The Peculiar Melancholy of Parking Lots

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Asphalt, patriarchs, decay, snowball fights, Blue Ridge, maps as art, insistent dogs, loss, bicycles, risk, heat & the shifting filters of memory.

The asphalt of the parking lot is cracked and peeling, like the skin of an old woman. The once-smooth inky blackness of my childhood is cratered, grass and weeds burgeoning through the dips and splits, subdividing parking spots, creating alien crop circles and words I can’t understand.

Maybe it has always been this way. Maybe the immeasurable distance I remember was always this splintered, this ugly. Maybe it was always dry and more gray-blue than black. Perhaps my memory is failing me.

The parking lot of my childhood was clean and unbroken, inviting in its gentle expanse. It is where I spent hours in the cold December sun learning to ride my bike, where I held onto my dad’s arm at the embarrassing age of thirteen, uncertainly pedaling until I could wobble my way across the snowy blacktop. The parking lot I remember is where I stood after a snowball fight on the roof of the elementary school, watching as the others pedaled around in the white fluff, flinging themselves down icy staircases into frozen brown slush to prove their foolhardy sense of immortality. I shook my head at their stupid disregard for personal safety.

I can almost touch the younger me’s and him’s here where the past and present collide.

This is where my dad dropped off me and my sister every morning for school; we toddled our way across the painted map of the United States on the lower lot, jumping the stairs to the top two at a time while he held our hands. This is where I proudly wore my violently fluorescent vest in fifth grade while on safety patrol, enthusiastically opening and closing car doors for the littler kids. This is where we walked our dogs, rode our bikes and played on our scooters, where we parked for my softball practices every other Wednesday for the one season I actually played. I can almost touch the younger me’s and him’s here where the past and present collide.

I have driven here almost every night since we got that horrific phone call pronouncing the death of an era, of a father, of a lifetime. I walk the dogs and let them mosey around in the grass and poop in the woods. I have spent countless evenings here looking at the cracks in the pavement and at the now-tiny elementary school. This is where I have learned what it is to be an adult, what it is to grow up and let things fade away and reappear in unexpected memories.

The once-colorful map of the United States is breaking up, drifting away into faded chunks of territory. The white lines of the parking spaces are hazy and faint—gone, really—and the staircase leading from the lower to the upper lot is sinking into the hill, the handrail rusted and tilted. The root systems of the trees are sneaking in, leaving bumps and cracks, wreaking havoc on the formerly pristine parking lot.

The brightest color now is the red of the leash I’m holding, a beacon on a gray ocean. The sky is pink, and there is the kind of heat that only Blue Ridge summers deliver: not too humid, not too hot, but an almost delectable mix of the two. Beau is tugging, urging me to move faster, but I do not and I will not.

It is strange how everything is a memory, and how people always curse the fickleness of it when it’s really all we have. Everything we do, everyone we meet, is just a memory waiting to happen, a moment to file away. This parking lot will soon be a memory the way my father is now a memory, and one day I will come back to find that it all is gone to the weeds and the trees, and I will ask if it was not always like this.

Katie Leonard is a rising sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in English and history. She is a reader for The Carolina Quarterly. “The Peculiar Melancholy of Parking Lots” was written when she was sixteen and is her first published piece.

Lead image: Zoshua Colah

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