I live in a house on Memory Lane. It’s prime real estate on a vast acreage of land, with vistas of all the places I’ve ever lived on or traveled to, all the establishments in which I’ve worked and worshiped, all the schools I’ve locked myself out of “by accident” so I could clap erasers with Tony D. for five minutes more.
My home on Memory Lane has many rooms, some of them decorated ornately, the windows crystal clear projecting visions of vacations and dance recitals and scary nights spent on the forest floor freezing my butt off with the guy I knew I was going to marry someday. Other rooms are dark and gray, the air fetid, the sounds muffled; I don’t spend much time in these rooms as the dust settles all around.
That guy on the forest floor, the one I did end up marrying –he doesn’t let me linger too long at my house on Memory Lane. He encourages me to tend to my garden at the Home of the Present, and not to spend too much dreaming about our Home of the Future, either.
But this past weekend I took a long flight with my daughter to Memory Lane. The weather was fair and the company was good and the occasion was joyous. Everyone I loved when I was 17 was there, celebrating the marriage of someone whose presence in the house on Memory Lane is always assured. We told stories and traded notes and looked for each other when the “Back to the Future Song” came on, even though it’s not really that song from “Back to the Future,” but you had to be there. We asked how our lives at our homes of the present were treating us, but not in the way that you ask of anyone else in your present life. Because when you’re 17, the people you love generally love you by the sheer incidence of knowing you. Not because your cubicles abut or your children are the same age or your spouses play golf on Monday night. And though you are no longer 17, your knowledge of people’s hearts does not change with time.
When you’re 17, the world hasn’t broken your spirit. It may have given you a proverbial swirly in a toilet full of proverbial pain, but it hasn’t directly dumped on you, not yet it hasn’t. So when you reconvene with everyone you loved when you were 17, you are transported to a time in your life when everyday felt like a birthright of fun, riding around in rusty Buicks with good mix tapes in the deck, the thrill of your leg touching the person you liked, the smell of Old Spice and Taco Bell all familiar ambiance, ringing with a hopefulness that tomorrow might be more of the same.
I saw a few people this past weekend that are single-handedly responsible for my not remaining a sad teenager for all of teenagehood. My mother’s home is filled with scattered boxes of their letters which I can never bring myself to read, lest my time on Memory Lane be extended indefinitely. But whenever I see them or hear that a good thing has come their way, I write them a new love letter in my mind. Thank you for shining so brightly, thank you for loving me in a way that no one else has loved me since.
This fall I will teach 17 year-olds how to write essays and research papers and perfect their 17 year-old narratives. I will judge them based on their writing alone, and their grades will not reflect who they are, but what they produce. But my role will also be to help them conjure all the rooms of their own estates on Memory Lane, and I pride myself in being able to survey that property, in helping them to find their way back to a place often covered with the shrubbery of their self-preservation.
When I returned this past weekend from Memory Lane to the Home of the Present, I laid down on my bed covered in laundry and cried a wrenching, primal cry, one long overdue. I cried over mortgages and car repairs and student loans and debt. I cried because it was all mounting up so heavily and readily, and like the piles of laundry, I just couldn’t fold it all neatly at once. I wanted to return to the 17 year-old room and stay there for another minute. I wanted my friend Jim’s dad who looks like Dave Thomas to hug me again, tell me to come over and drink Sprite in his kitchen and have a long chat. I wanted to laugh with Cassie about the Resource Center Rules, to ponder what “normal” looks like with Lauren. I wanted Rory to vindicate himself once and for all as to why he was not in that first communion class, and to thank Andy for writing me back. I wanted Nick to tell us about his celery scars that he netted from riding his bike into parked car(s), for the 84th time. I wanted to dance some more with Woody and Mao and to see Big D give an ass-thrashing to anyone who dared cross the line.
But then I heard my daughter crying upstairs and it was time to pull myself together, resume my residence at the Home of the Present, and hope against all hope that sometime in the Home of the Future, my daughter is blessed enough to know friends like mine when she is 17.