The Walk

February 11, 2009

Recently I watched the movie The Time Machine.  It was the new version with Guy Pearce.  I like the movie.  But, beyond liking the movie, one scene, the last scene in the movie, really reached out and grabbed me.  The scene, a creative combination of two screens, shows the main character occupying the same exact location, in his study, as his best friend and house-lady occupy the same spot a bazillion years in his past.  Seeing both existences at once, separated only by time, reminded me of an experience that I will never forget.


Back in 1999 my Mom was in her last illness with cancer.  Her death had been a good one, an end that came in her own home, as I had promised her.  For weeks my sister, wife and I had taken shifts with the help of nurses so that she could stay in her own home.  The last month had taken its toll on us, and we were dead tired, and emotionally drained, but, with the help of hospice, the experience of death would almost be uplifting, if that is possible.  So, on a balmy September evening, unaware that my Mom would die the next day, I took a walk around the block, the home of my youth, to get a few moments away from her side so that I could stay the course.  The journey that I took over the next hour’s time was like none that I could have anticipated.


The block that I grew up on was a large one by most standards, maybe a hundred and a quarter homes on four different streets, two long streets, and two short ones on the ends.  During the course of growing up I got to know most everyone, or at least who they were or what their story had been.  I had cut through most of their yards, played in front of their houses and later cut many of their lawns.  Some of them were my parent’s friends, others not, and yet others were downright scary, a few even imagined to be witches in our young fertile minds.  But, no matter who they were, most were ordinary folks who were part of an enclave of sorts, a corner of the world that was mine, one whose boundaries contained the cocoon of my childhood.


As I walked around that block that night, feeling more than a bit guilty for the relief of getting away for a few moments, the memories of that place, my block from many years ago, came rushing back.  As I walked by the houses, a silent sidewalk observer, the illumination of lamps and televisions offered glimpses into those homes that I had known  before so well.  If you would be tempted to call me a voyeur I would say to you that it was not so.  What I was seeing was not only what was there, but what had been and was now long gone.  As I looked into those homes I saw the people that had once inhabited them, the people that made up the bedrock of the memory of my youth.  Knowing that so many years had passed, and that most must be gone from this earth, I knew well that what I was “seeing” could only be in my mind’s eye.  I point that  out lest you think that I was hallucinating, which I surely was not.  It was far more subtle than that, but yet, as clear as day.  What I was seeing were in essence ghosts of sorts, images brought to me in those moments as if the passing of my feet were some incantation, one transforming the course of my evening stroll into a journey into the past.  


If that was the end of the story I would probably not recall that walk as I do today, but there was more to it than that.  It all gets a bit more complex.  You see, as I found myself engulfed by the past, much like the split scene in The Time Machine,  I could also see the world is it really was, at that very moment, right in front of me.  It was if I was occupying the same place but in different times, each a reality of sorts, but one vision tempered by its impossibility. 



As I walked by Mrs. Kerber’s house, a kind lady, dead for many many years, who we imagined to be a witch (a good witch), I could see her (in my mind’s eye, mind you) serving tea to her mother, Mrs. Snow, as was her daily routine, or walking through her garden, a wonderland that she tended with tireless passion.  But, at the same time, then and there, I could see the glow of a television through the front window, a device that was never to be found in the Kerber household.  And there before me, on the front lawn was a tricycle, an object never to be found in that house, a childless one,  unless it was mine, or my childhood partner in crime, David Vanzo’s.  Then I came upon the Buchan’s old house. Both Vera and Stan Buchan had been dead for many years. In their family room I could see my Dad enjoying a whiskey sour with Stan, discussing the world, a very different one, and Vera in the kitchen getting ready to bring out a tray of snacks.  But, standing there in the here and now, I could see a house much changed from those days, with new owners many times over,  and a Vette in the driveway, a car that Stan would never have owned, being the Cadillac man that he was.


Over and over again, as I passed in the night, I could see before me what had been, right along with what was. On that long walk it was if I was walking with one foot in a world that was, and my other foot in a world that had been and no longer was.  For those brief moments the memories of those who had passed on seemed to exist in a world that was there, before me, almost as firmly in form, one defined by the memories of their lives.  Looking back on it, with where I was in my life, contemplating the reality of death, and necessarily the reality of life, looking back on it with full hindsight,  I’m not at all surprised that I experienced those moments.  I will also tell you that if you think that I found all of this the least bit frightening,  you would be wrong.  As I walked a light fog had closed in, and there was more than a bit of a “supernatural” feel to it all,   but what I found was only great comfort, and having seen the past in context of the present, and vice versa, and so clearly, it gave me the strength necessary to go where I would soon go, and to do what I would have to do.


When I arrived back at my Mom’s house, the house where I was raised, I took a few deep breaths to clear my head, and stood out front gazing up and down the street. What I saw before me was what I would have expected to find, the specters of the past having retreated into the night, and time, leaving the world as it had been before I set out on  my walk. Having stood in both the present and the past, simultaneously, I went forward.  I looked up at the starry sky, sighed, and went back inside. 


Death took my Mom the next day, she and I taking steps, ones in different directions.      


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