The trees around my parents’ house have matured over the years. I pull into their driveway, and watch a group of teenage girls walk by, sporting trends I’m honestly no longer hip to. As a lit cigarette rotates from one girl to the next, I realize this is not the neighborhood I grew up in. These are not the girls I grew up with.
Although a few neighbors, like my ma and pops, have chosen to stand firm in their original, suburban stomping grounds, many of them have not. Houses of “Titas and Titos” are peppered around the block sparingly. Eventually, as I finished high school, my mom stopped ordering me to “Drop this off at _____’s house,” or, “Pick up food at _____’s house.” I guess my time as a Hunter Street delivery girl had come to an end…
As did many other things. Like the massive birthday parties in my backyard with kids playing musical chairs, and Bel Biv Devoe shouting “POISON!” from a boom box. Or the kickball games during the summer, when we would try to kick that iconic red ball as far as we could without hitting the neighbor’s windows. But the trees–they stayed the same. Most of them at least. The two in my front yard and the two in the back, all of which my grandfather planted. The same ones I climbed while wearing frilly dresses I was subjected to on Sundays. And even as I type these words onto my laptop, they give me a much needed break from the beaming rays of a six o’clock sun. They give me shade.
Now, I realize as a culture, America is fond of sunbathing. We want to be tan as a motherfucker all year round so we could “glow” and look “healthy.” The ironic thing is, it’s not very healthy at all. The sun can be pretty harmful. Ask ya boy, Bill Nye.
When I was going through some tough times, I would hope for the “sun to come out” (No Annie *Drake Hand*). Because, as the saying goes, “When it rains, it pours.” On other days, or weeks, or months when I was uninspired, I would wonder, “Where’d my spark go? Did I run out of flint? And–am I screwed because I don’t know how to start a fire with sticks like Bear Grylls?” No flames. Just a light breeze passing through (what I thought to be) emptiness.
It goes without saying (even though I’m totally going to say it) that sometimes we need the “rain” in our lives. We need the shade. Those moments when we feel as far from the sun as a Chicagoan during the Polar Vortex, sometimes they’re inescapably necessary. Because if the sun always shone, if life was always stayed the same, so would we. No growth, no cherishing of childhood memories. A flower that sits in the sun without water, without rest from unbearable heat, will turn into dust. A person who lives life without struggle, without rest from the shine of happiness or success, will take joy for granted.
As the sun sets, I remember my grandfather planting Filipino vegetables in his garden. I remember playing basketball in my backyard with my friends on my 10th birthday. That was the year I got the Space Jam VHS (still have it). As expected, most of those friends have moved away and in some cases, have started families of their own. This is definitely not the same neighborhood I used to bike through as a snap back-wearing, scrapped-knee-having little kid. But the trees are still here, and momentarily, so am I, welcoming the shadows of their leaves on my skin.