I drive without purpose, without a destination.
I can lose myself in this town, in its streets, because I know them all by heart. I open the windows, turn up the radio, turn off my mind, and just drive.
This is my hometown.
There is no street not stained with my youth, my past. The ghost of my younger self lingers around each corner.
I drive by the house I grew up in. The outside looks nothing like the home I knew, but when I close my eyes I'm able to walk through the heavy front door and up the stairs, into my bedroom, which smells like fresh air and perfume and hairspray. My fingertips can mentally trip over things of significance: pictures of friends stuck to the mirror, stacks of tapes and cds next to the radio, the phone on the nightstand with its knotted pink cord that I twist late at night, covers pulled up over my head as I whisper into the receiver while outside the night slips into early morning. I can lie on the bed and see the familiar swirls on the ceiling. I can look out the window, watching, waiting for headlights in the driveway.
But I don't live here anymore. So I turn my car around to go.
At the corner of my street stands a girl I know to be 17. It's early morning and she's waiting for the bus. It's April, but it's cold. She's not wearing a hat or gloves or even socks, because she's too cool for that. She hasn't bothered to zip her coat. She's got her walkman and it's playing November Rain on repeat. She's thin and pale and doesn't sleep much anymore. She's taken to burning bridges; she's about to implode.
But she doesn't know that yet. She only knows that the bus is late.
I want to scream at her to zip up her damn coat. I want to pull her into my warm car and tell her to stay home from school today. But I can see the bus coming up over the hill and I know she needs to get on it.
So I leave her there.
I drive up the main street in town, past the high school. Just up the road is the library, where, if I were to go in, the librarian would greet me by name. She would smile at my sons. But she would not see what I see, a girl out front with long hair wearing a flannel shirt. She's slipping her hand into that of the boy sitting next to her. It's fall; the day is cold and brisk and gray. But she is smiling, singing Van Morrison for him. He's looking at her and she feels warm. These two are sure of everything. They are still in love.
It's a good place to leave them.
The road continues through the center of town. I'm stopped at the light outside of a bridal shop. A young woman comes floating out of the shop, gown in hand, breathlessly gushing to the saleswoman about her impending honeymoon. She cradles that dress like a baby as she guides it into the back of her car. She's rushing, busy hanging up her veil on a small black hook in the back seat before flying off to tie up a thousand lose ends. She is 26 and high on the excitement of everything that's about to unfold. As I watch her I try to remember what mattered to her then, what she thought was important before her sons were born.
Because, for the life of me, I can't remember.
She's in her car now, and she's driving away from me. I'd like to tell her to slow down, to not giggle nervously through her first dance with her husband, chattering away a moment she'll never get back. I'd like to tell her that the day is going to go too fast, but even if I could say these things, she would not listen.
Just as I'm sure, somewhere, there is an older version of me driving these streets, with the windows down and the radio on. She's watching me at 36 stride into a local bar, meeting friends for beer and trivia. Maybe she's yelling to me to be careful. Maybe she's whispering to hold on to anything I can while it's still there to be held.
But it doesn't matter, because I've already passed her, taken my seat at the table, and ordered a drink.
I cannot hear her.
And so she shakes her head and leaves me there, crossing over the town line as she goes home.