About a year and a half ago, right before TRUE started the blog; I gave a giant Fuck You to all my fears of reprobation and risked a journey back to the old neighborhood in Jersey. I thought it was too lame and nostalgic to tell you about. Trust me--you didn’t miss much. The town, which was really always more like a strip mall than a town, was the same boring ugly that it used to be. The street signs were a bit more crooked, and the colors of the aluminum siding were more washed out. Everything I looked at weighed heavy on my eyes, but I guess that’s why I went back--to find an anchor for my shiftless gaze. It was a rainy, blustery day, but I remember driving around with the windows down (that's when I had the orange beamer—god how I miss that ride) and blasting Depeche Mode. The streets were mind-bogglingly narrow. I passed entire new cities of tract homes in the fields where we used to ride our bikes. I pulled up beneath the highway overpass and made the fateful right turn at the gas station (which is now a Shell, btw), and all at once I was irrevocably deep in it, with Nassau Park looming in front of me less than half a block away. This was the border...the edge of the kingdom. Just past it was my street and the streets that branched off from it. I made a hasty turn and rolled down towards my house. I didn’t feel anything in particular as I looked from my left to my right. Whatever powerful nostalgia had brought me here was now a smoked out ash curled up on the floor of the beamer. Instead of experiencing the moment, I imagined that I was a world famous anthropologist on a study of the The American Development in the Northeast, circa 1977, the year in which some wiseass had the bright idea to manufacture even cheaper "suburbs", so that all classes of people could walk around their little quarter acre in their underwear and burn some burgers and imagine that they had succeeded at something. These were people—my parents with their brand new twin babies among them—who had lived all their lives in industrial holes surrounded by concrete. The idea of their children having trees and fresh air was too much to pass up on. You can see it in pictures taken at that time—there’s a hyperactive glow to their grinning faces, as though the sacred mystery of happiness had somehow wandered into the room and brushed against them with the hem of its veil.

I see my father in a red tank top holding a small wet glass filled with beer.

There was my mother, with her eyes closed and her hair down, in front of an overexposed blue sky.

it was a Led Zeppelin, pot smoking, Watergate kind of sky

I look at these pictures with the shame of a scientist who had wanted so badly for everything in his little experiment to work. For years I suffered from an irrational feeling of responsibility for my parents’ failings. I’d even managed to chalk up their religious conversion to myself. I used to make myself sick with responsibility. I started drinking to numb the pain.

And now that I know what caused it, everything’s changed except the story itself—the facts of the case.

I had a twin brother.

His name was Sterling.

When we were three he drowned in a pool in front of me.

Something crossed over in my father and he transformed into a fire and brimstone born again.

My mother turned quiet as a mouse.

While I merely dissolved.

And went about the careful business of forgetting he ever existed.

Oh—I almost left out the most important fact. The one all the shrinks and student doctors liked to throw at me as the chink in the fence of whatever construct I’d come up with.
But there was nothing you could do…you were only a toddler yourself, and powerless to save him.

Ha! Yes, nothing I could do except never to have been born! I’ve never been able to shake the unsettling conviction that I am the master of my own destiny—that it was I alone who willed myself into existence and that my parents had little to do with it.

Guilt. Pure and sweet like an over ripened peach. That’s the force that brings all prodigal sons home—even the ones who are girls.

I tossed a cigarette butt at the car up on cinderblocks in the neighbor’s yard and stole quick, furtive glances at the house that was my former nemesis. It was still painted green. Other than that it looked nothing like I remembered. It was too small and droopy, as though invisible strings were gently tugging it towards the ground. Trees that I no longer recognized dwarfed it in size. The curtains in the picture window weren't my mother's, and that made everything look different. Someone had told me that an Indian family moved in when my parents moved out. There was a blue Caravan in the driveway. A small, gray DirectTV dish sat crookedly on the roof. This was not my house. The house I had known was a monster. I lived the beginning of my life in a constant state of anxiety, convinced, for every second I was within its walls that something bad was going to happen. I walked around like a ghost, silent and scared, there but not really, like that little blond girl in Poltergeist.

I stood like I used to stand, frozen stiff in the middle of the empty street, with only the yawning exhalations of the highway in the distance and the occasional jet overhead to remind me that I wasn’t the only person in the world.

I used to stand still for a half hour or more, repenting for my life, trying to appease the invisible god who i imagined hovering above the heavy headed pine trees and the fancy brass cross of the Ukrainian church, the one that always made me think of a queen on a chess board. i imagined this god to be as intolerant as the gusts of wind that howled in my ears or as the lit-up windows of the house in front of me that turned into demon eyes glaring down at me with all the force of hell. I stood like a statue as the cars passed behind me, one after another as the fathers came home from work, the ebb and flow of engines turning into the passing of time itself, as it was actually happening, somewhere far away.

(my house…our house)

(his house)

(sterling's house)

No comments: