This afternoon the Thanksgiving and post-Thanksgiving indulgence was really getting to me, so I decided I needed a long bike ride. My toddler was napping and my older two told me they preferred to stay home playing than come with me, so I set off on my cruiser alone, noticing how shockingly, breezily light it is without the baby seat and trailer. It almost felt like I might rise into thin air with the slightest wind. I made up my mind to bike down to (and through) the neighborhood where I grew up, ages 12 to 18. Though now I only live three miles away, it's funny how I simply never have a need to drive through the old neighborhood, so I haven't been in years. As I pedaled closer, I thought about how for a long time I've spent more time there in dreams than in reality.
I turned down the once-familiar street that passes by my old junior high and through almost a mile of neighborhood before it reaches the turn for my old house, and memories began to surface. I passed houses where I spent sleepover nights and teenage birthday parties, the bench my husband and I would sneak off to to make out, the gated development that used to be a vacant lot I would walk home through. I thought of all those kids who once lived in this unremarkable pocket of Chandler, Arizona, and all they have gone on to do in far-flung places. I biked around our junior high that still looks like a penitentiary, trying my luck at a game of remembering which rooms were where--locker rooms here, nurse's office there, and there the track where I circuited so many forced, unenjoyable miles. Finally I came to the turn for my old neighborhood--a smallish loop of maybe 50 houses. The look of things has remained strikingly the same. Same pink tile roofs, same squat orange trees, same can't-tell-one-from-the-next uniformity so typical of Phoenix. But I know the house. I curbed my pace as I approached and cruised by as slowly as possible, trying to take in as many details of my old home as possible (without looking like I was casing the joint). The screen door was closed but the door behind it was open so that I could almost see inside. I half considered riding up and knocking, saying, "I grew up in this house. I remember when it was built. I stood right there when it was just a foundation and a few beams. My mom picked out those terrible blue laminate countertops. Want to see where I spent summers laid out by the pool? Want to see where our hammock used to be, and our trampoline? Want to hear the story of the time a SWAT team surrounded this place?" But I knew today was not the day for that, me sweaty on my bike with no ID and the signature uncoolness of helmet hair. Still, that cloudy, wistful sadness of nostalgia whispered and tugged at me and threatened to overwhelm my heart with images of all the good and wonderful, bad and terrible things that happened in that house.
I felt so strange and sad.
Exiting the neighborhood, I figured I would spend the rest of the long ride home turning over these many memories in my mind and dwelling in the bittersweetness of nostalgia. But then a funny thing happened. I started to think of all those fantastic '90s songs I used to sit in my bedroom listening to on my boom box. I remembered Dave Matthews Band and Duncan Sheik and this band called the Longpigs who had one really great song on the Mission Impossible soundtrack. And I started singing--feeling silly and free and totally uninhibited like I didn't care who saw me (helmet head be damned!) I pedaled as fast as I could to see if the speed limit detector signs would report my speed to passing cars. And the whole way home I felt so relieved to be 30 and not 13.