My grandmother’s house in Queens burned down this Spring. No one was in it while it blazed, but so much was lost. On my way to JFK airport last week, I visited the past for an hour or so.
I remembered the tree roots peaking through the cracked cement sidewalk, the jagged stereo sounds of little feet stomping, little mouths panting, gasping, laughing…Gram cutting and salting “pear” (Jamaican for avocado) while planes swooped into JFK at three-minute intervals, aunts and uncles lining the stairwell sipping tea and punctuating the room with their un-British patois, Super Mario Bros. jingles lilting over the scramble of Mahjong tiles, the orange glow of street lights slicing through the vertical blinds in the living room where I slept…
Memory is an odd thing because if you don’t think about the past, you somehow preserve it - or, I guess, you repeat it. I learned this from a Radiolab show on Memory and Forgetting — the more you remember something, the more you recreate that memory, pushing it further and further from what actually happened.
I never thought of the house we called “Ozone” - short for South Ozone Park, but fitting because it was in an orbit of its own.
Now, the walls are gone, the photos are gone, the kids are grown, the adults have moved away or passed on…the sidewalks are even, the air is quiet.
For a moment, I was sad that time had passed, that the house had burned down. I had my mother tear off some once-metallic silver and blue floral wallpaper that now looks funky and psychedelic all charred up. I’ll frame it as some relic…but it’s not enough.
Then I heard the Mister Softee truck around the corner and I was no longer there.