I took a morning drive through my old neighborhood. Maybe it was the unusually cold and misty weather mixed with my own sense of melancholy, but I thought I saw my seven year old self walking down the sidewalk barefoot. We were always trying to just walk barefooted on the asphalt skillet in those days. This little blue-eyed-son from long ago was eating a cherry-red Popsicle that was melting in a Junelike sun—more of it dripping on the sidewalk than in him.
Memories carried my mind in their arms as I passed each of my childhood friends’ homes. Where are they now? Who lives in these seemingly empty homes now? Most of these parents were warriors or engineers, working at WhiteSandsMissileRange or FortBliss. They were fighting a Cold War in a searing, burning land. Are there now slowed and aging forms sitting in those dark houses?—waiting for that call from their children who all left long ago, and now live “anywhere” but this city? Are my parents the only ones who did not grow old?
The stream swelled into a flood as lucid visions appeared on aging lawns. I saw my younger brother and me sauntering away from home with kisses from our mother on the first day of school—our twin and blonde mop tops as shiny as our blue plastic lunch boxes. I saw the red headed boy across the street; his feelings stinging more than his freckled face after I smacked him with a rare snow ball. As I remember this today, does he still feel at this very moment, that twinge of impersonal rejection? I then heard the pelting of a half dozen ice balls thrown at me—each one breaking apart at my feet as the older kids desperately tried to hit me, but missed in an equal opportunity of detachment. I saw the house of a girl with whom I was secretly in love, but never told her, and rarely spoke to her—even all the way through to the end of high school. Was I more in love with my secret than with her? I saw my teenaged ghost standing in a desert field that suburbia somehow failed to tame. I was talking with a female friend in the night. Each of us experiencing true and pure friendship: not in love, but loving. No lust, no complications, no angst. Sharing the heart, but expecting nothing superfluous in return: A conversation of innocent simplicity.
As I drove out of the neighborhood, I forced myself to give a sidelong glance at the rock wall that my little brother drove through one night as he tried to make it home. We were always trying to just make it home in those days. The impact successfully ended his life, along with my childhood. The large, broken stones were quickly rebuilt with no one the wiser to their deadly secret. What would happen if I rang that doorbell and told those people that their rock wall was once piled on my brother: a postmodern witness heap testifying against our generation?
I took the back road home to my place in the deeper desert. It is a forgotten road, but I am one of its intimate and oldest friends. As a teenager, I would almost daily take this eighteen mile route on bicycle in the blazing summer heat. No water, no stretchy pants, no helmet. No discernment. What sustained me then? What thirsty madness drove me out to traverse a wasteland on this highway of death? It didn’t seem as menacing today as I drove it home with a rare cold snap enveloping it with snow flurries. The recollections of this reclusive friend, and all I knew long ago deluged my mind, spilling over me with a warm strangeness. The tiny bits of ice were driven ahead of me by an iron wind, making it impossible for me to ever recover them. Some clung to my windshield and dissipated into oblivion as quickly as they appeared. A gust of wind propelled itself at an awkward angle through the slivered crack of my window, scattering some glowing-but-dying ember flakes from my cherry-wood, smoking pipe. My tobacco reverie faded into the silver blue morning; and I traveled down the unremembered highway turning toward my way home.
(Originally posted: 1/28/2007)