Stories start with the basics. Construction paper and glue and the fourth of July. The in-ground pool at the house on Main Street and Miss Pat’s birthday cake and crepe paper on the banister. That fat old cat. And then it was Minnie Mouse striped shirts and blue overalls and pretzel rods at lunch time, splinters in my chin. We moved, unencumbered by thought, floating through time without the leaden weights of responsibility, our brains still mushy like Play-Doh, lips salty from goldfish and seaweed cakes. You knew the magic recipe, always enough water, never too much sand.
And now, as I sit and write this, shoveling out bar peanuts with a spoon, broken foot hanging awkwardly off my knobby ankle, bad lounge music drowning out the Germans on either side of me, I am awash in flashes of innocence. The secret garden, behind the trees and over the fence, singularly accessible by way of the sacred quarter. Tuesday night, frogs raining from the sky, waking up to lily pad-covered station wagons. You, the master of hollow wood casing and horse hair strings; me, the master of horseplay. Rambunctious. Clouds on both our ceilings.
Somewhere along the way we struck a balance. Or maybe it was there all along, from the beginning. My noise to your quiet, your blonde to my brown. We could crawl through the mailbox to an underwater world, gold and silver, long hair and mermaid tails. Bleeding hearts in the backyard, torn apart, gave way to magic wands. And somehow, so fast, it was plaid skirts and blazers. Casual Fridays and double pickles. St. Louis and Washington DC and giant trampolines. And then again, so fast, it was over. Back to flared jeans and too-short t-shirts and would you pass the test? Lift up your arms, let me see if your stomach shows.
We found boys. And men. And men who were still boys. Tylers and Bens and Ryans and Brians and Morgans and Austins and Toms. We traded pants and lost our hearts. Lost our minds. Found them again and started all over. Found music, found god, found ecstasy and alcohol and life and death and music again. I stayed up all night and stole the car and slept in your ditch. You climbed out your window and smoked cigarettes on the roof. Hot summer nights and no shoes. You drank my dad’s tequila, I chewed through pills and pen caps. And then, again, it was over, and we were out. Putting needles through our noses, puking all night and sleeping under your bed. The weed doesn’t smell if you exhale through dryer cloths. Cocaine sex can last all night. Breakfast at the sunroom and dinosaur Halloweens.
Still, the music. Every weekend, every week, every day. Everclear and Tab and music. Haircuts and holidays and music. Sailor Jerry and pit bulls and overdoses. And music. When the bottle is empty you can light it on fire. I moved to New York and you worked in a bakery, and we drank and we smoked and we sang full of sorrow, and when they found Brandon dead you called me and we cried and I screamed and we cried and I got in the shower and cried and cried. We lived together in that big brown house and I still never slept. Big plastic cups of boxed wine to come down, and that was the closest I’ve been to over the edge. One foot on the platform, the other foot on the train.
In the wee morning hours, hearing noises outside and seeing mice under doorways, I tipped into the dark side, rescued only by house meetings, the college girl’s intervention. I dropped out and moved to New York again, this time for good. You moved to France, and thank god, returned. And I became an orphan and you became Ivy League and I quit the pills and you cut up caterpillars and studied their guts. And we took the train and spilled our own guts. Round trips on Metro-North and hangovers and hotel rooms.
And now, in a day, a whole country between us. Rings on fingers and suspended promises. When the moon aligns with the street lights.