So, yeah, I took the dogs for a walk in my childhood neighborhood this morning because, after a few weeks of social distancing at home with my wife and kids, we all woke up today needing to socially distance ourselves from our house — and from each other, I guess. Strange days, indeed.
The dogs, however, were initially unimpressed by the old neighborhood. I was too, a little, to be honest.
The terrifyingly-steep street my friends and I careened down on our brake-less bikes 45 years ago appeared nearly flat today. The elementary school I’d walked to every weekday for seven years had a new name, but it still looked like a 1970s photograph, its bricks faded and tired.
My old family home was no longer painted brown, and it seemed like it was in the wrong spot, further back from the curb than I’d remembered. Off kilter.
Thanks to the statewide stay-at-home advisory (it’s not a stay-at home “order” – yet) the dogs and I pretty much had the whole neighborhood to ourselves. I saw only the mailman, his hands wrapped in blue latex as he scurried from house to house. The dogs didn’t even bark at him.
I was actually hoping, by walking around the old haunts, that a flood of memories, a tidal wave of emotions, would suddenly overwrite the anxiety and stress that I, like you, are feeling from weeks and weeks of worrying about family, health, work, money, toilet paper and the fate of the world.
Not to be too dramatic, but I suspect you know exactly what I mean: I just wanted to feel something other than naked uncertainty. They say the death toll in the US is doubling every 2.5 days now.
But as the dogs and I walked up Lowe Avenue and across Golden Road and down to Heelan Avenue, I didn’t feel much except an urge to get home to my family. So many of the houses looked old, tired, worn out. This walk was not helping my mood.
And then I came across The Path. And I smiled.
The Path was – and still is – a narrow, paved shortcut leading from our little neighborhood to the two neighborhoods “one street over.” Take a right on The Path and you’d end up closer to the ice cream stand on the main road, downtown. Take a left on the path, and you’d end up closer to the drug store and its impressive displays of 25-cent candy bars and Star Wars cards.
And within The Path were – and still are – little dirt pathways leading to big rocks, where we’d sit as kids after school, talking about nothing until the sun went down.
How many first kisses has this little plot of land witnessed over the years? How many cigarettes stolen from parents were smoked on that rock? How many times did my friends and I ride our bikes up and down The Path, choosing to go left or right, ice cream stand or drug store?
The dogs were suddenly excited. So many smells here on The Path, so many stories to soak up through their wet noses. So much life. We just stood there for a while, the three of us on ten feet, breathing.
And then we walked up The Path back to the car and headed for home — unsure of which direction we are all heading.