression of a darkened night on which you nervously waited outside your house as a child on the gray cement curb leading to what you considered the back door of your house stands out, along with memories of learning to ride new-fangled, wheeled boards with your brother, because they happened along the asphalt street lined with garages on both sides corresponding to nice quiet townhouses. (They were called waveboards, and were quite a lot of fun!)
After a day attending school, your mom picks you up, and the car always seems to know what direction to turn, because the arrows click with green lights. This is amazing to you, but you do not question it; you later learn she was signalling, and like mom you pick up the strange habit of signalling even in the absence of other cars and their drivers. You are just as inertial as the car. The car goes down this asphalt street, and your mom opens the garage and parks her white sedan. As she clicks the remote to close the garage, you hop out of the musky garage full of the smell of a cooling engine. A few steps are before you, before you step up into the interstitial open air patio that separates you from the garage and the glass sliding door to your house. The patio has small soil patches lined with old brick on the edges, and you remember something about a fish being buried in the soil, and cobwebs in the corners where no one cleans.
The sliding glass door is opened and immediately to your right is the dining table set upon a rough rug ornamented with intricate designs on its brownish surface. To your left is the kitchen counter obscuring the fridge and cupboards (you are not tall enough yet, so you will have to walk around to see over the kitchen counter, or are you by this point?) and a few feet in front of you is the tall bookshelf. To the left of the bookshelf you can walk through a doorless frame to the rest of the house, but too excited to be home you run up the stairs to the right of the bookcase, stairs that you once jumped down deliberately and as a result suffer from aches in your left leg when the temperature drops, to your room where you can play or do whatever engages your curiosity.
Your room has a small twin size bed that you always used to roll off of in fitful sleep, and it is this bed pushed up against the left wall that is in your line of sight as you approach your door. You remember hiding embarrassing cutouts from a magazine of magnetic faces between this bed and the wall, but you never really explored why you took such interest as a child. You also remember having such terrors in your dreams of chapel pews and yourself immersed in a sea of worms that accumulated by them dropping from the ceiling. This seemed to scare your consciousness into existence in this very room, and it was either with your grandma staying over and sleeping in your room as well, or you alone; you cried and ran to whoever would hear you and comfort you in the dead of the night. To your immediate left as you walk through the door is the white bookcase made of some form of fiberboard or MDF lined with a smooth veneer that becomes off-white with its age, dings, and scribbles. You have a sliding closet, but you never paid much attention to what it was like inside because it was dark, usually closed, and dressing was routine rather than exciting. You never really dressed yourself that well. Here you approach your desk with a chaotic hoard of toys jam packed noisily into the space underneath, where you either take out your legos to play, or you binge watch those new Japanese cartoons burned onto cd’s your brother introduced to you before binge watching was a popular term.
I moved to a new house and a new elementary school in the wake of a familial financial crisis. It’s notable to me because it marks what felt like the end of my childhood. My perception of home has changed since then. It changed in going back to the old house was in the 6AM bike rides in high school when I stayed up the nights before, in the drives to the neighborhood to pick up a friend, who I attended some Caltech sessions with about optical astronomy, and digitally through bouts of curiosity when I would browse the housing listings showing what was once home, empty, once more renovated, and devoid of all context that made it home. What I miss most about that first home is the sense of utmost safety and utter joy that I used to once feel. Before I lost my religious belief, before I gained a deep sense of financial uncertainty and doubt, I was home. I miss it dearly.