by Risa Green
Twenty years ago, I was president of my class at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. At the time, nobody told me that twenty years later – when I would have two children, a husband, an eight month old puppy, a book about to be released and, oh yeah, living in California – I would be responsible for planning our twenty year reunion. Or maybe someone did, but I just don’t remember. But here I am, juggling one more ball in the air, picking out menus and sending Facebook messages, trying to convince as many members of the class of 1990 as I can to shell out seventy bucks and come join me for a night with old friends.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday that I was applying to college, planning for the prom, hanging out in the parking lot of McDonald’s with my friends, throwing parties in my house when my parents were away for the weekend. But more and more, it feels so far away; like all of that happened in another lifetime, maybe one hundred years ago or more.
I’ve decided that since I’m going to be in a nostalgic mood anyway, I might as well bring the kids and show them around my home town. They’ve been to Philadelphia with me before, but they’ve never been to Fort Washington, never seen the house I grew up in, never seen where I went to elementary school, or high school. Since my husband grew up here in Los Angeles, they know all of his markers. But it’s important to me that they know mine, too. I hate the idea that they have no sense of place for me, that when I tell them stories about when I was a kid, they have no visual to refer to in their minds.
The last time I was in my old neighborhood was when my father died in November. My brother and I took a ride out there the night before his funeral, and we drove up and down our street, and past all of the places we used to go when we were kids. The last time I’d been there before that was probably fifteen years ago, when my dad moved out of our old house and I went back to get my things. I remember looking around at the empty rooms – the dark rectangles where the couches had been on the otherwise faded carpet, the empty nails where pictures had hung – and trying to memorize them so that I would never forget.
And I haven’t forgotten. I still know every detail of that house, and sometimes, a smell or a feeling in the air will take me right back to when I was nine years old, standing barefoot on the concrete floor of the garage, or fifteen, lying on the orange, shag rug of my bedroom. I want to see it, but I don’t want to go inside. I don’t want to ring the doorbell and explain who I am and ask if I can take a look around, because I know it will ruin the memory for me. I want to remember it exactly the way it was when I lived there, not see what someone else has done to the place. And most of all, I want to take my children there to see it, to prove to them that I was once a kid, that I had a life before Los Angeles, before my husband, before them.
I think it’s going to be a fun weekend – fun to see all of my friends from high school, fun to take a trip down memory lane – but it’s also going to be emotional and difficult, though I’m looking forward to that part of it, too. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another opportunity to go back there again; my mother has long since moved away, my father is gone, and I don’t have a whole lot of reasons to go anymore. So I need the closure. I need to be able to reconnect with my past one more time, to bring it out of that other lifetime that feels like it happened a hundred years ago, to connect it to my future and to move on. Somehow, taking my kids there with me feels like the right way to achieve that.