On going back home…

by johndsykes86

The internet, like life on planet Earth, is a strange, vast, and wondrous place. A tweet forced me to go back and take a virtual look at a place where I havent physically stepped foot on since the early nineties.

The tweet alone seemed a weird microcosm of the feeling on the ground in the West Adams/Culver City district that somehow stayed the same despite the passing of time. Racial tensions still causing issues almost 20 years after I left and rearing their ugly head in everyday life. Where as I was born and raised with a respect and love for everyone, it seemed way out of context with where I grew up.  So curiosity finally won out and I decided to take a trip via Google Maps.

This is the corner, ladies and gentleman, is where I spent the majority of my early childhood. Not literally, figuratively.

It has not changed much since I left in 1994 or so I thought at first look. The gas station is gone but the adjacent Laundromat is there. Sundays were spent there playing Pac-Man while my mom would do laundry and talk with others. The market is still there under a different name, Ranch Bodego. It used to be an ABC Supermarket. Home to my first crime at the young age of 4. I stole a Cadbury Egg from the checkout counter after hearing yet another no from my mom, I didnt know what stealing was at that time. I sure as hell knew afterward.

The old burnt-out lot in the northwest corner of the map was one of the liquor stores owned by Korean-Americans and one of the first on my block to get burned out. I barely remember the owner, if I do at all. Memory has a tricky way of not being concrete or reliable. What does stick out in mind about that store is April 29th, 1992.

I remember celebrating my birthday in the backyard of our home, then a couple of hours later seeing my mom running in the house with huge bags*.  The acrid smell of burning cinder and smoke fanning out and engulfing everything and the weird scent of different types of spirits leaking from the bag, the roaring sirens of the LAFD trying to fight the blaze. I only vaguely remember watching the TV seeing police officers smiling. None of it, the mess of noise and fire, the officers, the angry adults, everyone leaving my party before I was able to open gifts…none of that seemed off to me until that moment of the sirens blaring.

That, in retrospect, seemed the right note enough

*which is totally ironic and hypocritical from the anecdote about my ass being whooped for stealing a Cadbury egg…but my mom got away with liquor, clothes and food? NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE screams my inner sore-butt-but-totally-en-tuned-to-the-hypocrisy 6 year old self. Fight on, little dude. 

Directly next door to the laundromat is the aforementioned childhood home. First of many, unfortunately, but the first nonetheless.

The original white and green paint has been covered over, but I can tell by the trees that were small when I was a wee one. I actually have pictures of me and my sister as a toddler near one of those trees but I cant find one with both of us. So you’ll just get to stare at my sister instead.

I want to say that one of our family members actually planted the tree. Again, memory serves to be a foil to any certainty.  Highly doubt that we did. Trees look too big to be some thing done 20+ years ago.

As much as I will wax nostalgia about this neighborhood, I’m glad I didnt stay here. That’s not to say I was happy when my mom told us that we’d be leaving. Well not so much told as showing up for a plane in LA one day, boxes packed up with labels to some foreign land that I only knew of by a map. But leaving

It was not easy to move. It never was.  I was mad at my mom for a long time after she moved to Atlanta in 1994. It felt like leaving a part of yourself there to linger. Going back in a physical sense would do nothing because the roots that were there died off a long time ago. I never really settled in Georgia despite being there for longer than I stayed in California. A lot of that can be attributed to moving a lot in Georgia. Despite being in the same city, I lived in 5 different homes before I was old enough to move out on my own. In a sense, I am homeless. Where some people have childhood friends and roots, I don’t really have much in the way of that. At least not in my early childhood.

My life after moving from California seemed like a sort of endless, restless shuffle between schools, homes, and people that somehow wasn’t completely jumbled in my brain but didn’t stick out in any particular way. Now that’s not to say that I didnt have friends I counted (and still do count on).

Friends that I grew up with moved and I lost contact with them or I moved and lost contact with them.  People grew up, forgot about me and I them and still some people are not around to remember or forget. While I’m not 100% sure that I would still turn out the way I did, I still wish I stayed in California.  I am just a happier person here and do not, even for a wink, regret making the move. Its (and this is so clique to say) being a bit more complete in a way.

It’s weird to see my old neighborhood in detail to the point that I seriously could relive my life on a map. But it also serves to remind me that things do change. That places, people, and even your own memories are not constant and concrete.  But even when they change, they dont completely go away. They hide, waiting for you to find them again. A reminder than time really does go on, with or without you.