Friday, September 21, 2007

Hometown

The path from Chicago to Naperville is a simple one. Direct, too. One needs only to wade through the traffic on the Eisenhower Expressway until it merges with I-88, formerly called I-5, and recently redubbed the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway, for those of you thinking of making the trek and wishing to navigate by Presidents alone. From there you have your choice of several exits.

I took the first one.

I took the first Naperville exit, aptly named Naperville Road, and headed south. Before long, I unconsciously veered off onto a shortcut to where I was headed. As soon as my brain realized that I was taking a shortcut, its particulars dissolved, leaving my only with guesswork and memory to guide me.

My guesswork succeeded. My memories were sound.

I went to high school in Naperville, learned to drive on its streets. How is it that I can remember how to drive and not where this street goes?

For all my eagerness to escape, I find it is Naperville which leaps forward most easily if I am asked to name my hometown. I am not from here. I have few remaining ties. It is simply the circumstances of a rather nomadic childhood coupled with the importance one attaches to the years of puberty and those that immediately follow—becoming an adult and such—that give it this claim on me, or me on it.

I parked the car and began to walk.

The names of the streets were all familiar. They looked like the right names. I wondered to myself how many times I might have walked these streets. The names were familiar, and I felt like I knew where I was, but it seemed at least possible that I had never been here at all, had perhaps only read a particularly vivid novel set here. Down this road is the spot where the protagonist quarreled with a friend, only a few feet from where they had met in the first place. A mile in that direction and you'll be at the library where the protagonist watched "A Hard Day's Night" 30 times in a video carrel through headphones, trying to somehow memorize John Lennon, the better to emulate or become him.

Friends had warned me to look out for how different everything would be, how much had changed. I was struck instead at how much it looked the same. I was in an old part of the city, home to a college campus and some old houses. Each looked more or less as they always had. Those girls giggling themselves down the sidewalk on their way to or from class may as well have been the same girls for whom I used to detour when walking this area in the warm months, in my 8th grade hope that some of them might be out sunbathing.

As I walked, I now felt that I truly knew where I was, how these streets fit together to form the part of town I was in. I could not, however, recall exactly how this fitted into the town as a whole. I could picture in my mind what it looked like when this area gave way to to the more highly developed downtown area, which I knew was west of me, but not a sense of how far away that was.

A very tall brunette brushed past me on my left.

"Excuse me," I said. "How far am I from a restaurant?" Already, just the phrasing of the question made me feel weird, like I was claiming I had crashed in a meteor, or perhaps that my follow-up should be to to act manic and crazed and inquire as to the year or the name of the president. For her part, she took it in stride.

"A couple blocks that way." She pointed west. So now the distance was more or less fixed. It felt closer than I would have guessed.

We each walked on, her now a few steps ahead of me. She had a particularly unflattering walk, no doubt due partially to what appeared to be very uncomfortable shoes. Women confuse me.

After a few paces, she stopped and turned back to me.

"Actually, go a couple blocks this way first, then a couple that way. You go that way now and you'll just end up at the post office."

"Ah," I said. "And the post office, I take it, has substandard fare?"

She laughed a genuine laugh and was suddenly pretty.

"I don't know. Haven't seen the menu."

"Mustn't judge, then."

I walked on.

9 comments:

Minx said...

Don't stop there!

Lane said...

Isn't it weird how it's sometimes difficult to recognise the place where you grew up. I'm occasionally envious of people who have lived in the same place all their lives....and then I think ...nah.

And the restaurant....?

c.s. said...

need a simple challenge?

i tag you to do it.

Verilion said...

And the story really ends there?

Taffiny said...

sounds nice.

Shameless said...

Nice dreamy pieces of late, Mr Moon. Meanwhile, there's a new writing project up at The Shameless Lions Writing Circle site. Please check it out and I hope you can take part and promote it. Also, check out the "latest news" section.

sognatrice said...

I agree with Minx...keep going! I very much look forward going back to my hometown after just about 5 years away, but what seems like a lifetime.

And, btw, I tagged you for a writing meme:

5 strengths as a writer

I hope you'll play!

Taffiny said...

I'm going to tag you too.
I don't care what the rules are.

The Moon Topples said...

Minx: I'm going to take that as a sign that you were enjoying the writing sooo much and not merely an attempt to see if anything happened with the tall brunette.

Lane: Restaurant was not the post office, and still managed to disappoint. Nothing but chains remain.

CS, Soggy, and Taffiny: I have done the meme. You probably scrolled past it to see if I replied in here.

Ver: No story ever truly ends. There are always threads. This felt like where I should stop.

Shameless: Thankya for the compliment, and we'll see about the lion thingie...