|Photo by Joe Mabel|
I always looked for you.
Every time I returned, I would look for you.
I would look for your 18 year old faces.
I would drive up I-5, pass the Starbird road exit and start looking to the left for the refinery smoke and the islands. I’d look to the right to see how many people had moved to Conway and hope for a brief glimpse of Mt. Baker. I would drive past the trumpeter swans and snow geese and wonder when the first tulip bloom would arrive in the fields. I’d pass Hillcrest Park and remember when the animals lived in those tiny cages. I would wander down the viaduct, past the revetment and the Tri Dee store and think of sandbags and floods. I’d pass the Mexico Café, rediscover old cravings, and continue on to explore the flat of the west side.
I’d drive pass the high school and wonder….what would I do differently? How many of you did I miss out on? Because, you know, I wasn’t so smart back then. I was scared back then.
I would come down the hill near the high school, pass the store that didn’t care if you were underage and then cruise Riverside on my way to the “new” mall. I would cross the bridge that eventually fell down, look down at the river below and mention that it looked a little high. I would roam the stores of that new mall and scan the crowd. I was sure the stores would be full of people I had gone to school with.
I was sure I would see you.
When I didn’t find you I told the husband that you must have all moved away. I was 22 or 35 or 41 when I looked for you. I remembered you all frozen in time. I was searching for your 18 year old faces.
I would leave the mall and say, “Can you believe this traffic? It wasn’t like this when I lived here.”
And then came Facebook. Facebook says we are friends again because we grew up there. We know people who know people. And the low self esteem part of me couldn’t be happier about that.
I’ve stalked your photos and none of us look like we are still 18 years old. I’ve stopped looking for the younger version of you when I visit the mall. Some of you though, let’s be honest, you had no idea who I was in high school. I probably knew who you were though. I was like that. I knew your name, I knew who you hung out with and I can tell you who you tried to be back then. I can tell you if you were more likely to hang out down by the tree, smoking whatever you had in your pocket or to debate Mr. Cornelius over philosophy and current events during lunch. I knew how many votes you got in the “Bulldog” high school newspaper superlative contest. I knew if you even cared about that kind of thing at all.
And then 28 years went by and I got a little bit of cancer.
There you were again. Suddenly. In droves. In person and through email and snail mail and on Facebook. Was I a hometown spectacle? Was I the gossip of the year? I didn’t care. I wasn’t the first. Lots of people from our class and our high school and town have been sick. Some have even died. Many people still need help and support.
Every time, you have showed up. You have made a difference. I never expected you to be here for me. I never expected you to care. But, I am grateful.
I thank you.
I went back to the Mexico Café recently with my dad. I knew, without a doubt, I was going to order a hamburger taco. The Mexico Café now advertises it on their menu as “our famous patty taco”. My daughter just returned from a semester in Mexico and would probably declare it, “not a real taco”.
It is however, a great taco. And I loved it.
It reminds me of your 18 year old faces and the things we share in common--our youth and our hometown. It reminds me now of your continued kindness. It reminds me of the journey we’ve all had. It reminds me of all that is good about growing up where we did.
It reminds me of home.
Check This Out!
If you ever find yourself wandering north on I-5 in Washington State, passing through Skagit County, and are in need of a nice meal to sustain you until you get to Canada, feel free to stop by the Mexico Cafe. They have a fantastic taco that will fill you right up.