I don’t really know that. I’m just discerning it from the context. It’s very hot though. The heat is drifting off the pavement and I can feel it. I can sense it.
I’m standing in a parking lot in Humble, TX. About a block away was my occupational therapist. This center was a favorite of mine. I used to love being here. I haven’t been here since 1993 but I’m back.
I look around. Almost nothing is the same as it was. Off the top of my head I can see the arcade I used to love is gone. There was a book store next door but it’s long gone. Perhaps the most crushing blow is the movie theater I remember wanting to go to but never reaching. It’s a thrift store now.
There is a dinging in the background. I try to ignore it. It’s a distraction.
Reaching down, I take a long drink of my hard lemonade. It’s smooth, tasty, and cold. It helps me to focus on this moment. I’m trying to enjoy being here after all. Drinking alcohol might not be the ideal way to set your mind for a return to a childhood haunt but it’s what I choose to do.
As I look around, I think about what I’ve seen on this journey. I’ve seen my old house. I’ve seen my old movie theaters of choice. I’ve been to the beach. And I’ve got a few major stops yet to go on this journey. Some of these places are as I remember. Most are nothing like it.
A rattling distracts me in the background. I take another sip and focus.
For some reason, this plot of land bothers me far more than the others. Maybe it’s because it was never truly mine. I had a few years here including one moment so important it opened my book. But I wasn’t really connected to this center. I wanted to be. I’ve dreamt of it. But it was out of my reach.
That’s how my past feels to me now. It was something I had and don’t have anymore. I can recall images of it but it’s not real necessarily. Not without evidence. As I look around, I’m bereft of that evidence. That haunts me.
But then, is what I’m looking at necessarily real? I mean, to my eyes, I’m standing in the middle of Humble, Texas. Everywhere I look, I see that area. I can tell by context clues such as the way people are dressed that it’s July. It’s the middle of the afternoon based on the sun, a partly cloudy afternoon. I’m clearly outdoors.
And not one bit of this is true for where I actually am.
In fact, I’m indoors at 12:15 am on a cloudy, cold December night in Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m not looking at what’s really in front of me. I’m looking at a Google street view capture on my phone which has been strapped into a cheap VR headset.
That’s just it. This isn’t real. It’s based on a real place using real images but it’s not a real experience. In fact it’s not even an accurate experience. The software sent me to the wrong part of the center, sending me past the movie theater, which is still open and doing fine apparently. The only part that is indeed real is the delicious, cheap hard lemonade I’m drinking.
This is how memory works. We use images to craft a sense of reality. We trust them to be true but in the end, unless we’re actually there we can’t know they’re accurate and indeed they’re often not. They’re lies we trust. But like the virtual experience I’m having in this moment, they’re still real in their own way. I am indeed going through this.
I take a long last sip and ponder this oddity. I continue to soak up the details. Then I lift my headset up and look around at the real place I’m at.