What I Didn’t Know Before 

By Mo David

Staring doesn’t accomplish much, but that doesn’t stop me. We’re in her mom’s minivan, parked in front of the house I grew up in. The grassy lawn rises and dips in ways I didn’t know I remembered. The tree is still strong and quiet. The brick walls sit solidly beneath a fresh coat of white paint. Two new cars in the driveway, not sure what’s inside.

“I feel like a ghost,” I say.

I wasn’t sure what this would be like, returning to my old home. I never realized how well I know this road. I never realized that all those years winding aimlessly through these streets and shoveling snow off the driveway and laying restlessly in the grass, I was studying. I was memorizing. I was learning.

And now I look around at what is almost shockingly familiar, and I fall quickly back into a state of disinterest. A panoramic photo that I inhabit in real time, it’s once again just where I’m from, just where I lived.

But something’s different. There’s a veil around me, like a haze that turns all the saturated greens into distant shades. Maybe it’s the knowledge that although outside this house, I can never walk through that door again.

I feel like wind.

I look around almost desperately for any way to reach back into the past and retrieve some sort of comfort. I’ll take pictures, I think. I’ll make a painting of it. I’ll tattoo it onto my arm so I never forget what it looks like, and I’ll never forget that I’m from here, and that it’s mine, and I left but I came back, and I said no but now I’m saying yes.

I know it’s futile. Some decisions, I learned early in life, cannot be undone. I have begun the slow and treacherous process of growth, and I’ll face whatever that brings.

“Go,” I tell her. “I can’t look any more.”

Tears well up in my eyes as we drive away, and I whisper one last prayer into the hot Chicago night. May I always be as sure as I was that last summer here. Back when the world seemed manageable. Back when I didn’t yet believe in mistakes.

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