Where We All Went
Dreaming about a simpler time and place
Alejandro J. Diaz
The other night I dreamt that I was back in the old neighborhood looking up childhood friends. I went from block to block searching for a familiar face. The first street I came upon was Springfield, where my family had purchased its first home. I spent the better part of my adolescence in that neighborhood. The area was mostly made up of hard working Mexican families and my generation was the first American born so we all shared a common background, and in a way we were shielded from the rest of the city. It was like being part of a small town.
Published on LatinoLA: January 16, 2004
I came across what used to be the Lopez Residence. Dave Lopez Jr. was my best friend while growing up. We were inseparable in elementary school. We liked the same girls, we were on the same baseball team, we both loved the Bears; we were best buds. Dave had two older brothers and their parents had renovated their attic into a sort of teen-age bachelor pad. I used to love sleeping over there, we?d watch TV late into the night and talk for hours, just like grown ups. Dave and I would also spend all afternoon at the park playing basketball.
As I opened the gate to 2783 South Springfield I felt like that little boy who would religiously visit his friend every weeknight after dinner. I rang the doorbell and as I waited for someone to answer I couldn?t help but notice how small everything looked to me now: The windows, the gate, and even the door itself weren?t as big as I had remembered.
Someone finally answered, it was a man and he wasn?t Dave, Jack, Jesse, or even their father, Mr. Lopez. There was a complete stranger now living in Dave?s house. I don?t know what I expected I guess someway, somehow, I wanted little David Lopez to be at that door. That way, logically, I too would be a kid again. But as I realized that this was not the case, I apologized for mistakenly knocking on the wrong house and left.
I walked down the street next looking for Ismael Rodriguez?s old address. This time around I resigned myself to being satisfied with whoever came to the door with having some recollection of the Rodriguez?s. Izmo, as we called him back then, was my brother?s best friend. We had spent many a day at his house watching TV, playing with his dog, or talking about the Cubs. On and off throughout the years Izmo had kept in touch with us. At his point though it had been a while since we had last heard from him.
An elderly woman answered my knock. When I asked about Izmo and his family, she said she had never heard of them. I wanted to press the issue. Maybe if she thought hard enough she would remember having known of them somehow. It wasn?t as if we had left the neighborhood fifty years ago, it was only half that. I wanted so desperately to validate this aspect of my life. Nonetheless the old woman was adamant about never having heard of the Rodriguez clan. My search continued.
I decided to try one more old friend?s house. This time though I?d have to walk to the other side of the neighborhood to get to Saul Ramirez?s place. I followed the exact route I had used for years on my way to school. Come rain or shine my little brother and I walked from Springfield Street all the way to Central Park Avenue. In the warmer months it was a nice walk in the winters it was a bit more trying but also a lot more fun. We?d have snowball fights along every block of the way. We?d slip and slide on the ice, and make angels in the new powder. After living in Florida and now California I can barely stand it when it drops below 60 degrees. It?s hard to believe that long ago I actually loved the Chicago winters.
When you?re young, and life is simply happening, you never take note of things like-walking through your neighborhood on the way to school for the last time, or sleeping over your best friend?s house for the last time, or playing in the snow with your buddies for the last time. It all just kind of happens. I guess it?s best that way; it does indeed allow you to move on without thinking twice about it.
On my way to Saul?s I remembered that Maria Quintana lived right up the street from him and I decided to visit her instead. Maria was the prettiest girl in our school. I was crazy about her. She had big brown eyes, long black hair, and smooth unblemished skin. Regrettably, I was shy and never told her how I felt.
I slowly walked up the stairs to the Quintana home. In that instant I again felt like that quiet boy back in grade school, I began to sweat, my hands got clammy, and my heart was beating a hundred times a minute. After, what seemed a lifetime, I finally pressed the doorbell. I waited and waited but there was no answer. Feeling a bit silly by now, I decided to finally abandon my quest to reconnect with this world that I had once been a part of. I started down the stairs ready to never look back again when all of a sudden someone opened the door. It was a beautiful young woman, about twenty-five years of age; she had a baby in her arms.
For a minute I thought it was Maria: I?d finally have the chance to tell her how I had felt about her, and maybe also catch up on the last two decades of our lives. Then it hit me Maria wouldn?t be a woman in her twenties she would have now been in her late thirties, just like me. No matter how badly I wanted that young lady standing in front of me to be Maria Quintana, she wasn?t. I simply told the woman that I was lost and walked away. And just then, as abruptly as it had started, my dream was over. I woke to a strange sense of longing, the kind you know can never be filled.
They say dreams represent anxieties that may be occurring at that particular moment. I?m sure in these points of our lives we long for a simpler time and place, a place where we felt completely safe, a time when our parents were young and strong, a place where the sun shined brighter than ever, a time when life seemed endless. We can never really go back to those days but sometimes, if we?re lucky, our dreams may allow us to return, for at least until we are awakened by our contemporary existence.
Alejandro J. Diaz:
Alejandro J. Diaz is a writer who is proud to participate in this wonderful forum that Abelardo has given us.