Places: Back to Forest Hills
I grew up in Forest Hills, Queens. It had been many years since I returned for any length of time. I still know the streets by sight and can navigate around the neighborhood effortlessly. Save for a few changing storefronts, everything appeared mostly the same. Familiar landmarks anchored me. The park. The ice cream store. I was six years old again.
“How are your parents?” Juan, our doorman recognized me as I walked into my childhood home, an apartment building perched above a subway station on a major boulevard. He hadn’t seen me in over a decade.
I stepped foot into my former home on the 15th floor. The new owners graciously invited me upstairs to see it. Renovated, it was unrecognizable. Twenty years collapsed into minutes when I stood on the balcony, looking into the distance at the now-altered Manhattan skyline. Inside, I could still mark the spaces where I played, slept, ate. I told Mom that I saw the place. She got quiet. “How does it look?” They did a nice job, I said.
But some things were different. Neighbors had passed away. Others had grown visibly older, the passage of time marked in subtle ways on their faces and in their movements. For many, their now grown children lived elsewhere.
Life changes, evolves, reinvents itself. Even when it fades away, it still moves forward. In my return to this quiet and verdant pocket of New York City, I felt like I never really left because the people who remained all these years instantly, lovingly welcomed me back. They are what make my memories of this place, perhaps any place, so palpable.
My childhood friends have begun migrating back to Forest Hills to start their own families. Miniature versions of themselves swing on the same trees we swung on at the park that once seemed so vast. As these new lives are being built to which I am connected, I don’t have to let go of where I once lived. New anchors are put in place, and future memories can form and merge with those from the past.