With a scheduled in-service day for the public school system, my son is spending his day with me, on my work from home day. I leave him to his morning routine of writing or gaming, with promises of us sharing lunch together, as I retreat to my home office downstairs. Noon arrives and, after a lunch of left-overs from a birthday party, we are loaded into the car for a joy ride, sort of.
I have been tasked with picking up two pairs of basketball shoes from DICK’S Sporting Goods. Within twenty-five minutes, we arrive at the distant neighborhood location to purchase the shoes. Two pair of pink and black semi-high-top shoes for the basketball girls of my family have been acquired, check. As we head back home, I have an idea to drive past my old stomping grounds, also known as Century III Mall—previously featured in Memory Mall. My goal is to photograph the arcade, and at my last check, in the beginning of the year, it was still in business.
I park the car on the appropriate end of the mall, and enter through the glass doors, immediately (un)welcomed by a posted sign on the arcade door. They have closed, with a possibility of opening in the summer, although the retail space is completely empty, devoid of pinball machines, upright gaming consoles, or four-tokens-for-a-dollar machines.
Dejected, I begin to turn about-face and head back to the car. My son suggests that we take a stroll through the retail graveyard, and locate another photo opportunity for today. I think he just wants to see the modern-day abandonment of the whole place, even though the facility remains open for business to the select few merchants.
The business model is perplexing, indeed. I can’t even count the number of storefronts, once visited by myself, now hidden behind false fronts of plywood and fresh paint. Actually, it’s easier to count the number of open businesses (likely on two open hands), if I so desired. In the center of the mall, a two-story carousel awaits cheerful children, of which there are none, zero, ziltch.
Adjacent to the carousel, two middle-aged women, checking Facebook or Candy Crushing on mobile devices, dressed as North Pole elves, are propping themselves up—possibly awaiting the warm embrace of death as an alternative, over their current employment opportunity—inside the velvet ropes of the Take Your Photo With Santa winter wonderland.
Decked to the nines, in full bells and flowing white Gandalf-like beard, Santa looks extremely bored. He’s definitely not filled with the holiday spirit, of that I’m certain.
We walk the escalator to the second floor, power is shut-down to the incline (presumably to save operating costs), further inspecting the closed businesses, and it seems that my son is particularly entertained by the irony of it all. I’m certain that Instagram is receiving concurrent submissions from his phone at this very moment. I ask him if he knows why this place makes me a bit sad inside, and he replies with “yeah, because you spent lots of time here as a kid”, or some such sentiment. He’s correct, and I’ve obviously told this story one too many times.
Continuing forward to the What Used to Be Food Court, surprised by an occasional Verizon store, I pause in the center of a set of square tiles; my son wanders through the desolate shopkeeping landscape, eyeing the potential of Parkour-worthy obstacles such as dividing walls and partitions. Caution tape, Do Not Enter signs, partitioned seating areas. I look for photographic opportunities; no one is here to tell us that we cannot.
I respectfully pause. At this specific spot in the food court, now remaining as only a dirty outline on the tile floor, I met the love of my life: 300 full moons, 9,125 days, 3 children, and 25 years ago.
If I closed my eyes, I could possibly imagine the nostalgic holiday hustle and bustle of consumers, the ringing of cash registers, the laughter of children, scents of deep-fried chicken sandwiches or waffle fries, and the sounds of a 1980’s/1990’s Christmas.
I twist my torso, examining the solid orange wall in close proximity. Behind that facade, I imagine the Chick-fil-A where I worked for several years, between 14 and 17, as a teenager. My wife worked in a stand-alone candy store (RGM’s Nuthouse), long since removed from the mall, that sold bulk candy—including, of course, nuts—and lottery tickets. I had a friend named Dave Something-or-other-I-can’t-remember, who worked with me at the restaurant, and Dave’s friend Megan worked at the adjacent candy store. To make the circle of my story complete, Megan worked with her friend, eventually known as the love of my life—my wife. Innocent introductions were made, nothing would ever be the same for me. Nothing. Never. Ever.
It didn’t take much time for me, beyond our initial introduction, to find a reason to continually peruse the world of bulk candy, on my own schedule and accord, without Dave, to spend time with this lovely beauty that captivated my imagination. Without question, the chance meeting of my wife was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I do not sugar-coat (yes, a very clever pun) that at all. Without her, I’d be lost in so many, uncountable ways—perhaps as dead inside as this current mall. If you could see the tears welling in my eyes now, you wouldn’t doubt my sincerity.
So when I see this mall, the slow stranglehold of its commercial death, I can’t help to see a portion of me dying alongside—not physically, but metaphorically. Nothing in this place specifically defines my character or who I am today, but a large portion of my life experiences have been experienced under the roof of this monolith of commerce.
I suppose that’s why I feel sorrow, while inside this sorry shell of a mall. Sometime, most likely soon, there will come a day when I am no longer offered an opportunity, at my convenience, to pause and stand over the faint outline of where I first met my wife.
Do you, yourself, believe in the notion of chance? Perhaps it was chance that the arcade was closed, that my son had a day off from school, that the basketball shoes that we ordered were picked up in a distant location, that my son accompanied me on this adventure today, which may have forced me to stand in this exact spot today. Perhaps?
Maybe I needed a chance to re-experience these memories, to process the meaning of this personal pivotal point in my life, to include this reflection in my Project 365?
However, I don’t believe in chance, not even one iota at all. This is the HOW of how I met your mother. If I should some day forget the details, please kindly remind me, in my feeble old age. Not many details have been omitted, but feel free to embellish the recollection, as you see fit—I’m a sucker for a great story, and this is one of my greatest stories.