When I was a kid, my brother and I spent summers hunkered down in our maroon van with our parents, touring the country. My family is bit 1970s inclined in a variety of ways, from the paisley shirts my father still wears to the wood paneling in our home, and our means of traveling for vacation was no exception.
We’d stop at every historic sign so my parents could read them out loud to us and sing along to Capitol Steps, and I was not allowed to have snacks unless I answered math problems correctly. And of course, we would pop out of the car every day or two to check out a site that, until we laid eyes on it, had been completely unfathomable: the Carlsbad Caverns, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest.
At these places we’d pile out of the car and walk the trails. Sometimes my brother and I would play as we went — the imaginary games of kids who grew up in the eighties usually entailed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (I was Splinter, by choice mind you), She-Ra/He-Man collaborations, or Star Wars. Other times, off my brother would run and wander, my parents would meander between informational signs and alone, I’d walk a few paces behind. I would watch my feet move across these different terrains or people-watch while thinking about books I was reading, but in the back of my mind, if not the front, I was always wondering what it’d be like to have a person with me as we toured these spots.
So when Megan and I got to Niagara Falls and set about visiting the sites — Cave of the Winds and hopping aboard the Maid of the Mist for a face full of Niagara Falls herself — I couldn’t help but spend time thinking about what I wanted so much as a child. I snapped photos of the Falls, took candids of tourists experiencing the area, and thought about how when I was little, I missed something I’d never had in the first place.
Now when I feel that sense of loneliness, it’s different. I understand what I am missing (and yes, occasionally that what is really a who). But in a sense, I am nostalgic for that wishful-wondering of my childhood on those family vacations. How often as adults are we able to experience a sense of longing in that sense?
I know I’m not going to be alone. I know that. But what does that mean, really, when you’re standing somewhere you stood twenty-plus years ago feeling as close to how you felt then, now? Unlike kid-me, I did not hold an internal imaginary conversation with an imaginary boy. Instead, I held up my camera again, snapped photos and sent text messages when we were on the bus.