December 26, 2005 Monday
My imagination of the near future is working over time… my day dreamers, but to paper…
…I throw my seabag into the back of fellow sailor Zeender’s truck, taking a last look at my stranded car and we take off north, to Maryland where Marley is waiting for me, navigating the dense northern Virginia traffic, breezing through the otherwise head-scratching Richmond run-amok. Along the way I learn from him an excellent crab bisque and six ways to kill a man by looking at him.
…Marley…She meets me at the door and says she loves me, and you know that can’t be bad. Just for that, I’m glad. I might have hurt her so, almost lost her mind, yet she knows I’m not the hurting kind. It’s up to me to make it a good trip, it’s only fair. It’s the best way to apologize to her. Thankfully she loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah.
…“Will you step over here and remove your shoes, please?” Have I said how much I love flying? No? Must be your imagination, now. Is it just a coincidence that more attractive girls than not get pulled out of lines? I could bet on the likelihood of you getting attention, but that would be cynical. Are you going to want your peanuts, on this flight? Chewing would give something to do, to divert from the miles of nothing beneath me. Tell me a wise saying, a parable. Life is very short, and there’s no time for fusing and fighting, my friend. It too will pass.
…How to get all the lonely people, where do they all come from? From England, or Australia, or Germany, or Russia, all crammed in a hostel like a make-shift United Nations, shaming the institution by how well we all get along. We listen to stories of world-wide travels, marveling at accents, latitudes, and attitudes, and in the moment we wish we could shake off our origins and join a more global world.
…The forever-towers make us feel like ant’s ants as the steel grass blades stretch up and out in all directions. Are we in a city–or else a bee’s swarm–two of thousands, making our way to our own combs? A woman in heels and a cell phone strides along Wicker Avenue on the way to a meeting. A cousin of one of the old SNL Superfans, moustached with dark glasses, a beer gut and an Urlacher jersey sewn to his skin takes a large bite of a hotdog he has just bought from a vender. Lake Michigan elbows in, making its presence felt. The El rumbles overhead on its way to Adams Street. Which are more anonymous, snowflakes or taxicabs? Chicago is breathing.
…We are sitting on a restaurant, escaping the cold. You are being very Northern brave, you of the New Mexico lands, but don’t mind letting in a slip of your stone walls, that you are glad to be out of the elements. The world will soon turn older, my dear, as the last light of 2005 fades into the west. It is fitting, fair of the world, that Marley is with me. What has this entire last year been about, if not her? I look across at her, her face a lit by the table’s flame, and I think about 2006, a swan-song year. It will be end of her Hampton era; in less than 365 she will be jetting off to still parts unknown. At the same time I will be shedding my uniformed skin, to much relief. It will not be an easy year, and it feels already expired before it is born, like a day with too many errands to run. I toast to the night, the moment, and to a kind change I am not ready to make.
…I am happy for simple things on the afternoon of the First of January, 2006. For a trunk to put my burdenous bag in, for transportation that I don’t need a pass or tip to ride in. Marley is at the wheel as we turn south, the heaters full blast until she thaws a bit, and I take over as well emerge from the suburban jungle. Soon familiar city names, then roads, then landmarks are streaking by the window; my stomach is grabbed by a lower organ and shaken liberally. We stop in Peoria and load up on Christmas gifts (though it almost seems like we should invent an entirely new name for the celebration we are about it have).
…Well, this is the moment, as we crest the final hill and slide to a brief stop at an inconspicuous intersection. Across the way, fittingly on the breadth of a barren and cold corn field is a sign declaring, “Welcome to Elmwood, Trojan Country.” I allow an instant of bashful pride at my sleepy, lost-in-time hamlet. We turn left, passing into the town’s boundaries. Families still have decorations up. It is barely seven in the evening, but the only signs of life are a lone car approaching, still far in the distance, and a bundled runner along the shoulder, making his way into the countryside. It is so familiar, but I know it has changed, however much it is deceptively the same, and the houses and parks I played in a child are no more than bygone photographs.
…We pull up in the front, climbing the steps of the yard’s hill, and finally ring the bell to announce our arrival as we simultaneously barge in onto a tiny landing and the smell of food being prepared in the kitchen just above. Ten-to-one odds Nicole will be the first to greet us, bounding into the room and enveloping herself in hugging me, beginning to talk from the very first second. Mom will emerge from her room off of the dining room, saying that dinner is nearly ready and that she hoped we didn’t already eat as I hug her, then turn and introduce them both to you. You will be immediately at home. I’ve wondered about the plane trip, guessed at our Palmer House room, but have never had to spend an instant at wondering how you will be accepted. Dad will be nearly done dressing from a shower, having gotten a late start, and will soon come up the stairs with a booming welcome, asking at least three times if I was able to catch the Minnesota-Chicago game of earlier that day. My leave began days ago, but it will be my first deep breath in a long time.
…On one blustery night Elmwood is playing a division rival at the high school gym. We go early, and I give you a tour of our halls, and where I once did some embarrassing something or other. The stands are filling with cheering parents and raucous students, as the team is trying valiantly to stay with the stronger, faster opponent. But no matter. At half time I take the court with the ticket I bought, and do something I thought I never would. In front of nearly the entire town I toe the line and let loose a shot, hoping for a swish, pleading to touch rim. The same from three-point range, and again from half-court, yet something inside tells me I have a better and better chance the further away I am. If I miss, if I make, I would like to be able to come back to my lady with spoils, a small pizza or twelve-pack of Pepsi won in her name and honor. At least I will have pictures of my adventure, and years from now I can make up what really happened.
…The photos are in the back closet of my small childhood room, stored away for times like this. The snapshot of me, at four years sitting in my wading pool with shocks of white-blonde hair, fully clothed. Of me sitting on the floor and crying, next to a little girl who is also, after, at the same age, I kiss her and then she slaps me. Of the ubiquitous bath picture, of me in my baseball uniform, and then dressed to the tens as I leave the house for prom.
…As if you are not sick and tired of cold and sleet and snow and freeze, we find ourselves ice-skating with Sonya. The first time around takes an eternity, as we navigate the wall, taking steps more than glides. With a little practice we can make it around a full time around without a rump injury, and Marley will have many stories to tell that night about how as we are skating together Will is the cause of the majority of violent pile-ups and burn-outs, and I will stuff your mouth with a marshmallow we are adding to our cocoa, for your trouble.