Nia Hampton | Monday September 4th 2017
Eventually, returning home feels less scary. The more you do it. The easier it gets. Packing all your clothes. Rolling your denim jeans into those tight rolls to make more space in your bag. Sitting on the luggage to close the suitcase. Taking out clothes at the airport because your luggage is too heavy. Sleeping on flights and sorting out who will be the first person to see your face after being gone for so long. When you returned to Baltimore after traveling for a year in South America, you cried as you and your mother drove through the south west part of the city. You forgot how black the city is. How large and historic the homes are. How hardwood floors and bricks are customary here. How deciduous forests are just waiting to take back their land, as vines grow through row homes long abandoned. The color palette of this city is green like the leaves of the many trees, clay red like the dusty bricks of the homes and black like the skin of it’s citizens. Baltimore is a unique place. A space that you grow to learn more about every time you return. It’s your gruff grandfather who has a story for you every time he sees you. His large rough hands always ready to embrace you. Wanting to hear of your exploits but grateful to have you home because things are changing and the family could use your young blood and youthful energy to fix some things around the house. All your little cousins who are dying of thirst in the city see you and know that not only is it possible to leave, but maybe it’s not so bad to return if you feel so inclined.
You notice how much has changed. How empty certain areas feel. How populated and gentrified other neighborhoods have grown. How North Ave, a main artery in Baltimore is changing in ways that make you smile but also make you wary. Someone planted baby trees on the street. And sometimes they even clean the sewers and although this should make you smile, you know better than to trust what you’re seeing. You know those trees are not for you or any any of the current residents. You make friends with the young professionals in the city, some of them work in development and as you’re driving them down North Ave, they stare out the window and say, “all of this is going to change.” Your grandfather is aging and changing, and sometimes so forgetful that it scares you. “Soon all of this will be gone.” Your grandfather with all his charm and swag is still something that will one day change. “Everything will be different.” Not for a long time they say, but maybe sooner than you think. One day you might be able to leave your home on the West Side of the city and walk to a Whole Foods. There are already so many more cranes in the sky then you remembered. Since you were last home, friends are getting married, and some have died. Some are being born while historical monuments are being pulled off their thrones in the middle of the night. Those boys on the block that used to harass you as you walked your teen aged self home from school? Most of them are dead or in jail. There’s a new set of bored youth setting up shop on the corner, you don’t recognize them, but you’ve heard that they don’t play either. Some things don’t change and you’re conflicted but comforted. You know you have to find your place in this old yet new place. But you don’t know where to start. People ask you how long will you stay this time. And you don’t know what to say.