In most cases, this is simply so I won't lose my car, my mind, and hours of my life scouring the endless black seas of asphalt.
But Town Center is different.
Town Center is home.
Town Center is Richard James.
As a child, countless hours were spent at this mall - in the food court. Or the pet store. Or chatting (posing?) beneath the giant light ball that once hung over the staircase by the parking lot.
As I grew, so did this mall's importance in my tiny sphere. Town Center became Travis Wingspoon and Brett Lawrence at the Dairy Queen. It became Peter Cuadra at the music store and Scott Henderson at Hot Topic.
Town Center was the last time I saw Chris Shackleford and Kelli Bourgeois before the accident...
It was Wicks n' Sticks, where Richard James bought me the weeping willow candle that burned like he and I did and cried like he and I did - often for each other - as we swung between the shared poles of assurance and emotional insecurity that permeated our adolescence.
It is parking on the Red Lobster side. One island past the stop sign. Because that's where Richard James parked.
I'm not often nostalgic for that time in my life. Gone are the days of upstaging and upheaval - of show choir and band camp, of divorce and the Town Center Toys R Us.
Dairy Queen is gone. So is the pet store. Wicks n' Sticks. And while I haven't made it to the light ball yet (I'm writing this on scrap paper in the Macy's), it's likely met the same fate.
But some things - some things never go away. Never fade. Never die...like laughing with Brett, God rest his soul. Talking with Chris, Kelli, Scott...God rest them. God rest them all...
And Richard James...
In a twist befitting those that permeate my life, I am wearing his ring today.
It's nearly 20 years old, but it serves as a reminder of the first time I loved and was loved in return.
For the memories - of those who, in one way or another, are long gone, but whose presence and impact resonate to this day.
So I park on the Red Lobster side, one island down.
So they can find me. And so I can find myself...