Streaming through the freeway,
on my way home,
to Rialto I drive
in a metered haze
unencumbered by traffic.
My elderly parents—both in their 80s and
contrary as ever—
safely in my childhood home await
Stater Bros groceries
procured by their youngest child and
only son—now in his 50s—
speeding alongside the Santa Ana River
from Southern Orange County.
In this time of disease,
it is a time of release
and the journey from
County to County
taken untold times over
the past thirty years
(from the initial fleeing
of the Empire in the 1980s,
so pocketed in LA blown smog
as to choke back a yearning to stay),
but never with this consistency.
Now the trips are survival,
and the former Alpha Beta
still producing sustenance
for a family fractured.
The house is relatively the same—
above Baseline and West of the Bench—
a demarcation over time unrecognizable.
The Orange groves, once a battlefield
for adventure-seeking youth,
now filled with tract housing,
create a pattern with no room to grow,
to feel out the space between.
Still one open lot around the corner—
the neighbors banded together and refused to allow a strip mall—
signals a memory of time past,
puppy dogs buried in silent reverie,
BMX bikes lurching through self-made courses,
and I take my traditional drive
down the neighborhood street
to make sure that not
too much has changed.
With mask secured, I bring the groceries—
ice cream, graham crackers, ribs—
and meet the parents in the garage.
I do not go in the house,
been warned not to,
and we do not touch
but stay away,
within hearing distance,
yet the bifurcation is complete.
I am here but separated.
I do my part, willingly.
Deliver vitals, conversation,
and some physical labor in the backyard.
It is overgrown—the backyard—but
Eucalyptus windbreak standing tall,
housing my penthouse tree fort
obscured by redolent leaves
and the years.
Mom—now pushing a walker but on her fanny working the soil—
has weeded through the steeling sun of midday,
and Dad—almost 90, (tall, straight, solid)
with hobbled knees and flowering bunions, stands
resilient like San Berdoo—
still has his hodgepodge of collected
do-it-yourself materials, no longer
beehives but now boxes of worms
snaking through nutrient rich soil
waiting to be sprinkled on withering plants.
The virus has changed the world—for now—
but some old patterns for the better.
The trips to Rialto, my slippery past,
are now fortified by the daunting reality
we are collectively spinning,
outside norms established without forethought,
and must step back from the centrifuge
to support the base
that is foundation
for the whole.
Lawrence Brown grew up in Rialto for the first 18 years of his life and now lives in Mission Viejo. His parents still live in his childhood house and he visits often. He teaches high school English in Long Beach.