a meditation on nostalgia
I was twelve and you were fourteen. A mop of dirty blond hair grazed the tops of your hazel-green eyes, your black rectangle glasses resting sideways on your nose. My nickname for you was Gravitron, like the dizzying ride at the Burtonsville County fair, because your last name rhymed with it and because you made me dizzy too. You wrote my name in cursive on a lopsided clay heart with the same Sharpie you used to repair scuff marks on your shoes.
We sat on grassy knolls after school hating everything and everyone and joked about robbing a bank, committing murder-suicide – you promised to shoot me first, a bullet to the head, before disemboweling yourself hara-kiri style – and then reuniting in some ironic Bonnie-and-Clyde version of heaven. But your mom found our IMs after you left yourself signed into your AOL handle one night, morosemongoose826, and she reported us to the school counselor, and there were consequences and we never spoke of it again.
Four years later, I was sixteen and you were eighteen. You woke up sweaty and bored one night, so you stripped down naked, poured a bucket of red paint over yourself and ran down the street with a sledgehammer hoisted over your head. You’d thought it was funny, but your stepdad had you put on tranquilizers. That summer, once the tranquilizers had worn off and you felt okay enough to drive, you picked me up in your beat-up red Camry and we listened to Broken Social Scene as we barreled down winding roads and went to straight edge concerts, using your Sharpie to draw black “X”s on the backs of our hands.
The days I remember from that summer were warm and sunny and all blurred together: we rolled lopsided cigarettes and wandered through the woods, then took turns tumbling down the hill behind our old middle school, competing to see who could pick up more grass stains. Afterwards we’d stop at the cement bridge with “1979” carved into its top and listen to the namesake song from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness on your CD player.
You and I were destined for different paths but for that summer, the last time we saw each other daily, we pretended not to know it. Deep down I knew your life would be difficult: muted, misunderstood, a throbbing heart in a see-through cage. You told me that the scent of strawberry pop tarts made you sad.
I don’t even know if you live in Burtonsville anymore, but at least we still message each other twice a year on our birthdays – run-on sentences recounting moments from the past year, peppered with tributes to old friends who have passed away. And sometimes, out of a vague sense of yearning, I’ll listen to Broken Social Scene’s Cause = Time with my eyes closed and revisit those moments when we were teenagers, desperation tentacles throttling everything we touched, our futures twisted up into the shape of a question.
That part with the sweeping, howling fiddle in the third verse – that’s the part of the song where I always wanted to wile out and dance in circles, but you resisted, insisting that you couldn’t dance outside of a mosh pit – until finally, finally, I was able to pull you up, struggling, onto your feet.
And even then – as you shuffled around with an embarrassed grin – you would shield your face and especially those marble eyes, afraid to show yourself to the world as you were.