One night this past August, I found myself on West Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, directly across from the House of Blues, a building I’d heretofore managed to avoid on my trips out to California over the last several years.
I was standing on the sidewalk opposite this place I’d held directly responsible for what was the biggest heartbreak of my early “adulthood,” when my boyfriend, who’d sworn that his feelings for me were unprecedented and that he was “in it for the long haul,” decided – seemingly overnight – that working at the (then) brand-new House of Blues in Los Angeles looked much more promising than staying in Boston with me. I was devastated, and it threw me into a depression (and an accompanying riot of poor life decisions) that would take several years to navigate my way out of.
So here I was, nearly two decades later, regarding this building, and its deliberately weather-beaten façade, with a mixture of curiosity and bitterness, as if the House of Blues itself called the shots and determined what would become of that relationship. It was like observing a new flame in the aftermath of an imploded romance. What did the House of Blues have that I didn’t? I watched several young women totter across West Sunset — wearing impossibly high heels and tiny dresses — and make their way into the club. It was certainly no place where I, a forty-something sober woman wearing sensible footwear and a jaded smirk, belonged. Even in my twenties, when I was truly honing my chops as a drunken hot mess, I suspect I would’ve hated it in there.
And while I wouldn’t trade my life now (sober, reasonably serene, filled with love and friendship and creativity) for any other, I still couldn’t help but feel a little resentful at the House of Blues, and the look on my face as I regarded it must have given me away, because my best friend squeezed my hand and said, “I know.” Not because I was still pining for what was lost, but because sometimes an old scar can still flare up like an emotional charley horse. Muscle memory. The heart is a muscle, and it remembers.
We place a lot of stock in structures. I still have dreams about the houses in which I grew up or spent considerable time. In my dreams they become much bigger than they actually were, they have additional rooms (and in some cases, ballrooms and chapels). When we move on from these places, we almost feel like we owe them an apology for leaving. I did so when my parents sold the last house in which we’d lived as a family. We want to believe that these places will remember us, miss us.
A few years ago I went back to my high school, to see the Drama Club’s annual musical. I wanted desperately to go backstage, into the classroom that’s still being used as the “green room,” to remember the smell of Ben Nye cake foundation applied with little foam rubber wedges. I wanted the auditorium to somehow psychically convey my “homecoming.”
And that night in Los Angeles, I wanted to march across West Sunset Boulevard and tell the House of Blues that it didn’t break me, as ridiculous as that sounds. The House of Blues merely provided the catalyst my then-boyfriend needed to extract himself from something that had become too much for him. For me, it was a symbol of my failure to keep him with me. But for someone else, it might be the place she met her true love. For another, it’s the place where he saw the best concert of his life.
I wonder what buildings are in my future.