I went out walking through the ghostly ruins of my childhood again tonight, this time around 3 a.m. As soon as I got to my old preschool it started snowing hard. They weren’t flakes though . . . more like heavy marble-sized chunks, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It wasn’t hail, but it wasn’t normal snow either. I could have turned around and walked home—it was only five minutes away—but I kept going.
Mostly I thought of joke headlines for my apocalyptic newspaper. I came up with about thirty of them. Some of them are pretty good. I tried to avoid any higher thinking, since last time I went out I was stuck in my head for way too long, and didn’t really notice anything outside of it. Though eventually I did start to wonder about all those people I used to know, some of them fine ones, all scattered now, and where they had gone off to. I reckon I’ll never see all those people from the past again. But then I wouldn’t really know what to say to them now anyway.
It occurred to me that the reason it always seemed like my parents and other people’s parents only had a handful of close friends was probably because most people are unreliable and full of shit. I counted how many people I actually loved and trusted, and it was a very low number.
I also thought about how many people had gotten soft. I used to know a lot of people who were unconventional, or at least a little weird, and most of them now live in townhouses and have straight jobs and are in long-term relationships with people they went to high school or college with. Maybe they were just wearing a freak costume before, and were always destined to give in and toe the line. I understand why they do it, and I don’t blame them. If you’re surrounded by all these people are who constantly radiating this idea of what “normal” is, it’s easier to get on if you just assimilate yourself into that so you can have a nice job and not scare people at parties.
If anything my own ideas about life and death have gotten more paranoid and more extreme, and have separated me from finding common ground with just about anyone. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s also a lonesome road and, near as I can tell, pretty unrewarding. If I didn’t have this inborn loathing of what I reckon you might call the status quo, I guess my life would be smoother, but I’d also spend decades in a state of doughy semi-sleep, and God knows that would never cut it for me.
At my old elementary school I stood near the chainlink fence and looked out over the little field behind the main building where we used to play on the last day before summer vacation. I was thinking about how summer used to be its own holiday, and it lasted for three months, and was so exciting! The snow was falling and I kept walking. I ended up on a little side road about a hundred yards from the school where my teacher would take us on little nature walks.
And then, out of nowhere, I remembered my 19th birthday. I don’t know where it came from. Do you know that feeling you get when you recall an event from the past, and you know right away that it’s the first time you’ve viewed it as a memory? Which is to say, you hadn’t thought about it since it happened. Man it’s a great feeling. It’s like finding a dollar on the sidewalk. I knew right away that was the first time I’d thought about my 19th birthday in the the nine years I have been alive since that day. It held a great significance for me, and I had let it vanish . . . and, I’ll be god darned, there it was again.
I had moved to Baltimore a month after I graduated from high school. I got a loft with my friend in an old underwear factory a few blocks from the Inner Harbor. I had just started seeing this girl in Virginia, and she was very special. She was bummed that I was leaving the area within weeks of us getting together, but I visited her so often, mostly in the middle of the night when I would flee Maryland for someplace nice, that it hardly mattered that I was far away. Really I spent most of my time in Virginia that summer, and she and I had us a good old time walking through fields and down old trails at midnight.
Something happened in the fall . . . I don’t know what happened. I short circuited and descended into a dark place. I think maybe it shook her up. We broke up in my car at the end of her driveway in the middle of the night. It was a decision we came to at the same time. I didn’t see her or talk to her for a month after that.
In November she started visiting me again at my mother’s house. I had recently moved back home from Baltimore because I hated Baltimore. She would come at night through the sliding glass door in the basement and we would watch movies until the sun came up. And then I would walk her to her car, and she would drive home. This happened maybe a dozen times.
A week before Christmas she came over and we ended up making out. It freaked me out for some reason. I remember her saying something like, “What’s wrong with you? This is a good thing! Why can’t you see that?” I reckon I didn’t have a good response to that. (Hell, I still don’t.) We talked for a long time and then I walked her to her car around 6 a.m. She was sad as hell when she left.
A month passed and I didn’t hear from her. My friends were coming over for my 19th birthday, so I invited her. She showed up. We all had us a good old time drinking wine and dancing around the basement. Half the people there smoked, so at some point we all went outside so they could smoke a few cigarettes. I remember this girl wrapped herself in my favorite blanket and stood outside as it flurried smoking a cigarette. And I remember telling her, “You know, if you were anyone else I wouldn’t let you smoke with my blanket wrapped around you like that.” She punched me in the arm. God, she was cool.
Anyway: She said she had to work in the morning, so she left before everyone else. I told her I would walk her to her car. I always walked her to her car. She gave me a hug and wished me a happy birthday. And then, man, I don’t know how it happened, but we just started making out on the trunk of her car. It was still snowing. I guess that’s why I thought of that tonight . . . my mind was navigating a hazy labyrinth, and was free to do so because I was surrounded by familiar buildings and familiar roads, and I just turned 28, and all that snow was coming down just like it was nine years ago.
We didn’t kiss long. It was just a minute or so. It was real cool. She started coming over every night. And, lord almighty, we were together for another four and a half years after that. When I think about it like that it’s crazy.
I miss the hell out of that girl. I thought that as I walked away from my elementary school, away from the little field behind the main building where we used to play on the last day before summer vacation.