Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Visions of Belleville Lake

I often return to this passage for one reason or another. Like Seger's "Night Moves," its imagery has the power to take me back to a different time and place. The time is aught five, that Spring of my Junior year in high school. The place is Belleville Lake. I was young, full of life and night. Some nights I just wasn't ready to go home. Unleashed with a brand new driver's license, I drove the back roads of my hometown aimlessly looking for something I couldn't explain.

I used to drive out to her house alongside Belleville Lake, parking along the ditch at the end of her winding driveway. I killed the headlights and waited. Once her parents had drifted off to the great campground behind the moon she would climb out her bedroom window, suddenly appearing at the passenger side door in her pajama sweats with that innocent smile and beckoning red hair. She would kiss me and we would think we were in love the way you do at that age, then we would drive out and park alongside the lake where the yellow moon spilled onto the cat tails and the placid water.

The windows fogged up, she cuddled into my arms and we promised each other we'd be together forever; it was the kind of promise that could only come from the hearts of the very young. Naive as we were, we believed it all. For a moment the world went silent. And the seaweeds rise and fall at night in Belleville Lake.

"Ginny Cupper took me in her car out to the spread fields of Indiana. Parking near the edge of woods and walking out into the sunny rows of corn, waving seeds to a yellow horizon. She wore a white blouse and a gray patch of sweat under her arms and the shadow of her nipples was gray. We were rich. So rich we could never die. Ginny laughed and laughed, white saliva on her teeth lighting up the deep red of her mouth, fed the finest food in the world. Ginny was afraid of nothing. She was young and old. Her brown arms swinging in wild optimism, beautiful in all their parts. She danced on the long hood of her crimson Cadillac, and watching her, I thought that God must be female. She leaped into my arms and knocked me to the ground and screamed into my mouth. Heads pressed into the hot Indiana soil and pinned me in a cross. A crow cawed into the wide sun. Ginny had driven her long Cadillac through the guard rails of a St. Louis bridge and her car shone like a clot of blood in the mud and murk of the Mississippi. We were all there in the summer silence of Suffolk, Virginia, when the copper casket was gently placed in the cool marble vault. I smoked a cigarette and crushed it out on the black and white squares of the tomb. In the stagnant emptiness of the train station after the cars were gone, I walked into the women's toilet and saw the phallic obscenities on the wooden doors and gray walls. Ginny had gardenias in her lovely brown hair. I hear the train. The world's silent. Crops have stopped growing. Now they grow again."

J.P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

One Hundred and Twenty Days

In a room
By myself
Looks like I'm here with a guy I judge worse than anyone else.

So I pace
and I pray
And I repeat the mantras that might keep me clean for the day.

- Jason Isbell

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The College Town Revisited

There are places I remember
Though some have changed

All these places have their moments
Of lovers and friends I still can recall

Sweet Ann Arbor. How you've shaped my life. 

This week, which annually must be one of the most forgettable chunks of time on the calendar nationwide, found me back in Ann Arbor. My aunt and uncle, both University of Michigan employees, are paying for me to house-sit at their place on the outskirts of Ann Arbor this week, though unbeknownst to them I probably would've done it for free because of what this city means to me.

I took a stroll through the old stomping grounds this evening. Through the diag and under the collegial ivory towers where I sat through poetry discussions and environmental science seminars. Down South University past the pubs looking like warm respites from the winter air, the very pubs that we went to when we were looking to celebrate, looking to get lucky, looking to forget a loss, looking to pass the time for lack of an alternative, or looking for nothing in particular at all. Into the student housing district, where select houses remind me of particular faces, particularly memorable parties, particular bedrooms of girlfriends I used to know.

As I took tally on the years that had passed since I called Ann Arbor home, something profoundly scary occurred to me: nearly four years have passed since I graduated in Michigan Stadium that spring of aught ten. In even more frightening terms, that means that I would be a senior preparing to graduate had I started all over again after graduation. Yikes. 

But I've finally come to peace with that fact. In the four years since graduating, I had a much more difficult time letting go of Ann Arbor and college than most of the people I graduated with did. When I went to law school the Fall after graduating, I was more stuck on the loss of old friends than I was intent on making any new ones. I took the eastbound Amtrak train from Chicago to Ann Arbor on a monthly basis, to visit the girlfriend, to see a football game, to go pretend I was still in college with old roommates who were in fact still in college. Rather than embracing Chicago, I spent a lot of time living in the past, living in the Ann Arbor of yesteryear.

When I moved back to Ann Arbor the following Fall, the monthly attempts to recreate college became an everyday way of life. Devastated by heartbreak, I hung out with a lot of kids who were still in college and took on the drinking habits of a college student accordingly. Try as I might, rekindling college never quite materialized. In retrospect, it was kind of pathetic. While my old roommates from college had all taken the next step, I was drinking cheap vodka with college students, hanging out at college parties, and hitting on sorority girls who were in high school during my own college years. The third post-college year was perhaps the worst of them all; I would often drive to Ann Arbor, physically and mentally decimated from another bout with the booze, just to walk around and wallow in my own self-pity and a serious case of unhealthy nostalgia.

Over the past year I've largely avoided Ann Arbor entirely. I guess it's the same as an ex-girlfriend: in order to get over it you need a clean break. I had to rebuild my life without the prospect of Ann Arbor.

For the first twenty-two years of my life Ann Arbor was the driving force behind my entire existence. The only real goal I had ever had in life was to get into the University of Michigan and earn a degree from the institution from which my beloved sports teams hailed. They say that recently retired professional athletes often have incredibly difficult times adjusting to life after sports, their dreams having been realized and suddenly distant memories. It was much the same way for me. After graduating from Michigan, what was there to do? I didn't have any discernible goals after that. My life's dream had been accomplished. As a result, my life seemed utterly directionless.

As I walked around Ann Arbor tonight, though, it wasn't the past that haunted me. Rather, it was the present and future that primarily occupied my mind. Those college years will always hold a special spot in my heart of memories. But tonight, for the first time, that's all they were: memories. Ann Arbor and the collegiate years I associate with it have finally become a part of my past, and nothing more. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Snowbound Blues

Dusk falls Friday night as another batch of snow pours from the starwealthy heavens. My dog tugs at the blanket I have buried myself away under for another sedentary weekend. Reluctantly, I emerge from my state of deep couch hibernation and toss him his drool-soaked tennis ball. He smiles a dog's smile. I wonder if he remembers yesterday at all; I wish I knew half as little as my dog.

Four deer prance through the backyard as midnight envelopes the Millwood woods in darkness. I wonder what majestic snowscapes they have seen today. I want to follow them in my wanderlust, wander off to the woods of my youth and disappear for a while. But I'm stuck inside, pining for a country road.

I bury myself in my books: Johnny Cash swallows pills by the mouthful and Jon Krakauer sits at the base of Everest camp, the peak of his dreams and one life-shattering event awaiting him up the mountain. Amphetamines and Everest sure make for a strange literary cocktail for the mind.

Sunday morning dawns bright and colorless. I rub the sand from my eyes and gaze out the window, half-expecting winter's doldrums to have melted away. But of course the trees are draped in white for as far as the eye can see, the frozen black branches drooping with icicles. From deep in the woods I make out the faint cry of the C&O train; I wonder if that old train conductor feels lonely wherever he is going. I turn on the news: another actor found dead with a needle in his arm.

And in my mind I've gone to Carolina.