Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lightning Bugs Like Polaroids

How did we get on the topic? Drugs and dreams. "That's what my book is about," I explain to Bryan excitedly -- "Visions of Yzerman. About the nightmares and hallucinations induced by alcohol withdrawals."

I had been telling him about the nightmares I'd been having the last couple weeks Up North, bad dreams seemingly caused by a ten-day prescription of powerful antibiotics for a double ear infection, undoubtedly contracted at one Upper Peninsula classroom or another. Nightmares about being back in jail, about withdrawing from drugs in some detox ward, being trapped in the charred hallways of the St. Michael's Catholic School of my early years during some sort of apocalypse, drinking again. These are a few of my worst fears. Maybe they're occurring in part because I've lately been brainstorming for chapters twenty-nine and thirty, corresponding to the winter of 2013 in terms of my life's narrative, that winter that I was hospitalized for withdrawal and subsequently went to outpatient rehab for substance abuse. 

"G-R-E-T-Z-K-Y," Wayne Gretzky spells out his name in a chilling Stanley Cup promo prior to Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals, "F-E-D," "Y-Z-E," "L-I-D-S" -- those letters alone taking me back to a summer night almost twenty years ago to the day. Though it's the first year the Red Wings have been absent from the playoffs since I was three years old, I've been following this year's playoffs as closely as ever, as I have little in the way of entertainment other than my radio Up North. The Tigers sure aren't much fun to listen to anymore. 

Wednesday had been a long one. In the course of a seven hour drive it felt like I had driven back into another life, from my Upper Peninsular world into the past. I woke Wednesday morning on little sleep -- worked the evening shift at rehab until 11:00 p.m. Tuesday night, during which I was delighted to have my first moose encounter -- to a cold, rainy Marquette morning that felt much more like April than the eve of June, packed my travel bag and met Beth at the Marquette Starbucks for coffee before hitting the road at 8:30 a.m. All across the Upper Peninsula it rained, both Lakes Superior and Michigan dreary, with white caps being hurled inwards towards the shores along their respective two-lane highways, and I spent the first leg of the drive listening to my Gone With the Wind audiobook -- stories of the early days of the Reconstruction-era postbellum South -- until "high wind" warning signs in advance of the Mackinac Bridge prompted me to check the radio for weather conditions.

Crossing the bridge, I was bemused to find that the speed limit on 1-75 South had increased from 70 mph to 75 mph since my last trip home, and though the northernmost towns in the tip of the Lower Peninsula more resembled the Spring season the Upper Peninsula seemed stuck in, what with many of the trees and flowers still in bloom and the rainy weather of late, driving further south, especially as I made my way down into the Bay counties, I had to roll down my windows in amazement of the 75 degree sunshine. The trees there were the dense green of full-fledged summer mystery. Of course, the headlights and streetlamps are far too numerous for my liking (full blown yooper now, eh) on the drive home from Farmington Hills to Westland, but my childhood neighborhood at dusk is quiet in a majestic way beneath the most perfect sky of midnight blue, the silhouette of the treetops enveloping Millwood casting shadows across the front lawns, the first inklings of lightning bugs appearing and disappearing in flashes like Polaroid snapshots in the blackening woods. It all reminds me of magical summer nights twenty years ago, neighborhood-wide barbecues, block parties, playing Ghosts in the Graveyard and catching fireflies, neighborhood boy chasing neighborhood girl, those summers the Red Wings won back to back Cups. Isn't that what we come home for? 

Today I'm writing and sipping Caribbean coffee on Frank's balcony, tanning in the sun, trying to channel my inner Hunter S. Thompson in my seersucker shorts, cut-off Churchill Chargers tank and wayfarers. I can hear the harsh rush of traffic from M-5 and the corner of 9 Mile and Farmington, the whir of lawn mowers making fresh grass smells in the air, the songs of little blackbirds playing games in the treetops. Tonight it'll be dinner with the family and probably Game 1 of the NBA Finals with the guys (nostalgically recalling that I listened to the Finals last year in a cabin in the Porcupine Mountains), but then tomorrow it'll be back to the Upper Peninsula, into another life. I wonder if it'll be summer there. 

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