Visited a park by my childhood home

Brown leaves on tree

This past weekend, I visited Penitencia Creek Park, a quiet, family-friendly park by my childhood home in San Jose. It was a calm Sunday morning, just at the cusp of sunrise. I came hoping to see ducks trodding along the beaten paths and perhaps to grasp at remnants of my youth. Old people clad in puffer jackets still embarked on their morning walks, while younger people still let their dogs poop on the vast grounds (lots of German Shepherds, by the way).

But physically, much of the park was now a wash of wizened beige and gray due to drought. There were no ducks. There wasn’t even a creek anymore, just an empty crater around dusty trails. As I circled the park and watched the sun rise gently, nostalgia escaped me, and closure, tinged with a subtle melancholy, replaced it. 

Brown leaves on tree

I didn’t know much about the park until I came home from college a few years ago. When I moved back to San Jose from Berkeley, I spent many weekend mornings meandering around the park while sulkily contemplating my editorial career (or the lack thereof). Back then, the park was also a spot for a few laidback friend meetups and lousy dates with people I thought were going to be in my life for longer. The last time I remember going there was when I shot my brother for a film class with loose ambitions of working in movie production one day. He wore a tweed suit like the Doctor from Doctor Who while chasing bubbles and rainbow petaled flower pinwheels. That was about four years ago, right before the pandemic hit.

Penitencia Creek’s now a place where I think a lot about what could’ve been. It’s funny that it’s called Penitencia, because these sad thoughts did make me feel like I was paying penance for my past mistakes when it came to work and relationships.

Penitencia Creek

I’ve always likened the park to the River Styx, as it emerged as connective tissue between my childhood and young adulthood. Funny enough, the community center right by the park was where I went to my first high school dance, so you could say that it bridges my coming of age in a way. (I was a socially anxious wreck and holed myself up in a room rereading Anne of Green Gables after watching classmates grind to Far East Movement’s “Like a G6″.)

Have you ever watched that episode of The Twilight Zone called “Walking Distance”? A jaded big-city executive returns to his countryside hometown only to realize that he’s gone back almost three decades in time. He meets his parents and his childhood self. No one recognizes him for a while, and eventually, he gets on a carousel with his younger self and returns to adulthood. 

It’s moments like these when I think about that episode, moments when I feel overwhelmed by adulthood and try to beckon some sense of comfort in nostalgia to no avail. Really, I mostly feel sympathetic towards that aimless past version of myself. And, in a way, it makes me grateful for the present, despite how precarious adulthood can feel. 

Love more hate less sign

I no longer live in that childhood home, and I’ve made some of my dreams work with a few bumps in the road and shifts in perspective. My relationships have changed, some untethered, others tightened. It’s weird. I’m at peace with what never was and where I am now. 

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