I have returned to New York. It has been three years since my last visit and I am excited to see my friends and extended family. I know that my aunt has invited everyone to her house for lunch, but when I arrive I am pleasantly surprised to see my mother and four siblings, who drove up from Alabama. Alfonso and I enjoy watching my three brothers, who are still quite young, take turns riding down the hill in a radio flyer wagon. We visit with my grandmother and cousins and regret not having more time. After three days of their company, Alfonso and I set off, traveling through the towns that I used to know so well. With each passing mile, my chest grows tighter and memories unfold.
There it is, Livonia, the town where I grew up. I have a plethora of warm childhood memories trapped inside me somewhere but only pain emerges. There is the street that I walked in darkness with streaming tears, and suffocating fears. My childhood home is buried beneath new siding, covering all of those haunting stories and secrets. Above the tree that my grandfather planted, long before he passed away, is the bedroom window that I jumped out of, to illustrate my independence. In the back yard is the pool deck that my dad built. I can feel the summer sun, burning my shoulders, as I hold the chalk line for him. The three-car garage, a perfect bicycle “gas station.” And in the winter, the ice would become so thick on the driveway that we were able to skate down it.
It’s all still here, only smaller than I remember. The field that was home to our maze of trails and countless forts is now another man’s front yard. No record remains of the diligent work of our eight year old hands. In our home, stolen from us by the bank, we grew as a family, cried as a family and survived as a family. Inside, they have painted over our masterpieces that adorned the laundry room walls, and the carpet is no longer spotted with juice stains. I have now grown too tall to fit into all my old hiding spots. This flood of memories becomes overwhelming. We drive away, but I can’t escape. Passing by my old summer camp, we travel under the bridge that was built by my father’s construction company. My high school has doubled in size, and none of my friends are bagging groceries at West’s Shur Fine. It is all so familiar, yet foreign, and I realize that there is no longer a place for me here. We leave for Niagara Falls and I don’t look back.
There are just too many ghosts. This is a place where one never escapes their last name, nor becomes anything more than their past. I suddenly feel small once again and realize that no matter what New York offers us, the history of my small town childhood will always overshadow the present. I admit that I am not capable of confronting my past, so I close Pandora’s box once again.