(Recently I co-wrote a song with my friend Sandra Lolo. Little was I prepared for the Pandora’s Box of memories that would be triggered. A week of unsettling dreams.)
It was 1993 in Western New York. The autumn leaves had separated from their tree branches and were lying on the ground dead, rotting, decaying. My eighteen year old feet heard those leaves crunching beneath my thrift store combat boots. The smell of approaching winter is bittersweet and dank.
There is something romantically morbid about late fall/early winter. It’s the beauty of death. For a few moments in time everything freezes and stands still. Those dead leaves would be imprisoned and crystalized beneath a sheet of ice. Perhaps if you put your ear up to the ice you could hear the leaves screaming, crying to be released so they can complete their decay. It was only recently I realized how much I am like those leaves. Trapped beneath ice. Wanting release.
In 1993 my feet were in combat boots but my heart was in the hands of a heterosexual boy. Everything about him was intriguing. His eyes. His scratchy voice. His knack for leaving enough space to keep me guessing and transfixed. A passerby on the street could clearly see he had no interest in me. My young creative mind, however was skillful in conjuring secret meanings, inventing imaginary signals, and steadfastly insisting this chapter of my life be filed under non-fiction, no matter how fiction it was.
My memory is haunted by car rides. I remember me and my friends driving during those late autumn nights. The clouds threatened the first snowfall and the radio blasted Alice In Chains and Nirvana. My head was full of hair and my eyes were without wrinkles. And more vivid than my memory of my young face is my memory of wanting to love so damn much. Had the imaginary boy reciprocated my feelings I would have given myself fully and completely. Against the odds of 1993 conservative small town America I would have been a gay boy openly in love. I would have held his hand in public. I would have let him tell me to turn down the music. I would have let him push me down into those crispy New York leaves and take me in his arms. I didn’t know the meaning of the word hesitation. I was ready to fall wholeheartedly and sincerely.
But like the notion that northern summer can last forever, that love was but a figment of my imagination. Only one pair of boots trudged through the autumn leaves every night on the way back to my parent’s house. My boots. The smell of fireplace smoke danced up my nose and I fell asleep hugging the pillow so tightly hoping just maybe one morning that pillow would turn into him.
Into the flood again
Same old trip it was back then
I left that small town with a vengeance in 1998. I gave my combat boots and my romantic optimism to the local thrift store. I rode on a Grey Hound for twenty hours…numb…lifeless…vague. I arrived in downtown Tampa on a sunny October morning. I was greeting by new friends wearing sunglasses and t-shirts. Chilled forever by those haunted winters I sped to an eternal summertime. And life went on.
One by one the years continue to stack. Five years in the tropics turned into ten and then fourteen. I still feel embraced by palm trees. To see the palm fronds slowly dancing in the Florida breeze is still a sigh of relief. I ran so far from those terrifying youthful blizzards. The ones where I loved so much because when you are young that’s the only thing you know how to do.
But only recently came a unsettling realization and it’s too late to fix it. When I boarded that grey hound in Western New York on October 1998 I remembered my guitar and my back pack.
But I forgot to pack my ability to openly love. I brought the storms with me but I forgot the stars.
And as I write this in my chest beats a heart cased in shadow and caution. Longing for those teenaged nighttime car rides with my young and beautifully fucked up friends. Dank and soggy rock and roll issuing from the speakers and we sang along. If only I could reach back in time nineteen years, grab that wild beating heart out of my body and shove into the body that I sit in today. The greatest tragedy of my youth was spending all my love in the wrong places.
That heart is gone. And so are the 1990s.