I was sitting with donna last week, all fidgety and distracted. it’s been a rough stretch lately, I sort of feel like I’m coming out of a cave but there’s an impermanence about it all… everything so far has been capitalized: an Acceptance, a Failure, an Accomplishment, what have you – but this is like… up and down and up and down and fine and on the floor and almost fine but whoops not really and the phone calls are mounting and you can’t not go to work… and then back to fine. whatever the fuck fine means these days.
so I’m sitting there, with a chalkboard behind the people at the front table, leftover notes from some church camp or youth group shit. some sunday school nonsense. from what I can gather, it’s things you can do besides get drunk or have sex (or all those other sorts of immoral things) and instead, it’s suggesting how to go find jesus in your everyday: go to bed at night and snuggle with jesus. look for jesus in walmart. a child’s hand drawing of a cat, meowing, and something and something and jesus. it’s weird, and it’s been on that chalkboard for months and months. like it was forgotten about, or maybe they just don’t meet in that room anymore.
so I couldn’t sit there for one more second, listening to stories of drinking too much, drinking on boats, drinking and losing the sportscar, drinking and tarnishing the family name at yale. I tell donna I can’t sit there for one more second, and she suggests a walk. funny thing is, I’ve been planning on going for a walk the whole time, since before we even got there. as it turns out, I would have wound up going anyway, even without intending it.
it had just gotten dark and we’d been smack in the middle of blowout summer days, too hot to go to the beach almost, with ninety percent humidity and a general lack of proper functioning throughout the cities and towns. dog days, or whatever. I leave and head to the right down the sidewalk, past the house we always thought was haunted, where I swore I saw a shadow in a an upstairs room I couldn’t tear my eyes away from. with quicker pace: past a few nondescript suburban mini-ranches where I went trick-or-treating with my father and sister years ago, the podiatrist house, and the house that looks like they should be near the beach with lots of stuff hanging up outside, and a big window with a big dog staring through, and in the daytime a pleasant older woman fixing a boat or a lawnmower in the driveway. past the house before chet’s house, and chet’s house. chet died a while back, I don’t remember much of him but his old man-ness out in the yard and the massacre of christmas carols from my youth (chet’s nuts roasting / on an open fire…). I tear up a little at this, because people loved him, his family loved him, you know? and now I’m walking past the glimpse of the brook that ran behind our houses where we used to splash around, overgrown and buggy in the heat. the sidewalk ends abruptly before it, and the dewy grass makes me slip around on my flip-flops as I come up to my old street.
it’s been years and years since we lived there, fifteen or sixteen at least, if not more. more I think. and things have changed but it’s all the same underneath the home improvements, but still, thinking about it now and remembering the snapshots I've carried with me my whole life, it’s like it happened to someone else. like I’m looking at pictures in an album in a living room of a friend of a friend: quaint, unfamiliar. like the time my sister kicked me in the face by accident when I was crawling over the back of her legs sticking out of a fort I wasn’t allowed in, and the gush of a bloody nose, and my father telling me to put my head back, his handkerchief on my face, the nauseating taste down the back of my throat. or the bumpy patch of sidewalk just past our old place where I jumped up to catch a frisbee and landed on the wrong part of my foot, the gravel that stuck in my knees and the scars that ensued. or all the foursquare and chalkboard houses drawn on the street.
there’s not really much in the way of streetlights -- one or two that weren’t always both working at once -- and in the post-dusk darkness, not all the lights are on yet in the houses. it’s decidedly gloomy.
I’ve just passed our old house, with the ground cover plants and bushes long gone, the front door you had to go down a few steps into the cement porch to get into. the big picture window where the piano sat, where I can see a huge reprint of hands touching -- from the sistine chapel I think? -- and strange flowered curtains and a white pressboard hutch in the background where there should be nothing. straining to see the glass dining room table that’s not there. I stand where the stump got pulled out of the yard, where the two feet of sidewalk was grass instead; the newer mailbox. the time I left my house drunk and came here, slurring, asking to use the phone because I used to live there, calling jay miles and how he came and picked me up and laid me out on his bed in his apartment on canner street, and lit candles and did this thing to my head with his hands as I fell asleep, and he set off to sleep on the floor or the couch or wherever, and the raging technicolor dreams I had. I can go back to it like it was moments ago: frustrations carved into an arm, in a room at a camp with wood paneling, and sitting in the car on a rainy day with robert, on an absurdly small little lake that the car towered over on a little rock jetty. so strange, and none of it is scary but it’s all just right there. the dream, that is.
the same cement porch where we held puppet shows, sitting on the driveway, squatting behind the spot where you walked down the steps, socks and lunchbags on hands in the summertime.
just as I pass that part of the sidewalk, bumpy and still unrepaired, a huge buzzing junebug summer-only beetle that felt like it was the size of a sharpie bumps into my face, and I’m a flurry of hands waving, duck-and-cover. a few more steps and it’s lesley’s old house, right next to mine, and it starts to get worse. sad gives way to rundown, almost a nightmare it seemed, I wasn’t afraid? but it was all so wrong and unkempt and like a distorted version of something I once knew. the bushes all pushed out into the walkway, random branches grown a foot up that no one had bothered to trim, and a japanese maple left to run wild. I can still see her father out there, taking care of everything, and the shabby state of the yard made me want to cry. there was a shitty car in the driveway and two guys in the upstairs window, in her parents’ bedroom, blinds with one of the slats broken, standing shirtless pointing at something in the room. I wanted to tear into the backyard, through our box tunnels and over brook crossings and rabbit hutches and the rope swing and the rock lesley fell over and cracked her head on, see the back deck where we smoked cigarettes when nobody was home. that one great party we had when her parents went away, and the snapshots of dreams I’ve had over the years suddenly coming to life. all behind that wooden gate.
I almost walked up to the front door two more houses down, where the old couple lived with the ships in the bottles and the big three-way tins of popcorn and the stories and the big window to the backyard. everything there was different from our house. I think I saw them recently, but then I wondered if one of them had died. I always liked their house, going to say hello; leo the lion in the next driveway that we really didn’t know so well, and the crazy white trash people with the shotgun in the one after that. coming around the cul-de-sac, just fancy for a dead end street, the italian family across from lesley’s with mary on the halfshell in the front yard, in the exact same spot, where we sat on the steps in the summertime trying to figure out what to do with our days. the red house across from ours, where I learned to tie my shoes, and how roger would bring over lettuce and stuff he grew in the backyard. I remember washing vegetables, bugs in the sink, and not understanding anything.
my mom and my aunt with lawnchairs in the driveway, drinking michelob, washing the dogs with the garden hose on the super hot days. my first kiss in the back of a chevy suburban playing a board game, and how I had to card him a million years later at the package store, with his shitty fake ID that I let him get away with. being embarrassed when the whole neighborhood was over at our pool, and I was too old to be out in the pool in underwear and a frilly nightie tank top, and I was anyway. garden snakes and the dog run and passing barbeque condiments from the kitchen window to the back porch where we sat when the weather was nice. the day my dad shaved his beard off to work for the limousine company. mom sleeping on the couch. dad punching the wall in my room. pooh bear curtains, nightmares every night and the lights on, screaming my head off because I was afraid to pick up my bear from the floor, afraid of what was under the bed. how my sister always came, and how I did it every night, and how I called out mom a hundred times but my sister always was the one who woke up. hurricane gloria and branches hitting the upstairs window; my mom sleeping. the boredom, the waiting, the family room and how the dog lived in the garage with the space heater for the last few weeks of her life, when she got too old to walk, so she could eat and go to the bathroom and hobble around and not have to go too far.
all of this, standing back at the driveway now, and a car comes down the street and pulls right in front of me, and two kids are standing in the driveway as I walk away, looking like they’re about to roll a blunt or that they weren’t supposed to have the car out or something. all of this, racing through my head, all these paragraphs in under three minutes, dark; all mosquito bites and wet flip flops.
it was like a bad dream that wouldn’t stop, and it still is, sitting here writing all of this down. typing all of this down. I walked back up around the corner, past chet’s and the beach people and the podiatrist and the haunted house, past the church, wanting to be alone, desperately hoping to be found, finding solace on the front steps until a few minutes before nine.
the safety of the car, the familiar of the apartment that I wish was home but just feels like another place I’m staying at, except for when raf comes home from work and I’m here to have dinner with him. no one came looking for me on the front steps, sobbing into my knees held pressed to my chest, knowing my underwear was probably showing out from under my skirt and trying to cover up and not caring all at once. the shine of a clasp made to hold on one of those beige cloth wrap bandages sitting there on the steps, thinking of the old people who must have been there the day before, getting home, wondering where the clasp went. it made me remember my dad and the big bag of those wraps we always had in the bathroom and never seemed to use.
donna said it was good to feel all of that and to let it all out.
I suppose I agree, but it all still seems less like my life and more like a movie of a bad dream that someone else had.