Melancholy–a pensive sadness with no known cause. A happy sadness, and a recognition of the terrible in the world, all wrapped up with the good. Evil meets goodness, greed meets friendship.
I remember the room–a small yellow room on the second story of a concrete shopping center. The building was an anomaly, and the part we were inside even more so. It is, quite frankly, incredible how much of your life can wind up revolving around a single shopping center.
My mother, engineer turned teacher turned annoyed syllabus-reader told me and a few others that we were reading a book called Because of Winn-Dixie. I took one look at the book and decided that I disliked it. It was full of greens and browns and the kind of washed-out neutrals that can only be properly observed in run-down Florida strip malls. I read it anyway, because I was supposed to be a good example and didn’t want to provoke her wrath, like fire raining down from on high.
The book itself was exactly that: a run down Florida shopping mall, a few miles from the beach, retirees and their peculiar scent, the residents of backwoods Florida that grew up in posh New England suburbia. The ones that couldn’t afford the expensive retirement living communities with names like allegro and vista village. Or perhaps the ones that came here before the corporations scooped up coastal swamps to pave them in concrete and building them into menacing condominiums. It was set in a time before Winn-Dixie moved out of Florida, and I can remember my mother reminding me to always check the expiration dates on the milk and the beige-brown walls that did nothing to complement the spotted bananas.
It was all Because of Winn-Dixie. I can remember very clearly: the lozenges that tasted of melancholy, the volume of War and Peace and left a lingering impression of melancholy, the lives looked back upon and tree strung up with beer bottles and the interior of a Winn-Dixie store and retirees’ mobile homes, all melancholy.
There is a sense of melancholy about the old: leaving it behind, accepting the inevitable demise, perhaps mourning something that will never be again. There is a similar sense about the new, and the shininess of things and how it will never be that shiny again, how it will always just be a merely physical item, and all that you are doing is projecting your own desires upon it.
Melancholy, that day, was a new word. It was not a dictionary definition, but something alive and strangely fluid, like those skyscrapers that are means to bend with the wind, because it is the flexible reed that survives the hurricane, not the sturdy oak tree.
It is, now, the same thing I experience as I walk the dog, imagine the number of rituals I could complete to try and ward of this sense of change, to say some kind of goodbye. I have lived here for my entire life. I have known no other house, much less with the same intimacy of the things that occurred within the walls. If only they could talk.
So it is now, as I walk across the neighborhood, carefully placing each foot on each concrete block of sidewalk, trying to touch every piece of the place that had been the stage for childhood adventures, for curiosity, and for growing pains, that I think of melancholy. It is a happy sadness, and sadness that runs deep through my veins, bones, soul. Here is concrete that has held blood from skinned knees, tears from tempers unleashed. Here are the houses whose stories we made up: the people with the dalmatian-print siding, the formerly-highlighter-orange house, the place that used to be a drug house.
I know that the family home will likely sell to a rich man who sees the nearby university as the perfect business opportunity. He will strip out our family secrets lodged in the paint for calming neutrals, refurbish the elderly idiosyncrasies of a well-lived-in home, and rent it out to four different college students who will bicker over the bathroom and drunkenly spill beer on the laminate and slam the garage door too hard. It is not so hard to leave. It is hard to imagine what will happen after we leave.
This is melancholy: trading a personal history for a fresh start.