I feel a slight twinge in the pit of my stomach. Then a moment of dizziness followed by a rapid heartbeat. For a split second, I wonder if I'm hungry.
No. It's not that. The thing I feel is the gnawing sensation of being out of sync with a place I once found familiar and comforting. I try to get my barrings as I survey the territory. But the landscape has changed. I hardly recognize anything.
The sun is blinding. I feel as If I should be wearing my sunglasses the way the optician intended, and not as a headband to hold back my hair.
I don't remember the mall being this bright.
Nor do I remember the layout being quite as sprawling. I could swear, half of these stores used to be located elsewhere, while the other half must have materialized like magic out of thin air.
“Weren't we just here at Christmas time?” I asked my daughter as I stare up at a sign I can neither pronounce nor determine what items it purports to sell. This shop wasn't here six months ago. I am sure of that.
But she didn't answer.
My daughter hadn't heard me. She and her friends had already taken their leave and pulled a disappearing act of their own. Probably said goodbye in a sing-song voice I hadn't registered amid my deer-in-the-headlights stupor. They had headed, no doubt, to one of the oodles of smoothie counters or dress shops or cosmetics boutiques they'd pined after. They each had a handful of gift cards burning holes in their intricately adorned little gift-card holders, and their cell phones were each set to the same infuriating ringtone.
If I called her, I bet, each of the girls would dig into their bags thinking it was their number that was up.
A part of me – the maniacal part – wanted to phone every few minutes to set off this digital dervish of whirly-girling activity even if I could only see it in my mind's eye.
Another part of me – the curious part – wanted to trail their every move. Watch as the girls weaved around this castle of commerce, and spy on them as they half-wave to the imaginary crowds of adoring fans. “Oh, to be young again,” I'd tell myself wistfully as if their joy – or, more likely, their perpetration of joy – wouldn't irk me to no end.
No! Ugh. Yuk! Who'd want to see that? A gaggle of girls walking around like they owned the place, holding food court as if everyone around them were jesters. ... And only they had survived the apocalypse.
Well, they and that rack of really cute blouses at that shop I couldn't pronounce.
God, I hate this place.
"It won't be long now," I tell myself.
Or that's what the news tells me every time it tweets.
The talking heads say malls, with their burgeoning rents and lackluster sales, will likely go the way of the dinosaur. They describe a slow death of a thousand remodels and one lost anchor stores. The view every small change as a cultural shift that will force new trends (like free shipping and same-day-delivery). Eventually, ghostly plastic shopping bags will be the only things tumbling through recently expanded parking lots.
Of course, it could be a quick and cataclysmic ending, like a meteor or liquefaction: The once solid ground underneath these megaplexes will soften and slurp them all up simultaneously. When the dust settles, and the ground hardens, a warehouse with robots and aerial drones will have taken its place.
The mall rats, bless their little hearts, will be gone.
This moment of nostalgia and whimsy dissolves as my phone vibrates.
“We're headed to the food court,” says my daughter in a cheerful voice she usually saves for friends. “Would you like to meet there and join us for lunch?”
I think about my stomach and the dizziness I felt before.
Perhaps it was only hunger.
“Now … Which way is the food court?”