I’ve been trying to figure out how this trip will change me. Which of my core beliefs will be reshaped? Which opinions transformed? I know that those are questions that are impossible for me to answer as of now, but I can’t help but think about them.
I’ve been in Atlanta for a little under 2 months, and I’ve had plenty of time to reflect. After giving up an amazing job, selling most of my things, and leaving a city that I love, I’ve been in a weird holding pattern in the city that I spent the first 18 years of my life, waiting for my trip to start.
I’ve traveled my old stomping grounds, and seen old friends. I’ve changed a lot since I left this city, and this city has changed a lot without me. A much different person once called the room I’m sleeping in home. My system of morality, ways of thinking, and beliefs about everything from the origin of life to the utility of shoe laces are diametrically opposed to what they once were.
My old “working class” neighborhood is now unrecognizable after passing through the crucible of gentrification. Now the young professionals that live there call it “hip” and “up and coming”, but when I walk through it looks and feels nothing like home. I guess it fits that they’ve given it a new name.
The young professionals don’t have kids yet, so John B. Gordon elementary is abandoned and now in limbo before it’s turned into some high-priced lofts or a parking lot. My first school now sits idle and empty, a fenced-in pathetic shell of its former self. It has an eery silence about it, boarded up and bruised. I don’t know how long the building has been vacant, but the thick ivy, weeds, and plywood that adorn the outside suggest that children’s laughter haven’t echoed off of those walls for many years.
I’ve driven by that place many times since I’ve been back, always wondering what it was like inside. I went by with my camera and a flash light one day to find out. After hopping the fence, it seemed like each step brought back a memory. There was the spot where we used to line up in our starched shirts and slacks before filing into the auditorium for the end of the year honor roll program. There was the spot that I got destroyed at dodgeball. The jungle gym and swing set are gone, but their foundations are still there.
I broke a window and climbed inside to be greeted by the dank smell of mildew and a dense network of cobwebs. I was standing inside a classroom, only this one was carpeted by a thick coat of moss. As I stepped into the dark hallway, the silence was broken by the crunch of detached and brittle floor tiles under my feet. Some classrooms are littered with mangled light fixtures that have long since fallen from the ceiling. There are gaping holes in the roof that provide enough light and moisture to support a burgeoning forrest anchored in the ground up floor tiles and grout. I can’t help but imagine myself sitting in these rooms 20 years ago, napping or wondering when we could go outside while the teacher drills multiplication tables.
I came to Atlanta excited about how this trip was going to change me. The time I’ve spent here reminds me that change is constant. Life changes you, time shapes your beliefs, and new experiences transform old opinions.