Note: Instead of working on the actual “coherent” stories I’ve been trying to write, I’ve been reading the older stories I’d written years ago. They’re not too bad, and it’s fun to tidy them up a bit. This is one of them.
Without a clear goal or plan I turned left at this street and right at another. I was a free spirit, riding in whichever direction I fancied at the time. The way I took was dictated by emotion and past memory: I remember going down a certain street in high school, or a girl I used to know lived down a street which I blindly turned down. Memories were everywhere — the time was different and sometimes the scenery was different — but the memories still lingered in some way even though they were horribly nonexistent in the present.
I rode by the park we used to play football in, years ago in high school. I wondered if we would ever get people together to play again. Maybe as a ten-year, twenty-year, or even a thirty-year reunion. We could be fifty-year-olds trying to play tackle football at the old park we used to play in. I knew we wouldn’t, and at most maybe a friend or two would meet up someday and throw a football around for nostalgic reasons. But those games, no, they were forever gone. No one ever knew at the time we were playing the last football game that we’d ever play.
The street I was on along the park also had other familiarity to it. It took a few moments of thought — some tying of the strings of my memory — but I finally connected the dots in my head: this was the street my ex-girlfriend and I had rented a house on. It was long ago, not terribly long ago — only a few years — but I was immensely changed since then, making it feel like ages had passed. I felt decades older and wiser even though I’d only gone around the sun two and a half times since. I had no goals or plans that day, so I continued on down the street. It’d be nice to ride by the old house and reminisce.
As I got closer to the house we had rented I realized something; the houses that were along this street were gone. I remembered years earlier there had been a flood, these houses which bordered on the creek had become lost causes, and the city moved to purchase and demolish them. Her and I were together when the flood happened, and being alongside the creek allowed us to see a large part of what had happened. We were on the higher side of the creek and our street didn’t flood; our house wasn’t afloat. Around us were houses seemingly boats in endless water: drifting in a lake that had appeared out of nowhere from the clouds and the rain one August night. The vacant lots allowed me to see the next street over, unimpeded by trees, houses, or any other obstruction and it seemed very strange. Only the creek which had caused the flooding was between me and the street to the north. The creek seemed harmless and nothing like the demon that I knew it could be if fed well enough.
I continued on and finally arrived where our old house was, but something didn’t seem right. I glanced back at the street sign to make sure I didn’t mistake what block I was on, and it was the block, but where was the house? The vacant fields of grass that had stretched endlessly also stretched into this area completely catching me off guard. And further down the road, the field continued. Had the city demolished the entire area?
I slowed and eased my bike towards the curb at the location where I thought the house used to be. There was the same, bland grassy field and nothing gave away the hints of the past. But here, along the curb, was a tree: a single tree between the sidewalk and the street. As I parked under it, I glanced up and felt something. It was a tree, a tree that was unremarkable in every way possible, but something in my memory moved. This was the tree I had parked under for years straight, never really looking up to examine it but seeing it so frequently made an imprint on my memory. It was a ghost, an image of a peripheral that etched its way into my mind. Never noticed but always there. It felt familiar, like an old friend or acquaintance, and I knew this was where the house used to be.
I looked at the field with determination and yearning. Behind me was slightly lower where a driveway used to be, and imagining the memory of the property fit like a puzzle to this sparse field with a creek in the middle of it. Here was where the driveway was, and here was where I put our garbage out on a Wednesday, and there was where the next door neighbors lived, and over there was where I’d sit on the steps and think about us and how we’d never work.
I frowned as I examined the vacant field some more. The memories were both good and bad and they randomly came at me with no rhyme or reason; they just appeared as ghosts of the location.
I thought of the house, and where I happened to be currently. There was a pile of rubble of the old house somewhere and I wondered if anyone thought of the memories they held. There was a chunk of concrete out there in the world that I walked on daily, and a board of wood that creaked every time we went up the steps, and the walls that watched us smile, cry, scream, and yell as the days came and passed. They existed somewhere and in some form out in the world without anyone but myself knowing their history.
Reality slowly creeped back in as I stared into the air. I was standing there next to a field and, well, I was on a bike ride that day. Feeling the outside world pressing in on my senses again, I mounted the bike and kicked off from the curb that her car tire had rubbed on countless times. I imagined that maybe there were bits of rubber from her car on my shoes as I sped off down the street. But that was the past that was past and this was the neverending present and it was time to get on with life.
I moved on from that day, from that leisurely bike ride, without much conscious thought about what I had seen. Going to work, sleeping, eating, and generally existing were enough to fill my time, and I didn’t think of the lost house very much. But as much as I’d have liked to think it didn’t weigh on me, it must have, because my mind would somehow turn to the image of the empty field with the creek behind it, and it would seem to occur when I was alone, trying to not think of anything at all. As I tried to fall asleep, I’d see the field again, and sometimes the house that used to be there. I thought of her, and wondered what she was up to. The thoughts were never strong enough to give me pause, to keep me awake at night, or to make me think deeply; they would randomly appear and then after a few thoughtful moments, they’d drift away into the oblivion from which they came.
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