The Fault Lines of Nostalgia

When I was a child, I was fascinated by abandoned things. Houses, roads, plots of land, store fronts— whole towns. It didn’t matter. My imagination exploded whenever I came across the empty, the broken-down or the grown over.

To this day, vivid memories— like snapshots— live on in the back shelves of my brain: a street that twists away up a wooded hillside, its asphalt cracked and spilt apart by sunny-colored weeds. What’s up there? A house set back in a pine-filled gully, gray clapboard and empty windows, lawn chairs sinking into an unkempt lawn. Why did they leave their chairs like that? As if at any moment, someone will cross the porch carrying highball glasses full of lemonade and settle down to watch the cars pass.

When I learned there were such things as ghost towns, I lost nights imagining the swirl of the wind through the streets and all the empty halls I could tiptoe through. I imagined that indescribable feeling an empty house possesses— the one where it feels as if it isn’t empty at all.

It was years before I realized they had a word for this: nostalgia. It was a bit longer before I realized that some of us are born with something like a sixth sense for the nostalgia of other people’s things and experiences. We are the type of people who come across a coke bottle— obviously of 50’s vintage— buried in the back-road mud, and when we dig it out and peer into its murky green depths, we think: “How sad. They could have left it here yesterday.” And yet they didn’t, and we know it.

But for a moment— we were time travelers. Our fingerprints aligned with someone else’s on the glass, and it was just as if we had touched hands.

Maybe nostalgia is just an over-active imagination. Or maybe we are the seismographs of the past. We feel the shift of the fault line between then and now in our souls. 

© 2022 Katie Baker


Maybe nostalgia is just an over-active imagination. Or maybe we are the seismographs of the past. We feel the shift of the fault line between then and now in our souls. 

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