So I wanted the kid to sleep. As any parent knows, the car is a powerful tool for soothing the beast that is your child. We were already in the car, so… it’s not bad parenting if you took a little longer than usual to drive from point A to B (never mind if you traverse the entire alphabet twice before finally arriving at B).
Tooling down the street, curling around roundabouts, I found myself settling into the routes of my childhood like a wheel locking into a well-worn rut. Not the exact routes, mind ya, because that would finish quite badly, with chain link wrapped around my fender, along with various bits of backyard paraphernalia which might or might not include bits of bloody dog hair.
My old stomping grounds were illuminated, long dormant neural pathways superimposing the subdivisions, the shards of maze-like suburbia with memory’s clarity. There the cornfield I was afraid to go too far into, content to pitter and patter at its edge; bright constellation of activity there—a nail punctured rubber sole to flesh sole causing me to limp home. Across the street there was the cauldron of Osage orange trees surrounding the recessed foundation of a silo. There was no light pollution.
Then the bicycle dashes across the cracked sidewalks, the destination often suspect. The squeak of wheel, the fading pink paint of my sister’s “borrowed” bike so my friend could take mine. Hot and cold, your hands burned, your face burned. Forcibly forgetting the brakes down the town’s steep rolling hills. Cooling down at the local Dillon’s, twenty five cent generic sodas from the machine outside and stolen candy whose wrappers were hidden between the folds of magazines. VHS tapes from the video department. The movies were so great back then. A Family Circusesque montage stipples our routes across town, which are just as circuitous.
The heat wave making waves across the concrete. My grandparents were in town and everyone was off to the City of Fountains but I elected to stay behind. I don’t know why, but there I was, with some pocket change and not enough water in my body, walking the couple miles to the local comic book store where I woke on the floor surrounded by concerned faces right after buying a candy bar at the 7-11 (which has long since been converted to a pawn shop and its barricaded windows, to add an element of seediness). When I got home I found that the candy bar had melted in my pocket, and the packaging made a teardrop shape as all the chocolate rushed to the bottom.
Turning the car down a forgotten street, the flash in the mirror showing the kid’s nodding off, but not at the finish line. The pond slides past. Me and a friend on a bench, my shoulder blades perched on the 2 by 4 backing, tripping balls off on sticks of honey sunken amanita muscaria. Benevolent columns of cloud in the blistering blue sky, twirling to pause and cast bashful smiles before twirling the opposite way. His trip something else, but the muscles in our face were drawn up. The water, like Joyce put it, millioncandled. Then we went down behind the hill to the runoff pool which used to be a fish hatchery to smoke a joint or two.
Park after park, clandestine conventions of illegality, slouched on armatures belonging the children of the day (I imagine if we could hear, the ghosts of these whoops and cries linger on the wind)—during the night, a different sort of child comes sneaking out of back doors, across low wet grass, footprinting the asphalt until they reach the pre-arranged destination, eyes glittering, hands snaking into pockets to grasp moist leafy fragrances.
Then somewhere between that and now, things happened. Some things got better, some good things got lost, and some things hit the fan. It’s hard to reconcile the kid with the large wire-frame glasses pervasive in the 90’s to a tall father sodden with exhaustion myself. Illusions were shattered, of course, and along with the pieces fell the innocent versatility of naivete, belief. Now a cynic cashing in doubts, the trip fades (wire-frame unrendering of memory) to leave behind mellow nostalgia but not the despair of the absent. It is a gift, something we should give to ourselves once in a while, to remember our origins, to remember it wasn’t always like this. We can reacquire the pieces of self that made us in thrall of the world, if only indefinitely. A fine vintage to be enjoyed on special occasions.
I look in the mirror. Out like a light.