This Nostalgia Is Killing Me
Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were. ~Proust
Remember the line in “Hotel California” about how you can check out any time you like, but can never leave?
I can never leave my past. No matter how painful or bitter or excruciating the memories are, I foolishly come back for more. Today I returned to a place I hadn’t been in years, the Opry Mills Mall, scene of the catastrophic 2010 flood. It is also the former location of the late, great Barnes and Noble store where I worked for one-sixth of my life. Now that the company as a whole seems headed down the same drain of oblivion as Borders, I hate to say I feel anything but remorse. Where once stood a proud, inviting bookstore, there is only a gaping black hole. It may never be filled again.
It’s been three years since the flood and the subsequent loss of my job (not to mention those of many of my friends). I hadn’t been back for the obvious reasons. It bloody well hurt. In some way it was like returning to the scene where a family member had suffered a sudden, violent death. The well-fed shoppers who walked past the empty storefront didn’t know and didn’t care that a bookstore once occupied that space. Hell, I’m sure a few of them are on their way to not knowing what a book is. I, on the other hand, stood mute and deeply saddened in a private moment of silence. I felt like some military officer should have been playing “Taps” in the background, because the store is obviously never coming back.
This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this killing nostalgia this year. I returned to several places I’d avoided, by choice or not, for years or even decades. Inevitably they’d all changed. Some no longer existed at all. Where now stood a vacant lot or a sparkling new Panera Bread Company, once held the site of vivid memories, of childhood games or teary breakups or heartfelt epiphanies. The current tenants had no idea. I did, and despite my self-imposed ban on crying, I couldn’t help myself. I even cried over the loss of the store with the Elvis statuette out front. People are dying in wars and I’m crying instead over the dearth of a statue. I know, I’m an idiot.
The funny thing is, the damn mall wasn’t even there when I first came to what I now consider to be my own Hotel California. It was a theme park, a hokey place with a log-flume ride and a booth where my mom and I pretended to pose for a Victorian photograph. How many of the busy shoppers even knew that?
Maybe I’ll bring a wreath next time I come out there…if there is a next time. I’m not sure I could handle it again, even if Mall 2.0 has a store solely devoted to selling Converse shoes. Saving five bucks is not worth having my heart ripped out and trampled upon.
I’d thought about visiting the small town where I spent a large chunk of my childhood. At this point it’s probably not worth it if the rolling meadows and frog ponds I remember have given way to a Wal-Mart and a trailer park. Pave paradise and put up a parking lot if you must, but damn you if you’ll spoil my memories.
Dedicated to all my friends, and even casual acquaintances, from 2016. I miss you guys.
What has been your experience going back to places you remember?
Coming next week: Interview with the Site Mascot (finally!)