There is often a sizable vacuum left behind in the absence of a steady influx of fresh ridiculousness rolling into my life to help fill the gaps of pandemically inspired boredom and I have discovered that some semblance of a temporary balance might be found within the gushing inrush of unexpected nostalgia, surging up from a hesitant place to help fill that incessant hunger to feel something. And when the familiar and intimate transcontinental texting lifelines last night understandably petered out in the crushing end-grip of another day of exhausted adulting, I was left on my own to find a way of filling another isolated night’s empty hours.
And we all know that never ends particularly well for me, here alone and unsupervised, caught in the captive grip of an often misinterpreted City of Wayne.
It occurred to me, as I pulled walking boots on over insulated socks recently liberated from the bottom of the stack, that they never tell you growing up that of all the most common old man aliments- all the groan inducing creaking bones and the surprising number of things now leaking, nostalgia is by far the most painful aspect of aging. At least it seems that way to me.
Bone grinding on bone because too much of a life was spent in the back of a small ass airplane loading a totally unreasonable amount of suitcases into a confined space? No problem, that’s an easy to understand hurt. Getting hit with the right peak of the playlist just as you cross over imaginary thresholds into tangible reminders of younger, happier times? While simultaneously caught in the midst of a cold and desolately sleepless December Indiana night? Within the next wave’s strangling grip of an isolating, and surprisingly polarized, global pandemic still raging hard?
That’s where the real hurt begins.
And it hurts in ways uniquely unimaginable. But I find that I have to keep compulsively poking at the many wounds that just refuse to heal, somehow attempting to twist that introspective pain into momentary pleasure, like the constant tonguing of a scorching pizza mouth flap hanging down rawly from the roof a freshly burned mouth.
It isn’t exactly a secret that I am an experience junkie, always on the hunt for an interesting moment or story and last night, I simply could not help myself. Armed with enough recreative courage, and a freshly filled flask topped off with the best of the worst of my stash, I intentionally leaned into the randomness of the night, embracing the inevitable onslaught of emotion. Wherever it took me. Whatever it meant.
And the night took me first to those recreated blocky wooden buildings still standing guard over a long forgotten frontier’s impermanent border. The time that I spent working there, playing soldier and helping history to come alive, were simply magical years spent in the company of a wonderfully durable cast of players that I remember fondly, though the ranks are beginning to thin.
From the shadows of a more militant inspiration, I walked over to that back alley door at the Performing Arts Center that became important on those early Saturday mornings when I would sneak down to see her before dance practice, armed only with my youthful passions, some thoughtfully scribbled poetry, and a 64 oz mug from a local chicken place filled with the strongest coffee my teen body could tolerate.
I sat alone on that low stone wall bordering the parking lot, sitting under a security light’s flickering glow, with just a couple of cigarettes and a pocketful of sad songs for company and I simply stared at that fucking door.
In my mind, I could see us still standing there, me boldly shifting her beautiful brown hair from her face before leaning in for a sweet, temporary kiss good-bye. I could smell her perfume and the sounds of her laughter echoed across the years, just as bright and sustaining as it was over thirty years ago.
It made me feel briefly closer to her somehow and I wanted to hold on to that feeling for as long as possible. Because it gets more difficult to find that grip with each new year that passes. No one ever cautioned me that those temporary goodbyes would one day turn permanent and when she went on to the next place without me, I was left totally unprepared for that loss.
The music eventually shifted, and so I shifted right along with it, over to the little nearby square where we would sit during summer festivals and sometimes after her practice, just holding hands and laughing at the size of the bronze appendage bulging from underneath Wayne’s horse. She always hated that in fits of uncontrollable juvenile humor always going for the laugh, I always had to pat that portrubrance while simultaneously telling Wayne’s horse to turn his head and cough.
But I thought it was funny as hell. And I honestly still kind of do.
The square fountains still worked back then and we would often sit side by side at the edge of the square’s grass and just watch the water dance as the festival goers all walked by, caught in the flow of a city’s celebration for its three rivers. Memories of those simple, uninhibited days made me realize just how desperately I miss her and how angry I still am at this world that it forced us to say goodbye before we even really had a chance.
The best that I could do to keep the more positive feelings alive was to walk back along the river to the spot where, under the shade of a giant oak tree still growing defiantly along the river’s edge, we shared our first kiss at the beginning of that almost perfect summer. In what was probably one of the boldest moments of my life, I threw all caution to the wind, and leaned into something that would ultimately take me decades to fully understand. And I am still caught in the gravity of that kiss, all these hard years later.
With the nostalgia trip taking its inevitable dark turn, my only choice was to run away down the one-way side streets and back alleys where just a few short months before, a summer full of teargas erupted angrily in intentionally fired volleys, one after the other. It was a chaotic summer that ragingly divided this city, ultimately costing me friendships in the heat of the conflict for no other reason than I simply held a different opinion as I stubbornly stood my ground, firm in my constitutional beliefs.
I was in these streets, dodging gas and pepper balls, not for bragging rights or to intentionally cause disrespect, but because I knew in my heart it was the right thing and I have never been one to shy away from a fight that I know is right. Even when I knew at the outset that I would lose. Because I stubbornly maintain that the sacrifice still has to mean something in my never-ending list of lost causes joined.
But all these streets, so familiar to me since I was little, now seem somehow stained by those events of recent circumstances, leaving this City of Wayne carrying its underlying tensions tightly coiled, just waiting for an historic moment’s instigating spark. The change of an entire city’s vibe has been palpably shifted and there is never any going back.
Something here has changed and I cannot seem to properly define it. I do know that I do not trust it. Not when I have seen first-hand the disingenuous underbelly of privileged entitlement. Not when I have heard the same old justifications for harboring indisputable, but somehow almost polite, down-home Hoosier racist expressions quietly whispered.
Things have forever changed under the thin veneer of Midwestern stability and resiliency. Change is coming in, hard and unmeasured, with every single decision transformed into a potential tinderbox for explosive destruction. I could smell the turnover plainly on the cold chill of a long December night blowing in through an unapologetic City of Wayne as I stomped the empty streets while the rest of the city slept.
The only thought that kept me company on a long walk back to a short blue house is that it is undeniably a long way until the spring. And I’m not sure that I want to still be living here, when next the spring flowers bloom.
Because anywhere had to be better than here. And I am dying for the change.