This week began the demolition of another of my childhood landmarks, what I knew as Crestwood Plaza in the suburbs of St. Louis. When I heard a couple years ago that it was going to fall, I felt a need to be there for part of the event, to see its demise for myself. But now I am not so sure I want to do that. I feel like I have personally witnessed enough of my past being physically erased and should keep my attention instead on my future. But I can’t help seeing my life as an internet video that is playing faster than it is loading, the live action bar at the bottom of the screen methodically gaining on the one representing the unknown story yet to come.
This began twenty years ago, with development near my elementary school that brought down the giant tree in the schoolyard around and upon which I spent much time playing with my two best friends. The stage of many of my childhood fantasies was literally broken into pieces.
Then for a while, change in the scenery of my life occurred in a positive way–buildings and cities expanded, reaching with greatness into what I only remembered as empty spaces. When Busch Stadium was torn down and simultaneously replaced with a better model, it was a Phoenix reborn from itself, and I understood the benign concurrence of history and destiny.
Yet, when my college dorm (I never called it a residence hall like I was apparently supposed to), a place I lived in for nine semesters, was demolished to make way for green space in front of the university hospital expansion, I could not accept it. They deliberately unbuilt my home and didn’t even put up a parking lot. I was able to procure for myself and some friends several fragments of the building’s stonework skin. I just couldn’t let go.
At the house in which I grew up, little has noticeably changed, save for the absence of one more ash, oak, or maple from the front yard every time I return to see my parents. The protectors of my home from the blazing summer sun, the source of peaceful, wispy sounds on a breezy days and chirping newborns in springtime, gone. The towering giants I once played around have been felled, leaving only open, hilly plainness. Dad won’t let me buy him a sapling or two to place in their stead.
A vacation spot branded into my memory forever succumbs to wildfire. A youthful dream of flying in space on a planelike shuttle is archived when the fleet is forever retired.
Lastly, but not the least striking, are the changes in the people I know. Neighborhood kids and school classmates have their own kids now, who today are the same age I thought I was yesterday. Relationships end. Loved ones are lost. My own body begins to be unrecognizable to me, as I experience pains and worries I never dreamed of as a boy telling others what I wanted to be when I grew up. Why does anyone ever want to grow up?
But I still talk about to those around me, once in a while, my hopes about life “when I grow up,” and I believe I will do that until the day I die. Part of me refuses to grow up, and in that place, trees will ever stand tall, acquaintances will always be young, I’ll retreat for quiet study or friendly deliverance from stress in my college dorm, and I’ll walk the mile and a half from home that ends in the bustling sounds and candy store smells of Crestwood Plaza.
The familiar and the favorite continue to alter with obscurity as they age, and I with them.
But inside my heart, some things never change.