I am wandering once again. My face is no longer smiling and I find myself on 29th street looking for comfort. There is something timeless about Astoria. A quick walk to the subway is filled with familiar faces and small businesses that seem they’ve been there for an eternity. Nothing has changed, Sac’s Pizza is still on the corner, although slightly modernized, and the surrounding buildings are still decorated in subtle fashion. The first time I ever crossed the street unattended was to buy candy from the deli on Broadway and 29th street. Here it is, and the owner recognizes me instantly. “Swedish Fish today?” – No, today is a Kit Kat kind of day.
The nostalgia is instant. Chocolate in hand, I continue down the block I was raised in. Life was easier in the 90s, things made sense. Running in and out of those buildings holding water guns, playing “Ding-Dong Ditch” for hours seemed appropriate. Adding roller-skates to the picture caused immediate frenzy between my parents, but what did they know…
Ah, the metal gate doors on 31-62 look as wary as they did 11 years ago. The rounded handles are immaculate. I don’t want to open them. Peeking through the iron designs, the entrance is picturesque. Dejavu. I’ve been here before, this week. Perhaps it was a dream. Yes, I remember it now. Colorful, slow motion, blurry. No one was home, no one is ever home in my dreams. The entrance was the same, but the doorbell wasn’t there. I couldn’t ring, I couldn’t question, and suddenly, I couldn’t scream. “Let me in,” I wanted to say, “I want to go home.” I was home, but the apartment was inaccessible. Waking up covered in sweat. New home. I want to go back to sleep and dream of home again.
Moving down the 6 steps, the dry shrubbery looking tired as ever, lightly brush my shoulder. Instead of taking the cemented path, I tiptoe to the red bricks that keep the shrubbery from overflowing. Stepping on one brick at a time, hopping over the space in between, I am suddenly confronted by the water fountain that splits the path in two. When I was 8, I thought the large fountain was a pool, since every summer the super allowed a few of us to swim while the water endlessly splashed our little faces. I never quite understood the purpose of that fountain – always empty, except during hot summer days. Why is there an empty fountain with a small statue of a couple hugging under an umbrella, right in the middle of these two enormous buildings? Perhaps it’s an accident. I like to think of it as tangible still-life. I imagine the grey monument breathes life into the morbid entrance, despite it’s sad emptiness…
Down the left path, you will find yourself in 31-72, but if you follow me, I will take you through the building where my happiest memories called home. First, walk with me around the fountain and past my building’s entrance. Beyond this new path, which is merely old cement powdered with dirt, I see the old playground. Wait, there is a change. I cannot breathe. Upset stomach. Nausea.
Once, a large rectangular dirt area with a few park benches, we kids loved to call playground, now a neatly grassed area with the same benches but with the addition of swings and collections of wild flowers. Grass? Why? Where is the dirt? There is no longer room for imagination. The swings are very real. I can smell the flowers. Yellow daffodils, my favorite – but not here. Not now. I came for solace, for comfort, for stability. Come, let’s leave, I no longer feel the need to enter my building for nothing is the same, everything is different.
© 2013 Stephanie Alfaia Gomes All Rights Reserved