The world looks different when your days are numbered.
It’s really all the same as before. The same streets, same buildings, same trees, same trains, but it all means something new. Knowing that these staples, this backdrop to your life won’t be yours for much longer.
They’ve been building that apartment complex since you were a freshman. You’ve spent all sorts of days, standing on the platform at Queensboro Plaza, sometimes reveling in the fresh air, sometimes huddling against the cold, the rain, the snow. You’ve bounced in place with an urgency, cursed the MTA gods and the 7 train. You’ve felt soul-consuming relief at the sight of an express rounding the turn, screeching to a halt in front of you.
And every day it’s been there. Construction workers hopping up and down the floors on a cleaning scaffold. They’re building a building from scratch, hard hat workers of the 21st century. Sometimes you’ve watched.
It’s taller than when you first saw it. Obviously. It keeps climbing. You wonder when they’ll stop.
You take the 7 train towards Flushing Main Street. Or the N towards Astoria-Ditmars. You leave the building behind, exchange it for a ride through Construction City.
Your building- you feel a sort of ownership of it, like it belongs to you and your mid-afternoon adventures to the LIRR- is one of dozens in varying states of assembly.
There’s a machine placing steel rods in the cement foundation. There’s one with the first five floors complete. There’s one missing windows. Another that’s just a frame. One that’s a hole in the ground, a perfect square.
It reminds you of a game you used to play on your computer. You had to build a city, buy buildings to make money to buy more buildings. You would drop down an apartment complex and in seconds and three frames, the building would go from a patch of grass to a wooden frame to a perfectly complete new structure.
These won’t take seconds. They’ll take years before they’re actually places, years before they stop reaching towards the sky, years until this little area in Queens, right by the river, right by the bridge, will be mistakable for the concrete jungle on the other side.
You won’t be here to see it.
You wonder, if you come back, will you even recognize it. You wonder how it’ll be different, more people. You wonder if you’ll get a seat on the train in this new city. You wonder if you’ll go a few stops down and see more holes and frames and starts, construction city, always growing.
You wonder, if others come back, look around, and see holes in the ground where their buildings- the ones they claim some ownership of, witnesses to their routines- once stood.
You can leave Construction City behind, but its spirit follows you home.
It’s cold out. New York heading back into the Ice Age for a few months. Despite this you walk, coat pulled tight around your shoulders.
You pass a sign for the new Home Goods at the mall , the one that stands where Barnes & Noble, your Barnes & Noble once stood, the sacred ground, housing your childhood memories, hours of reading on the grey carpeted floor, your first Harry Potter book, laughing with friends before you all became so busy. It fills you with a wave of nostalgia and then rage.
What good is a Home Goods anyway? Who needs curtains or pans anyway? (It’ll never feel like a home, and the irony is not lost on you.)
You pass the Brazilian Massage Therapy – center?, shop? – and the Caffe Bene, the one you never went to but always said you would. There used to be a Tiger Schulmann’s on this corner, but who needs karate when you can get a coffee and a massage instead?
Across the street is the Pizzeria Uno. They repainted it. You hadn’t noticed yet. It used to be green wood and now it was white and red with a blue trim. You’re not too bothered by the change. The service is still probably terrible and the pizza probably still tastes like cardboard, they’ll still have dinosaur chicken nuggets on the kid’s menu and the one in Astoria will always be a million times better.
You keep going, down the Boulevard, still the one busy place in your neighborhood, the only place to go to do anything. Except you never do anything.
You didn’t realize they opened a new Greek place, a half a block away from the other Greek place, the one you love. You don’t know where the pet store went, and it seems their closing the bakery and their little chalkboard sign always advertizing fresh cupcakes and ‘Help Wanted’.
But there’s a new this and that store. They painted over the mural at the gas station, the one on the side of the street closer to the park. They put a Santa hat on the plastic cow on the window of the Milk Farm Market.
They may not be knocking down buildings and putting up new ones, but you wonder the same things.
You grew up here, lived your life here. This little town that you hate and that seems to hate you. Yet there was a time, before you spent most of your day outside of this town, that you knew it like the back of your hand, could recreate the streets in your mind without a second thought.
And now it’s different. But you’re different too.
You remember a time when the only building that reached more than three stories off the ground was the apartment complex by the bay. But now, right in the middle of the Boulevard, at the edge of the commercial-residential border of the town, there’s a building soaring above the street. Nothing like in the city, maybe a mere six stories, eight max, but calling itself a plaza, claiming to be the home of corporate offices. It’s grey and rectangular, and it makes you feel…
It makes you think that construction city will follow you home. It makes you think that home won’t look like home for much longer.
You reach home, pull out your key and go inside.
This is home, changing, but quickly before your eyes, every day a variation, yet the important things remain the same.
Only it won’t be home for much longer. You wonder how long before you come back and don’t recognize it at all.
You wonder how long until you come back and none of this, not home, not the town, not the city, will recognize you.