All of the houses on 19th street were older than me. Older than my parents. Older than my grandparents. The historic neighborhood, right outside of the Capital Campus had rows upon rows of houses with thin windows and unique shapes.
Through the tall archway dividing the living and dining room was an old wooden table. To any random guest, it probably looked quite normal, fairly clean, and shiny despite its age. But what those over 4 feet tall didn’t see was its underside. Unrecognizable as the once maple-colored wood, it was coated in layer after layer of marker and crayon. Not the usual kindergarten doodles of lopsided flowers and ugly dogs, but instead secret messages written in rich colors. Scribbles with meaning. Laying on my back head to head with Leo, staring into the hypnotizing shapes, repeated without spaces.
“Watch out for cracks please.” warned my mom, as Amelia and I skipped down the sidewalk holding hands. How cliche of us. Every sidewalk inside and around the Capital Campus was incredibly uneven. Even after living there for almost your whole life as I had, a jagged edge could catch you off guard and smack you down onto the pavement in a matter of seconds. However, we were in a hurry to get to the Toy Tree, so this didn’t especially matter. The Toy Tree was an old friend. He had a sculpted set of tired-looking eyes and a crooked nose stuck into his loose bark right above a gaping hole of a mouth, hollowed out and left as a trading post for small treasures by children long before us. Those tired eyes would probably look kind to me now if I went back to visit him, but as a child, I could never quite bring myself to look directly at them. Maybe he would raise an eyebrow as I walked past, or need a double-take, just barely recognizing me as the kid who used to live down the street.
Some people grow up and remember their childhood through stories told over and over and over again. Or an old doll or book. I see mine in pictures. Vivid snapshots of the more unremarkable experiences I’ve had. I don’t hide behind couches anymore, destroy furniture, or find myself skipping very often, and when I do go back to 19th street, reality looks different from the images I hold in my memories. The tree is smaller, and our pointy purple stucco is closer to gray. Friends moved away just like we did, and a new family calls my house their home. I still recognize my old street the moment I enter it though, the way I recognize myself when I catch my reflection in a window. I’d like to think that it recognizes me too.