home & abandonment

Bee's picture
Thu, 02/10/2011 - 21:00 -- Bee

One day we went out driving to look at all of Byron's youthful haunts. Our own disgruntled teenager quickly tired of the nostalgia tour so we turned the car toward modern entertainments.

The nearest movie theatre was at Westminster Mall but as we entered the parking lot something was most definitely not right.

Geese were nesting not just on traffic medians but straight across lanes. When Byron steered to avoid crushing them we noticed that the parking lot of what we remembered as the largest and busiest mall in the northwest Denver metro area was. . . entirely empty.

Baffled, we got out of the car and entered the building, where we found the movie theatre boarded. Storefronts abandoned. Food court empty.

The building was not closed - Spencer Gifts and a hybrid rug-and-scooter store are still operational, there were a half dozen customers wandering around, two or three security guards in attendance. Heat and electricity are on.

Someone with a sense of humour has established tableaux in the empty units - a vacant jewellery shop has a display of fake grass and a croquet set. Other stores have large fake flower arrangements, chairs and tables set up to look as though an important discussion has only just finished.

But the mall is most conclusively moribund.

Byron remembers the place when it opened, shopped here with his mother for years. My kids have had their photographs taken with Santa in the courtyard. Westminster Mall isn't just a collection of shops, it is a host of memories. In a place where lack of urban planning has allowed commercial development to become the heart of a community, the heart is suffering a long and protracted death.

I sat down next to the fountains, more shocked than I could articulate.

Living in a different country both distorts and clarifies feelings about the place you come from. I'm American, in a pure and deep way, by birth and affiliation. I grew up in a forest west of Seattle and I can still smell that place, still feel waves of homesickness for the mountains and water.

But the most significant proof that I am American is the fact that I dreamed myself European. I am a risk taker, a gambler, and, like my great-grandparents, a pioneer. I took what wasn't on offer, made something from nothing. I am now both urban and an expatriate.

What now, in the displacement? What precisely does being an American mean if I am travelling under a British passport? Sitting there in the abandoned mall, literally sick to my stomach but an eight hour flight away from the medical care I am entitled to receive, I wondered: what happens when you stop dreaming? What happens when you wake up, far away, and find that you don't want to go home? Where is home, what is home?

A year ago, desperate to move out of Cambridge, the inclination was to choose Berlin, Paris, San Francisco, New York City, anywhere, but I viewed them as temporary idylls. Without a second of deviation over forty years I have always thought of the Pacific Northwest as my home. The Puget Sound, the Olympics, the Cascades, high desert and wild ocean: home.

Now the reply has changed. I've acclimated. I've changed teams. Always prone to grand gestures, I have made a choice.

The word home means London.