It’s the summer of my 12th year, with days as hot as I imagine God’s holy wrath against sin.
This summer nothing seems real. The air shimmers, and voices reach me from a blurry distance. I absent-mindedly scrape my knuckles raw while grating carrots for salad; through the window over the kitchen sink, I gaze at a sky so blue it brings stinging tears to my eyes. What are you saying? I silently scream at the unblinking sky. What are you trying to tell me?
Oh, there are secrets floating in the air like dust motes you can see when someone walks through a room, disturbing molecules in their wake. All summer long I wait for these secrets to speak to me, to make themselves known in a language I can comprehend.
Tucked away in the womb of my backyard fort, I wait. The sun drenched planks scorch my thighs. With eyes closed, I inhale the pungent scent of our neighbor’s radishes and cucumbers, and listen drowsily as someone’s radio plays King of the Road. I am waiting for something of a spectacular nature to reveal itself to me, the redheaded step-child. I don’t have a name for this mysterious revelation, though at times I can almost feel it enveloping me like a warm, unexpected hug from someone I didn’t even know liked me.
At night I sleep out under the stars in my backyard and hear that something, that wooing voice, in the chirping of crickets. Even the distant murmur of a TV through an open window can reduce me to tears for the wanting of it. The faces of my family become mouthless blobs; it amazes me that they can speak at all. I watch them with detached curiosity, wondering what they have to do with me. Alone in my room I scrutinize the glossy photo of Davy Jones, of The Monkees, as his soulful brown eyes look deep into mine. Does he know about secrets so compelling you could die from their exquisite beauty, even before discovering their source or meaning?
I dig for these secrets in the pages of well-thumbed books, turning the pages with near reverence. Some clue to the mysteries of life—my life in particular—is sure to jump out at me in print, and when it does, I will be ready to catch it with steady hands.
I memorize the ashy color of our front curb, and the slant of my best friend’s eyes when she laughs at my inane imitation of Klinger, from Hogan’s Heroes. Every crack up and down our street is known to me by heart. And in the roar of metal roller skates thundering its surface (the original heavy metal music), I hear an eerie, discordant symphony enticing me away from things that don’t bear telling. Especially does this symphony call out to me when I am pinned under The King of the Mountain in the master bedroom, and the noises of my friends at play drifts through the open window, taunting me with my own lack of freedom, my own careless lack of nonchalant self-worth.
When my hand thwacks the tether ball in my backyard so hard that I nearly fall over backwards from the impact, it stings my palm in a good way that lets me know I’m alive and capable of feeling. My fingers probe the knobbiness of my knee and trace the path of its scar, as if revisiting a place I’ve known and loved. My eyes ache with homesickness—but for what or where? For some cosmos I once knew, perhaps, before chaos blundered into my world like a bull in a china shop, knocking me up the side of the head with sudden violence.
I crack my shins, repeatedly, on our unforgiving marble coffee table, trip over nothing, ride my bike over a pebble and tumble to the ground in a sprawled heap at the side of a busy road—- thumping my head on the pavement, skinning both knees. Oh, but none of this touches me for it involves only skin, my most surface self.
On nights that I sleep out in my fort huddled under a blanket, my pencil scritches words across my tablet by candlelight. I am alone in a world of my own making, hoping to lure this elusive wooing secret to me with the sound of lead on paper. My frequent erasures tear the paper, and I imagine this is how it must be for God, erasing my name from the Lamb’s Book of Life, only to have to re-enter it as I feverishly repent of that day’s sins. Tomorrow, another erasure, followed by still another re-entry, clear until Doom’s Day. He must have the patience of a saint! I hope that, like the game of She loves me, She loves me not, Judgment Day will find my name once more penciled in.
When at last I sink into sleep, the well-thumbed summer night enveloping me like a solicitous parent saying there, there, my dreams are full of unfulfilled yearnings.
(My fort in wintertime.)