Back home. All memories seem bright until you get there:
Pittsburgh, my home, isn’t home anymore. Buildings are shabbier, streets more narrow, stores smaller, pavements more broken up, lawns weedier, properties needier. Store facades lack pizzazz, fashions seem grayer, people walk bent over, and hairstyles belong to the 1980s. Indeed, mullets haven’t died out there, and jagoffs still crowd the Parkway.
I don’t live there anymore. Home livens my dreams, though. I spent so much of my life there; it formed subterranean parts of me. But now I live in another place, sipping another culture, another state of mind.
“Home” speaks my vernacular. Home wears the gown of happy memory. Home sidewalks remember my skinned knees. Home parks have water fountains where I slurped away my thirst. Home benches remember nights I sat there looking across the river at the shining city. Home playgrounds hold my childhood.
Away: We’re away from the inevitable aging, concrete crumbling, roadways growing potholes. We forget the annoyances of overflowing sewers, flooding, and road closures. Traffic cones move from site to site, an ever present landscape feature, but we lose our way among the newly created maze—new to our minds at least. “Remember where that big pothole was that they didn’t fix for a couple’a years?” We dodged it every time, and now just ride over the smooth street, the pothole a trouble only in the past.
Local politics, local concerns, don’t interest me because I’m not a part of it anymore. The hallmarks of the community, saying “yinz” and wearing shirts emblazoned with Steelers or Pirates logos, color the culture. Familiar local landmarks take on an importance they never shone with when I lived there. Pointing to repurposed buildings we remember aloud, “That’s where Isaly’s used to be;” or looking toward South Side, “J&L used to cover that entire shore of the river, before the Cheesecake Factory.”
I can’t go back home. The people aren’t there anymore. The “kids” I hung out with are spread across the map. They’re getting ready for retirement and buying condos in Florida. My high school’s awe-inspiring facade hides behind a blocky addition; my university has new buildings across campus. Downtown features newer, brighter buildings. Even the subway stretches to new distances, under the Allegheny River to the North Side and the stadium.
This is not MY Home anymore, but it is an extension of it—another dimension, say. If I lived there still, I would not notice the changes in the ways I do now. I would be a part of the rerouted traffic, commuting to my job without comment, or grumbing about PennDOT like everyone else. Local problems would not seem so exotic or notable the hundredth time we encountered them.
I can’t go back home, but I can look at it again like a many-faceted jewel—preserved in a museum showcase, or worn proudly on my finger—and see the lights glinting from within.