6:17pm, 19 September 2015
En route to sign the lease for my first apartment and over halfway up University Drive, my gaze catches on a building that I had always overlooked before. Polished windows gleam from its nearest wall and the brownish brick mass itself marks an abrupt shift from the green of the lawn. At the same time, however, there is something about these contrasting forms that meshes seamlessly: grass against bricks. Partially enveloped by the hill as it is, the union seems to beg the idea that it has grown with this town, perhaps an integral part of what makes it up. A more likely story is that it’s similarly overlooked by most, and that it only means much of anything to the few people who care to know it. The fanfare-like gold lettering adorns its burgundy awnings in a desperate way: “CANNON & VAN ALLEN, LLP. ATTORNEYS.”
At a time when letters of the alphabet were still indecipherable symbols to me, I recall another place like this one, just around the corner from my house. Once a deli, then a bakery, and now just vacant space, I never knew the true names of this shapeshifting establishment. In its two most recent lives, the building had labelled itself with forgettable titles; like the attorney’s office, these marked their territory proudly, with a touch of desperation. Back then all I knew these places for were the delicacies they had to offer: kid-sized cheese subs and Snapple drinks and half-moon cookies. Our parents treated us to these on lazy afternoon days when my brother had recently learned to walk. We usually went on weekends at that point because I had started pre-school, but these visits were always looked forward to.
Walking back around the street corner to our house one time, clutching with both hands a cookie that felt bigger than my head, I tripped over a sidewalk crack and scraped my nose. I guess I had decided to fall on my face rather than drop my prize. But even as tears began to well, the hint of a grin still lingered below the spot a scab would form.
I realize now that we went to places like these because we were poor. The “delicacies” we were treated to were, in actuality, all we could afford. And yet I used to feel so wealthy; wealthier than I have since I’ve had my own jobs and made such multitudes more than we were given back then. Disguised as this reality was by my mother, however, it was the last thing I would have guessed. She used to also take my brother and me to our local dollar-store, where she would implement a similar approach. Not understanding completely how money worked at the time, our eyes grew wide when she would hand us each a dollar to spend. “You’re rich!” she would inform us, “You can buy any one thing in this entire store!” Of course we would then deliberate for thirty minutes at least over which item to decide on. Some favorites of mine were sticker packs, coloring books, and these multicolored pill-shaped capsules that when dropped into water would expand into little animal-shaped sponges. My brother usually opted for foam swords and other toy weapons.
The fact that we could buy any one thing at the Dollar Tree wasn’t a lie at all, but she often would tell us like this of our “wealth” and “richness,” both in this context and in that of our visits to the shop down the street. I know now that this couldn’t be true–at times we barely scraped up the cash for ramen-noodle dinners. Her lies were nothing but benevolent though, born of the kind of care that simply wished us never to be in want.
Now passing by this half-consumed office on University, I wonder if its owners or the people that do business there ever had money trouble; if they ever knew how to tell a lie to a child in the best of ways and to make riches out of spare change. I wonder if this building has ever shifted its form to take on new, less bankrupt, owners. And most of all I wonder if it too will one day fade into vacant space as the corner-shop from my childhood did, even though for some people it must seem so essential now.
I turn the corner onto Main Street, toward my future apartment. This flash of memory has come as a welcome reminder about the spaces we come to occupy–most are temporary, but much like the milestones of our lives, all are necessary. We pass through these places at varying degrees of swiftness, and with little regard for their impermanence. But looking back, a sense of distant fondness is always playing at the edges. Even memories of hardship tend to be tinged with a sweetness, and knowing this puts me at ease. I’m ready to take the next step.
Lily Codera studies English at SUNY Geneseo and is originally from Rochester, NY. She started writing/telling stories as a toddler and hopes to one day make a few dollars similarly throwing words around. In her free time, Lily has been known to buy way too many pairs of socks and cry at movies such as Terminator 2.