It was called an anchor store, but in the middle of the dusty lot, the Target looked more like a rudderless ship that had pulled away from its moorings. I put the car in park and stared at my Garmin in disbelief, certain that the cheeky computer had lied to me and sent me driving into the urban equivalent of the ocean. It was, however, right.
I was home.
I approached the beginnings of the strip mall, my apartment’s footprint holding signage that screamed “Coming Soon: Michael’s, Best Buy and Barnes and Noble.” It could be seen from the interstate and I wondered if out-of-towners would be so easily convinced to stop and buy things they could easily find in overabundance at home. Locals, of course, used the highway to bypass traffic, but surely they already knew about the mall. Why did the sign have to block out the sun?
I wasn’t certain what bothered me more, that these stores existed in the first place or that my first home no longer did. If I had known what was happening, if I’d still lived in town when the bulldozers arrived, what would I have done? I can’t imagine that I would have chained myself to the apartment door or something drastic like that, but I’d have at least taken a few pictures for posterity. I would have walked through the parking lot one last time, retracing the steps that my husband and I took on walks during our newlywed year.
I squatted and picked up a handful of dirt, watching as my past drifted through my fingers. Had the construction workers who leveled the apartment complex really thought about what they were doing? Not likely. To them it was another job, a way to put money in the bank. For them the smell of dirt and cement was that of progress and the noise and constant movement was the future. It hadn’t really mattered in the end that I had left part of myself there in that concrete and brick one bedroom apartment in west Memphis. Time moves forward. Progress is inevitable. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like my heart was under the rubble. I only lived there a year, but it was a year of independence and excitement, my first time truly away from home. That small first-floor apartment near the railroad tracks, the one with the stray cat that adopted my windowsill as its shelter during thunderstorms was me. The fact that it was gone seven years after I moved away was devastating. It felt as if a part of me ceased to exist.
Rising, I watched the workers for a few minutes before heading back to my car. I know this sort of thing happens to us all when we reach a certain point in our lives, when we’ve lived long enough to notice the effects of change. I just didn’t think I’d see it when I was 36.