Monday, November 23, 2009

I remember

Where are you? I was your boy once, fair-haired, smooth-skinned, a singer, a story-teller, a goof-ball, that's what you called me once, a goof-ball, happy to lie with my head nestled in your damp lap, listening to your soft singing, I know that hindsight is always twenty-twenty, but it was true -- you were the fairest flower, you called me your little savage, and I tried to live up to the name. I danced for you and saw how you smiled. Boys performing for girls, boys so fragile, so silly, despite their big bones, their hard-ons, and their dirty mouths. You knew what I was. You saw me dance and you dispelled my awkwardness with that thousand-watt smile of yours. Lit up my whole world. You know, darlin, I lived for that smile, that look, those eyes. And when you sang "Down By the Salley Gardens," I cried.

In your eyes, I was better than I was anywhere else in the whole world, at least it felt that way. Your romantic fair-haired boy. These days, it feels like I'm making it up, the story of the two of us, riding across the southern tier of New York State, succumbing to the American dream of highway freedom, listening to the wind, heading west, a little savage and a sensible girl, wedded to the wind by a music of their own making. Everyone was trying their hand at ecstasy in those days. Past Binghamton on 17, remembering John Gardner's fatal ride, you said, there is no such thing as
moral fiction, no, there is no such thing any more, and both of us became sad and quiet, giving in to the illusion of freedom between Endicott and Elmira, the four lanes unspooling out over the ancient hills of the Allengheny Plateau, that ribbon of highway. We stopped at the glassworks in Corning, forsaken, forgotten, holding each other and singing, singing brave little love songs. Just like in the movies. Watching craftsmen blow the molten glass into fantastic shapes. A crystal seahorse. Stars surrounding a half moon. Lilies.

Where are you today? Tonight? All my troubles, all my pain, you know how hard I tried to get it out in the music, but the music only lasts so long, you can only keep banging on the keys for so long. Effin boy grows up and he's got to make a living. Call it reality, darlin.
I am lost unto this world. Effin girl grows up and she's working two jobs to keep the kids clothed and fed. Today I got an e-mail from someone I haven't seen in twenty years or more. And now they expect the badger to come out of its hole, shed its private male stink and re-enter the world of broken promises and haunted melodies. Good luck, darlin, good luck in trying to work it out, where the time went, how your fair-haired boy forgot the tune, how the crowded world closed in on you and me, on all of us. Go ahead -- write your e-mails and hope someone will respond.

My old buddy Rich used to contend that college was just a rest home for burnt-out adolescents, that our prolonged childhood would eventually catch up with us, that we would wind up spoiled brats at fifty, staring dumbly into the Well of Narcissus, surrounded by our useless toys, effin earplugs hanging out of our ears, all our drugs legally prescribed now, wearing the accoutrements of the good life, as we conceived of it back then, the little savage and the sensible girl,
all grown up now.

Sometime that January -- it was cold and icy up there in Ithaca all winter -- we went to the movies, I forget if the art house was on State or Green. Fellini's
Amarcord was showing, that merciful and generous act of memory, such a funny vivid dream, you would hum that Nino Rota accordion tune for weeks afterward. Remember the soft-brained uncle who climbed up a tree at the picnic and wouldn't come down? We knew people like that. The movie ended with peacocks walking around in a fake cinema snowstorm, so we buttoned up and walked out into a real snowstorm. No one is prepared for the kinds of things life throws at you. Who was it said, it'll make you strong if it doesn't kill you first? Yeah, I guess so.

I'm writing this with no regrets, no answers either, just a feeling of tenderness and deep gratitude for those light-hearted days. This life may not go all the way, but it's gone a helluva lot further than we once thought it might. Take care, darlin, and bundle up. Someday we'll meet again.

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