Every time I take the commuter train in Helsinki, I make sure to get a window seat on the left side of the train, so that about seven minutes into the journey, I can press my nose against the window and see if my old neighborhood still looks the same.
From the train, I can see the ten-year-old me’s entire world, minus the skating rink and my school. I can see our balcony, the playground, my daycare, my two buddies’ houses, the small candy store, the pub that the local soccer team’s players were rumored to hang out in, the houses that replaced our small forest, and just after the train passes them, another friend’s home.
The last time I checked, it did look about the same. Of course, upon a closer examination, it’s not the same.
I know that because I have lived in the same apartment first as a pre-teen and then in my late 20s. I know things changed while I was gone.
Thanks to my return there, that neighborhood is where I’ve lived for the longest time in total and until a few months ago, it was where I had lived the longest without interruption. Now, at eight years and three months, that honor goes to Sollentuna, Sweden.
I was in Sollentuna for the first time just as the 20th century was on her last legs. I lived on the south side of Stockholm, and besides downtown, that’s where I mostly stayed, too. Then I met a Sollentuna girl and started to drive north of town as well, most often to take her home.
It was in Sollentuna that I woke up to the new millennium and even when my Sollentuna girl moved first into an apartment just a ten-minute walk from my place and then with me to another apartment a five-minute walk from both our apartments, we returned to Sollentuna regularly. We came here to skate, to visit her parents, to see her siblings and her Grandma, to shop at the mall, to play Xmas Eve hockey with Wife’s brother, and once, to go to an antiques fair at the convention center.
I remember how proud I was when we walked out with a velvet chair that had once been in the Stockholm Concert Hall. First of all, that we could afford to buy a chair just like that was amazing, and secondly, it may have been the first piece of furniture we ever bought together. The chair is still with us here in Sollentuna, some 600 meters from where we bought it.
Sollentuna has changed, of course. Some of the changes are invisible, but important. Wife’s parents have moved, as have her siblings, so the core of our Sollentuna has also moved, and now we stay mostly in our part of the neighborhood, a 20-minute bike ride from Wife’s parents’ old house.
Some of changes are more obvious. The mall has been completely renovated and re-built, and the four-lane road that cuts across Sollentuna is now a two-lane street and new apartment buildings line one side of the street, the new and improved the other. Even Curt Lindström’s old betting shop in the mall has changed its name and moved upstairs. (Lindström was the head coach of Team Finland in 1995 when the team won the nation’s first hockey world championship, and on our first trip to the mall, Wife wanted to show me the landmark. Curre himself may have already sold the shop by then).
And as of yesterday, the convention center is gone, too. The piece of 1980s architecture was demolished to give way to new apartment buildings.
It’s not a big loss, I suppose, since it had been empty ever since we moved here in 2009 and since the owner wouldn’t even rent it to me and my friend when we wanted to build a kids’ activity center inside, but I’ve cycled or walked by it every day for years and it’s been a landmark of sorts.
We had naturally been following the demolition progress and when I saw a couple of construction workers setting up road blocks the other day, I asked them what was going on.
“We’re taking down the rest of it,” one of them said.
“Oh. When?” I asked.
“Tonight. Starting at 8.”
So, at 7.45 pm, the four of us walked – well, Son and Daughter took their kick scooters – to the convention center and found good spots behind the fence. We stood there for five, ten minutes, just wondering about what was going to happen. Would they blow it up, maybe?
“I don’t think they can blow it up, it’s so close to the road,” I said, as if I knew something about the business.
“It’d be awesome if it imploded, like you see on YouTube,” said Daughter. “Or maybe they’ll use a gigantic wrecking ball.”
For a second, I wondered whether we should have a chat about our YouTube policy but that’s when we found out what was going to happen. They didn’t use dynamite or a wrecking ball, but instead, a dinosaur of a crane with gigantic jaws first broke the glass facade, and then pulled the guts out and dropped them on the concrete.
It did that for a while and, the dinosaur took flag pole on top of the roof in its jaws, twisted it, and ripped it right down.
“Oh well, that’s the end of that one,” Wife said. “Let’s go home. We’ll see what it looks like in the morning.”
A train pulled into the station and I realized that the next morning, if a morning commuter sat there with his nose pressed against window trying to see if Sollentuna was still the same, he was in for a surprise.
Yesterday, when I came home, Son said he wanted to show me something.
“See anything interesting on your desk?” he asked me.
Next to my notebook and my Phantom figurine, there was a piece of concrete, the size of my hand.
“Oh, is that…” I began, with a smile on my face.
“That’s right, it’s from the convention center. I found that on this side of the road,” Son said.
“I knew you’d want a piece of it.”
He was right.