Mustard yellow cotton trousers. Grey sneakers. Dark blue vest, leather patches. Grey striped, long sleeved Boss shirt. I’m dressed for a wedding. Unfortunately, it’s the 24th of December, and I’m going to a funeral. It’s cold outside. 2016 is a parody of itself. I hitch a ride with some college friends, and we’re off.
The deceased is Pol, the father of one of my friends. One of my oldest friends. And that means the funeral will be held in my home town, where I haven’t really returned to in the last 14 years. For lack of a good reason to do so. The service is about as good as it gets, considering the circumstances. Pol went too soon (oldest grandchild is barely in kindergarten), which makes everything a bit brutal, but as far as I can tell, the speeches accurately portray his personality & particularities. It’s all a bit unfair. My own father keeps telling me he wants to be chucked off the levee, so we can skip ahead to the pie and coffee. I think I want that too.
My disorientation begins on the way to the coffee table, about 500 meters further. I’m starting to get my bearing, and recognize where I am. We pass my primary school. No matter how much I want to take a peek, the gate is shut and the wall is too high. Once we get to the coffee table, things start going downhill. I’ve been pretty terrible at social occasions lately, and now I’m faced with family of, friends of family of, … A couple of people I used to go to school with, who never have left this place. I wish it wasn’t like this, but I really didn’t manage the situation well. Lately I’ve literally been a social moron (more on that later, perhaps), and everything was too complicated. Luckily my best friend is the husband of my friend, Pol’s daughter. Even though he has a million things more important to do today, he manages the time to take care of me. I’m a lucky bastard sometimes.
The gathering ends, and I’m pretty much stuck in this town for the next couple of hours. I need to go to a completely different part of the country, and things are awkward enough that it involves a lot of busing and transferring. Which I guess is coincidence’s way of telling I need to take a walk down memory lane. Literally, as I need to walk past the house I grew up in, my high school (both sites), houses of friends, places of public acts of drunk and disorderly, and more then a decade of formative years. It wasn’t pretty. The literal road I walk on is definitely not pretty. This town became known for it’s proximity to the highway, and this road runs straight from the on-ramp to center of town. It’s the closest equivalent we have to a strip mall, except it’s individual buildings, often big offices, and it’s 2 miles long.
Maybe it’s all projection, but everything is incredibly grey. Most of the empty space is a parking lot, and what isn’t, is a unkempt grass and weeds. Everything is badly maintained, dirty concrete and water damaged brick. Even the “inviting” signage manages to depressed. And I seem to remember all of it. The closest I can get to a metaphor is LA. I walk to my old home, but I do most of my remembering before I get there. Of course I know the exact layout, but I also remember all the furniture, the correct places for all the groceries, magazines, and flotsam. The size of the yard, and the amount of trips to the compost I needed to do when mowing the lawn. The old color of the bricks my grandfather put, before the new owners painted it. His sadness at the fact that there are new owners at all. The small shortcut to the main road. The bridge over the highway to a friend I haven’t seen since the 80′s. I ring the bell, but nobody is home. It’s probably for the best. Even though I can, I’m starting to think this whole thing was a big mistake. I walk around in my old high school, the playground behind the library, pass by the bars where we would pre/post drink major exams. The places we were awkward, the places I crashed my bike, the places we (completely unrelated) were drunk.
I’m a bit disoriented, and a bit dizzy. Everything is ugly and grey. My mood is not especially bad, I’ve seen other places like this before. It’s just a lot different then I remember. So much smaller then I remember myself. On the playground, I can find a single tile I’ve probably spend over a hundred hours sitting on during recess. It’s dark grey concrete, with moss. It’s loose, and a corner is missing. I pass a street that is literally called “the emptiness”. I’m done.
I am incredibly relieved when my bus arrives and I can start the 3-hour journey to a place 50km away as the crow flies. It’s interrupted by a one hour wait in a bar, with a couple of people who don’t have any place in particular to be on Christmas Eve. I like bars, this is fun. I drink my drink, eavesdrop some conversation, and I’m on my way again. Another hour of bussing, an hour of driving, and I’m at my extended family’s gathering, mother’s side. Everything’s fine. I talk a lot, I listen a lot. I have some tough conversation with my mother, and we drink some more. I fall asleep when I first catch a glimpse of my bed.
When I arrive the next day at my father’s place, my brother is already there. I wish I could have showered before he came, as he starts laughing at how disheveled I look. I certainly felt that way.