You know how as the years go by, your weight can sort of gradually increase without you really even realizing it until suddenly you discover you need to buy fat pants?
Life is kind of like that.
The first couple years I was in college, I went back to my old high school two or three times to visit a favorite teacher (I dedicated my first book In the St. Nick of Time to him). It was only six months to two years or so after I left that school as a student, but th place felt different. Familiar and foreign all at the same time. I didn’t recognize any of the students and they all seemed so young to the “grown up” college me.
At the end of my freshman year of college, my parents sold the family home and moved out of state. Several years later, they decided to move back to our hometown and, coincidentally, our old house was up for sale again. I arranged to come for a visit the weekend they were going to do a walk through, just so I could get a peek inside. It was REALLY weird.
I had lived in that house from age three until I went away to college. I KNEW this house inside and out, literally. The house I was walking through now as an adult was much the same. The same blue aluminum siding and black shutters. The same landscaping. The same old, ugly purple jungle gym in the backyard (Dad cemented the legs into the ground very well. That thing will outlast every other man-made structure in existence) Inside, except for an expanded master bedroom suite and a laundry room move from the basement to the second floor, the layout was pretty much the same.
But it was also all different. New paint, new furniture, new layout. The note I had taped on the inside of my bedroom closet above the door one of the last times I was in the house before it was sold was gone. I don’t remember what I wrote for my impromptu time capsule, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, “Hey. Whoever finds this note I left, go ahead and destroy it.”
The house also felt bigger, somehow. That’s probably just because the previous (subsequent?) owners had already moved out and taken most of their stuff with them. The emptiness added to the feeling I had at the time that this was my house, but wasn’t. I described as being like if houses had siblings; look alike, but with different personalities. This was like a brother to my house, but not my house. My parents must have felt the same. They didn’t buy it back.
Around the same time, the city demolished my old elementary school and built a whole new school on the same lot. Same name, same spot, different building. It creeped me out every time I drove by. It was like being caught in a parallel universe.
Elementary schools were on my mind recently (and really, finally, I’m getting to what inspired this blog post). I attended my daughter’s winter carnival at her school. For some reason, I was particularly noticing how small the place seemed. The classrooms, the furniture, everything. It’s logical, of course, and everyone knows that, but I couldn’t help think about my elementary school (the pre-demolition one). Was it that small too? Did it feel small when I was a student there? Does it just seem small because I’m an adult?
So what does all this tell us? That I think about weird shit? Probably. (My wife can attest.) But I think it also points to how a lot of the basics of reality – the passage of time, the distance and size and meaning of the objects around us – are subjective. The properties of the things we hold dear fluctuate as we move through life, both in time and space.
Not a revolutionary revelation probably. I just find it comforting to be reminded now and then what a dynamic, changing (evolving?) thing life is sometimes.