Most people experience an indescribable surge of emotion when visiting their hometown especially after a long absence. In 2010, I visited my hometown for the first time in nine years. I felt nothing. No warm emotions, no involuntary rush of happy memories, no tears of joy. My first and last observation was how much the place has deteriorated. Everything looked cramped and gray — the color probably a result of the greasy exhaust from the trucks and jeepneys that ply the streets 24/7.
Our house though was pretty much the way it was. Older, definitely, but since the property was never subdivided for reselling, it was still huge by usual standards. Two houses, my mother’s and and my grandmother’s, in some 1500 square meter lot. Still lots of fruit trees, still a lot of flowers. One could almost pretend that it was a different world. But one only had to look beyond the perimeter fence to be jolted back to reality. It’s still the same place. And beyond the fence were the narrow alleys, tightly squeezed houses and the pervasive gray look.
Yesterday, we were there again. But, unlike that visit in 2010, my mother was no longer there. She passed away last summer, my brother and I always meant to organize the stuff she left behind, we started but never finished and my brother simply put everything on storage. It was noon when we got there but despite the blazing light of the noonday sun, it felt strange inside the house. Not creepy strange but alien strange. Perhaps, it shouldn’t have felt that way. I grew up there. Speedy, the girls and I lived there for a few years before we moved to the suburb. It should feel familiar and comforting. But it didn’t. It just didn’t.
It’s not that I don’t have happy memories of childhood. I do. But that place we visited in 2010 and again, yesterday, is not the place that I saw through a child’s eyes. Back then, we knew the neighbors, we were even friendly with the neighbors and there were enough greens to allow my brother and me to chase dragonflies. But it isn’t like that anymore. When Speedy, the girls and I moved there in the late 90s, most of the old neighbors had sold their properties and there were just strangers — shady characters who drank, gambled and played loud music all day. So, we moved to the suburb.
But it’s still the same house. Surely, my mind and my heart should feel solace there even when just visiting. What can I say except that there is no such feeling? Nothing stirs deep inside me when I go there. And it really has nothing to do with the deterioration of the neighborhood. It has everything to do with my inability to form an attachment with an inanimate object. Like a house. A house is just a shell. What makes it a happy place is the presence of loved ones and the memories created there.
I felt exactly the same way when visiting our old house in the suburb. The first house we bought and lived in for seven years until we sold it to buy this one. It should feel special. Seeing it should feel sentimental. But I felt nothing the few times we passed by. It was just a house. Someone else’s house. It didn’t even look familiar anymore.
When the time comes for us to move again, and I’m really hoping that we will be able to afford the move soon, I’ll probably feel nothing too if I come and visit this house. It’ll be just like the house I grew up in and the first house that we bought. Just a house.