The Only Hope I Never Abandoned

To the old man
Limping up the Lareda Street
Hill with the young dog
Spirited and playful
Barking, pulling at his leash
Champing with vigor
While you tried to keep up
I do not know either one of you
I don’t know your story.

But I love you
I love you
Like I know
The purity of love that accompanies
My very best friend
Friend curled up asleep
In the crease
Of my creaking knees
Every single night
For the past 14 years.

I wonder if you worry
Too, about how the cars speed
Up these narrow streets
If you pull too hard like I do
On my girl’s leash
Holding her nervously next to me
Until the taillights recede
Into the distance.
“I’m sorry”, you say
“She just wants to play”
“I’m the only other living thing
She sees all day”
And there is a pain
Languishing in the space
Between us on this street
In this city
That I wish more
Than anything
I had an answer for
In a moment, I remember the sinking sorrow
Of walking through the world alone
Certain every other inhabitant
Crashing across the surface of
This lonely planet
Has long left you behind.
I’ll see you out here
Sometime this summer
Making my way down the hill
With my girl as her graying year
Slow her down so that I worry
Which walk will be the last one

Walking in the same old circles
In a different city
And a different year
Haunted by the same
Burning questions
Maybe I’ll tell you a story
Of how one day fourteen years back
When I threw my journal off
The Burnside Bridge
Into the Willamette rushing below

Friend, I was tired
Just so tired
Of pouring the same poison
Out of my pens
Always reaching the same goddamn conclusions.

It was just one of those days
Where giving in to desolation and a darkness
Of soul seemed as good a choice to make
As any other with the shadow of the
Void breathing hell into my heart.

Do you know?
I think you know.
Maybe my story
Isn’t your own
But I’d bet you bottom dollar
It’s goddamn close enough

Just like I know
How a chance encounter
Maybe not so chance at all
Has a way of calling
A heart home back to a body
Running across the yard
With four paws
And a tail wagging
A hundred miles an hour

My girl, we basically grew up together
I was a kid
Living out of a backpack
Curled up in a sleeping bag
In an abandoned building
Walking with misanthropy for company
When she licked my face for the first time.

It was like a door opening
And the warmth
Of the purest love I ever did know
Rushing into a bitter heart
To drive out the cold.

When I count off all the strokes of good luck
That this life has offered
On my calloused fingers
This dog here
Is always the first.

 

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The Only Hope I Never Abandoned

A rose for every enemy, save two.

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He lies in a bed with his best friend.  The two of them drew the curtains closed tight against the South Florida Sun.  The air conditioning keeps the sweltering heat from encroaching into the room too much.  The dark adds a layer of cool blanketing their young skin.  He stares at the fan spinning on the ceiling and sighs.  His friend stole the Lita Ford/Ozzy Osbourne Close My Eyes forever cassette single from his older sister, and the two of them listen to it obsessively, flipping the cassette over almost as soon dead air fills the speakers and the sound of the spindles grinding away fills the room.  They talk about the mysteries of death in the language of children.

As trite and cliché as the lyrics might end up sounding thirty years later, they are transfixed in this moment.  Death is a door.  Death is a shock sometimes.  Death is a choice sometimes.  Death is not the end.  He hears Lita singing to them from the perspective of someone who has taken their life and come to regret it, a moldering corpse, singing from the grave:

“If I could have just one more wish, I’d wipe the cobwebs from my eyes.”

“What the hell are you two doing?  Give me my tape back!”

The sister is onto them.  The gig is up.  The boys race out of the house, onto their bikes, and they take flight, soaring through the steam rising from South Florida blacktop, out in the sun; full of life.  Out on their bikes in the park, they make the figure eight on the path over and over, watching the wild parrots jump from transmission tower to transmission tower, the static hum of civilization ever present, but enough to drown out their songs.  They halfheartedly look for ghosts.  They never see any, for the sun is still shining down on South Florida and whoever heard of a ghost appearing during the day anyway?

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The ocean is warm and gentle.  The day is already hot, and the early morning breeze feels perfect on his tanned skin.  His mother sets up her umbrella, and puts her day bag down in the sand. He is already racing for the surf with his friend when his mother warns them not to go out too far.  Those riptides can come up out of nowhere and drag you out to sea forever before you even know it, she says.

Out in the swell, he is elated and alive.  He knows he should be afraid, but he is not.  His friend tells him that his older brother told him there is a sandbar roughly a hundred yards out.  The ocean feels like a warm and loving embrace.  They reach the sandbar and sit there letting the waves lap at their bodies.  Their knees sink into the soft sand, allowing their bodies to rest.  The horizon stretching out to infinity, and the distance from the shore gives the boys an illusion of being in the middle of the sea.  His mother looks like a small dot in the expanse of alabaster.  He wants to taste the precise feeling of forever that must exist out where the sky and the sea meet in a brilliant expanse of blue.

His friend looks nervous, glancing back to the shore.  He asks if he thinks they should swim back in, just a little closer to the shore.  What about the riptides?  What about sharks?  Just a little bit longer, he implores.  They hold onto one another’s arms, bracing one another against the timeless roll of the waves, resting on the soft precipice of forever.

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He stands on a small dirt hill in a neighborhood where the all the kids all ride bikes and play flashlight tag during the summer.  He isn’t it, but he wants to hide anyway.  He feels safer in the dark, away from his friends, even though they are his friends.  He looks up at the stars flickering in the sky and has a feeling he will always be alone.  He stretches his arms to the sky and inhales, breathing the late summer in.  Something in the night makes him feel at home.

Last week, he watched unflinchingly as his friend got unceremoniously  dumped by his girlfriend at the carnival.  They were standing just in front of the tilt-a-whirl when it happened.  His friend cried all night and he feels only a little embarrassed for him when they get home and he breaks down into his tears in front of his parents.  He is genuinely confused when the parents inquire on his emotional well-being and tell him they knew he loved the girl and that there are other fish out there in the sea.  They sleep in his friend’s room later, and he can hear him stifling sobs from his makeshift bed on the floor.  Sometimes his friend starts late night wrestling matches that go on for too long and his friend inevitably ends up on his stomach, pushing himself against his crotch.

Tonight, the girlfriend has since taken his friend back, and he spent the night following her around the labyrinth of well-manicured lawns like a happy puppy.  At 8 PM, The Simpsons comes on and all the kids want to make sure to catch it, even though it’s a summer rerun.  One of the neighbors has brought a television out onto his patio.  The neighbor invites all the sweaty youth to watch with him.  There’s plenty of patio chairs, after all.  He sits away from the crowd and broods.  His friend and his girlfriend share a wicker chair with a cheap cushion beneath them.  They are all smiles and sneaking desperate kisses, holding hands in the cathode glow.

He tilts his head, and catches the two when they think no one is looking.  Something about the way their forms molding into one another makes sense to him, while feeling alien all at once.  Like he is catching a glimpse of a world he will never truly feel part of.  He can almost taste the longing at the back of his throat.

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He met her in the spring of 7th grade, and they become fast friends.  They pass notes in class during the day.  They stay on the phone late into the night.  She sneaks the calls, because she isn’t allowed on the phone after 7 PM.  He picks up on the first ring so as to not wake up his mother, who sleeps fitfully, if at all these days.  His father has been dead for six months.  His mother still sleeps in the room where his father’s heart stopped beating in the middle of the night.  She can only sleep through the night if the television is on, turned up so loudly that he can hear it through his bedroom wall.

She is the realest person he has ever known, despite her sheltered upbringing and the fact that they are children.  They flip through channels on late night television together.  “Do you like this song?”  “Do you like this show?”.  They make small talk about the details of their slow as molasses summer days.  He finds himself looking forward to the small instances during the long weeks with no school where they can see one another.  He feels himself softening into more than the couch of his mother’s living room.  Staring out the window into the waves of grain and sea of cornstalks that cover the darkened countryside, he asks if he can tell her a secret.

The words fall from his mouth before he can even stop them and all the shame and rage he held for so long is laid out there it’s like a dam breaking.  His tears fall until they stop, and they talk of other things.  That was the night he learned that there are some secrets that a soul doesn’t have to bear alone.

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All the small town freaks dance in the back of a rented church hall with one set of fluorescent lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling illuminating the room.  The band is all clumsy chords ripped jeans and waving hair.  He falls in love with the feeling of dancing the Doc Marten stomp in a circle so hard with his friends that he’s sure it might burn holes in the dirty brown carpet below them.  The words ring in his ears with the echo of feedback, and he feels like everything he knew before tonight is a lie, he’s locked into some truth that the dull-eyed masses around him will never know.

After the gig, some rednecks wait for him outside in the parking lot.  They wandered into the show.  Nobody knows why, or what they think is here for them.  They taunt him from their pickup truck, swearing they’re going to beat his ass for the unforgivable transgression of “being a faggot”.  As always, he is the smallest of his friends.  The rednecks move in, and his friends surround him.

“Sorry boys, y’all gonna have to go through the rest of us first.”

He hears the flicking of a butterfly knife unfolding behind him and he smiles.

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They were young, loyal, violent, and most all, they were in love.  They made their plans one Sunday night in spring.  Wait for Monday morning, stick the blade into the back of  the boy who did their friend wrong and fuck the consequences.  They’d go out in a blaze of outlaw teenage glory before they let this sin slip under the rug unpunished.

They see him in the morning, and he hands her his knife without a second thought, like he was passing her a cigarette, or a bottle of wine.  They follow the boy in the hall for a while, and they lose their nerve.  The rest of the day comes and goes.  All without a single small town burnout bleeding to out on a lunchroom floor.  The summer follows the same way.  He never even knew.

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They make out clumsily and say their goodbyes, too young to know how to make the other one cum.  After she leaves, he locks his door and takes off all of his clothes.  He jerks off into the empty corner of his room, right where his stereo speakers used to be.  Two nights ago, almost every single one of his friends came over and they laid waste to the house downstairs, kicking holes in the walls and spraypainting pentagrams all over the basement.  His mom cried.  What if we got a miracle, she said.  He doesn’t believe in miracles anymore.

He figures he will leave just one more parting gift encrusting the carpet for the bank when the come to take the house.

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The two of them sit on mountain overlooking the city.  He’s read about spots like this in books and seen them on movies, but has never actually been to a place like this before.  They spent the night together for the first time a few weeks ago.  Two nights in a row.  The first night they stayed up all night talking about their lives, waking up two hours later to go to school.  The second night they shared an illicit kiss.  Infatuated, he broke up with the girl he was dating the next day and never looked back.

Now it is love with wild abandon, the kind that only comes when you are young.  Before you accrue scar upon scar on your heart.  She straddles him on a rock and they kiss, while the lights of the Coors brewery twinkle below them.  His fingers trace the scar on her leg, given to her by her last boyfriend the night he got drunk and pulled a knife on her and her friend.

The secrets they share run deep and shine bright, like black wells with stars burning in the depths.  She tells him that with all the quiet atrocities endured in her short life, even with a genetic time bomb ticking in her DNA.  The one waiting to wage war on her body and brain before she turns 40, that she loves her life.

The certainty in her voice shakes him to his core.

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An older woman kisses the two of them on the cheek as they march down a pink brick South Florida Street.  They hitchhiked two thousand something miles to across five days to reach this exact point.  He can see the armored phalanx of riot police in the distance; already beginning to smash their clubs against their shields, clamoring for an asymmetrical war.   The sound terrifies him.  On the way downtown, they drove past one of the police staging points and he heard a commanding officer rallying the officers under him:

“Alright.  Everyone get ready.  Strike fast, and kick ass!  This is what we’ve been training for!  Let’s make these pussies regret ever coming to the city of Miami!”

The bark and bite in the officer’s voice reminds him of portrayals of Nazis war criminals in films and it terrifies him.

“That’s for luck.” The old woman says.  I know what you and your friends are here to do, and I know what you’re up against once we get to that wall.”

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He hears the woman standing behind him scream.  He feels the car collide with his body.  He is surprised when it doesn’t feel like anything.  It just feels like something kind of bumped into him.  He feels his body hurtling forward.  “Oh shit.  I just got hit by a car” is his last cognizant thought before blacking out.  He comes to on the street, with a woman holding a napkin to his bloody mouth and nose.  “I’m on the street.” He thinks “How did I get here?” The recollection of the car hitting his body creeps in.  He wiggles his toes inside of his boots, realizing with relief that his back is not broken.  An awareness of pain in his mouth creeps in, and he presses his tongue to the front of his mouth, where his teeth should be.

The doctors tell him later, colliding with the street face first saved his life, or at least saved him from a traumatic brain injury.

He thinks there is a victory to be found here, in not being able to win them all.

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She helps him sew together his first skirt.  They buy underwear at the store that will flatter his ass, and hide the harder parts of him.  He clumsily applies lipstick, eyeliner, mascara.  Before they go out, they share a kiss.  He has never been kissed like this before.  He asks her to please put her hands on his new body.  She spits on a finger, reaches down and slips it inside him.  He moans softly into her mouth.

Out in the sun, they nervously think about what to do with their day, and her in her fresh skin.  They settle on the bookstore and reading comic books.  She reads The Punisher Volume 5: The Slavers.  She reads Marvel Zombies, and doesn’t care for it much.  She only worries a little bit about being noticed when she goes to take a piss in the woman’s bathroom.

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The river was low that fall, right after their friend died, stabbed to death and set on fire thousands of miles away.  The sick horror of it sticks with her at night.  She wakes from restless sleep to pull swigs from a bottle of whiskey next to her bed.  She stares through the dark at the ceiling until the alcohol warms her body and numbs her spirit enough that she can fall into dreamless sleep.  Everyone around her is heartbroken, and with good reason.

The day after Halloween, three of them clamor over the rocks usually submerged beneath the rushing right and light candles.  Someone pulls tarot cards for each one of them.  She burns an effigy not of their friend’s murderer, but of the forces that motivated him.  They drink one beer each, and watch the candles lit for their dead friend burn low.  Before walk over the rocks and to the shore, she spraypaints “PATRIARCHY KILLS” in angry red letters on the pillar.  One of her friends paints “Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living” in beautiful flowing script.  They walk up the hill in the gloom, hearts held fast against the gathering dark.

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She meets him at a party and is standoffish immediately.  “Who is this old man asking me who I am and what my story is?”, she thinks. Unaccustomed as she is to genuine interest from her elders.  Guarded by nature, she responds to his inquiries tersely.  She feels herself warming up to him despite herself.  At the end of the night when it’s time to leave the party, he simply says “I hate that y’all are leaving” in a drawl more affected by a life well-lived and filled with the deepest love for everyone around him than anything else.

The next time she sees him, it’s because the grease trap at the restaurant she works at is broken.  A struggling business, run on lofty anarchist principles, they can’t afford to fix it.  He comes in and spends hours installing the piece.  When they ask him what they owe him his response is “Not a damn thing.  I’ve had one hell of a good life, and I try and spread it around.”

She starts to get an inkling somewhere that this man is going to affect the trajectory of the rest of her life.

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She got married in an April Fool’s Day prank that got out of hand, but the story really isn’t that interesting.

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Her heart pounds in her chest thunderously, for months now.  She sees demons dance behind her eyes.  She hears the voices of the restless and angry dead when she is in a room by herself.  She sees an emaciated stranger staring back at her when she looks in the mirror.  She walks like a ghost haunting herself, eyes grown bitter by the sight of almost every single thing she thought she could rely on ripped away.

Zie is there, standing tall like a pillar made of glass, beautiful and fragile.  They don’t mean to fall in love, it just happens.  A few months ago, her horoscope told her she was going to re-learn everything she thought she knew about love.  She had hoped the lesson wouldn’t be quite this fucking hard and leave so many bruised hearts in its wake.

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She tells hir she sees hir the darkness zie walked in for much of their life, and that she is not afraid.  The words hang there between them, brave in the dark.  The moon is rising outside the window, old and red.  Zie takes the words to heart because nobody has ever said them to hir before.  A week later, zie’s lost in the crowd with everyone else.  The Nazi skins put the word out that they were roll downtown and stomp every faggot commie and Black Lives Matter motherfucker they can find.  The punks wait, all brave with their baseball bats and blades on 4th and Adams to see if the fash will actually show up.  She told hir later how she drove by the crowd on the way home to get her kid to bed, craning her neck nervously out the window to see if she could spot hir shape in the sea of black masks.  Her child asked a question:

“Momma what’s that?”

“Uh.  It’s a crowd of people who are trying to defend our city from these bad people called Nazis.”

“Momma, is hir out there?”

“Yeah baby, but zie is really smart and really strong and will be safe.  I promise.”

“Momma, does zie have hir dog with them?”

“No, baby.  I promise the dog is at home safe and asleep.”

The fash get beat back, straight out of downtown and zie goes home close to four AM when zie is sure that every one of their friends is home safe, and the streets are empty.  Zie calls her to let her know zie is finally home and will be surrendering to well earned sleep shortly.  Zie loves the sound of her voice, and won’t lie that zie wishes that zie was curling up next to her for the night.  Being so near to danger and death makes their exhausted sex the next day all the more sweet.

Hearts open, and hearts break.  Tender trespasses and broken promises.  Neither one of them will ever forgive the other.  Zie thinks what a shame to watch hard earned intimacy die and rot into nothing at all.

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They have been out hunting all night and, just became the hunted.  The van screeches to a halt in front of them.  Zie is sure at least six Nazi skinheads are going to jump out.  “This is it” Zie thinks.  “I am going to die with my friend right here on this street in a city I can’t even bring myself to love.  Or we are at least going to the hospital.”  Everything moves in slow motion, just like they say it does in moments like this.  Zie puts one hand on hir friend’s shoulder, and feels every muscle within it tense, poising to strike.  The feeling sends a shockwave through hir hand.  Zie puts hir other hand in hir pocket, and feels hir fist curl around a cold metal cylinder and waits for the moment to come crashing in, and for the world to spin right again.

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She wrote him a letter twenty years later after their youthful plot to stab to death a boy who had long since died in a car wreck over a friend who had long since moved on.  He received the letter in the small town he moved to on the other side of the country from the small town where they grew up.  It said:

“Sometimes I think that everything I ever needed to know about loyalty and being a good friend, I learned from being friends with you when we were fifteen.”

He was sitting alone at the kitchen table in his house on a dead end street, in the dry, rainless depths of a nowhere summer with the constant hum of heartache and regret ringing in his ears.  She had no idea how much he needed to hear those words at that exact moment in time.   He didn’t believe in coincidences.

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Aging lovers in a small room, they were tired.  Tired, from the past few months, the past few years.  Maybe it hit them all at once tonight.  The road that led them to one another had been at once both winding and strange, and fraught with fear.  All the same, he could see where the path will diverge in the very near future.  They weren’t the last great love of his life, but was as close as it was going to get with his giving up on love and all the headlines screaming hate and war.

Their wild Friday night date consisted of watching hurricane footage down south that filled his heart with ice and made it ache for home all the same.  On their laptop, they looked up survival gear and talked about what to order their family he’d never be a part of for the apocalypse everyone can feel building. They watched a movie and cried together at the ending, knowing the tragic hope in fiction and the improbability of happy endings for people like them.   With heavy eyelids, they slipped into one another for what ended up being the last time.  They grind, and moan, and giving into one another and then to rest.  In the morning they leave.  He smiles alone in his room, his eyes already gazing towards some other horizon, knowing this one will never burn any brighter than than this, hoping for the best, planning for the worst.

“If they take you down, I wanna mourn you.”

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He pulls the car over on the highway in the desert beneath a sprawling sea of stars.  He needs to stretch, and they want to look at the sky.  The kid has never been to the desert before.  So they sit on the hood pulled to the side of an empty country road and listen to the engine cool in the darkness and look up.  The majesty of the night sky goes on forever, and he feels safe out there, in their solitude.  The kid still winces at far off headlights, as if even the visibility their glow brings could stain their skin.   He subconsciously touches the knife on his belt as if to remind them of the safety it brings, that he made a promise, and he’d be cold in the goddamn ground before he let any harm come to them.

“What is that glow in the distance?”

“Oh shit.  Baby, that’s the moon rising.”

“Oh!  What the fuck?  I’ve never seen anything like that!”

A coyote howls and he makes a note to tell his dad who isn’t his dad how if he can be just half the elder to this kid that his dad who isn’t his dad has been to him, he will have done one thing right with his fucked up mess of a life.

A week later, he does just that.  He is sitting on the porch in the cicada swell of summer with his dad who isn’t his dad but goddamn close enough.  They are holding hands and crying when he tells him.

“Well goddamn, son.  Thanks for picking me.”

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He takes a photograph of the moment the kid’s feet meet the warm waves of the Atlantic for the very first time.  He thinks about the thousand tiny victories that surmounted to this precise moment on a spinning earth.  The sun burns down on both of them, and it is delicious.  They wade into the water and feel the waves roll.  The dog swims back and forth between the two of them, happily bobbing with the waves, making sure both of her humans are safe.  He tastes the salt crossing his lips, and remember the ocean’s worth of tears both of them cried before this immortal moment presented itself to them.  How every one of those tears, worth their weight in salt dried eventually.  Tears fall.  Tears dry, and more tears follow.  We keep living and we remember how that counts for everything.

All you can do is keep living.

Until the last beat of your heart, and even then maybe death is not the end.

A rose for every enemy, save two.

The Road – 5/17/19-5/19/19

I got back home from Philadelphia late last night.  I spent just under 24 hours in the city of brotherly love, but I managed to pack those hours with as much living as possible.

In order, then.

Not a ton interesting to tell about the drive to Philadelphia.  I stopped in Lancaster to stretch, and dropped in Angry, Young, and Poor.  Partly for nostalgia’s sake, partially to look at boots.  I always want to look at boots.  I bought some records, but didn’t find much else I was stoked on.  I still loved the familiarity of being in the shop.  It felt like returning to a place I had known and loved after a long absence.  Punk Rock one hundred percent saved my life when I was a lonely teenager stuck in Southern Pennsylvania in the nineties, and this place was a lifeline back then. I even still have some of the records and punk rock t-shirts I bought at this place twenty years ago.  I made small talk with one of the owners behind the counter, joking about how I hadn’t set foot in the shop in just about two decades and I was just happy that it still existed.

“Well damn, dude.  Welcome back to Pennsylvania.”

Something hit me that would be a repeating motif all weekend, was how friendly and just how real punks, even jaded aging punks keep it on the east coast.  I couldn’t remember when a punk rocker I didn’t know in the Pacific Northwest was this friendly to me.  Even some of the ones I did know, well odds are just as good they are gonna pretend they don’t see you in the grocery store or at the show anyway.  Olympia is a cold fucking town and I was so glad to be done with it for good.  As if to punctuate all this – the friendliness of punk rockers, the eager kids still keeping it real – as I was getting ready to leave the shop, two young kids came in to buy t-shirts and patches.  Dude behind the counter eagerly engaged with them, asking them what they were looking for, instead of treating them like some chump posers who would be so lucky to shop at his spot.

I smiled to myself the whole way out of Lancaster.

Driving through Pennsylvania doesn’t haunt me the way it once did.  I used to not be able to roll through Southern York County and through the expanses of forest and farmland without returning to the eerie feeling of being trapped that accompanied the very first time I crossed the Pennsylvania state line with my mother twenty-eight years ago.  I remember it still, like it was yesterday.  Ten years old in the passenger seat of my mother’s car and feeling like the trees that lined either side of the highway became more ominous as the mile posts ticked ever upward until we were in Pennsylvania proper.  Even then, I had a sinking feeling I might never leave this place.

So it was a surprise seven years later when Momma moved away.  Still, the feeling of being ensnared by Southern York County lingered for years, decades.  This place was a backdrop, a foundation.  So much a part of me and the person I grew into.  I see this place in my dreams, in my memories.  I write about it often.

More on that later though.

I rolled into Philly through rush hour traffic and went straight to pick up J for the show.  I know I used to talk shit on cities, and the gray concrete expanse of Philadelphia does make me feel a little bit claustrophobic, but goddamn.  This city has some beautiful architecture.  Rush hour sucked, but I was happy to take a breath and marvel at the buildings.  The whole northeast feels fresh like this for me, really.  I think this feeling is another product of living in the drab as shit, Pacific Northwest for five years.  I remember when Hannah visited me there a few years ago and she commented on how drab and lifeless, without history all the buildings and houses looked.  She’s not wrong.

I picked J up and we went to the show.  It was at some bar in South Philly.  Inside the show, the feeling of familiarity found me again.  I commented to J about how little the Philly street punk aesthetic had changed in my twenty-year absence.  I even saw a few kids with Blanks 77 and Violent Society patches on their jackets, bands I loved and absolutely lived to see when I was a kid who I don’t think have put new records out since before I was old enough to drink alcohol.  I think I read somewhere that Blanks 77 are playing shows again, but I don’t know.  They’ve been off my radar for years.

I don’t remember the name of the first band.  The Stance played second.  They played the gruff brickwall Oi that the punks and skins go nuts over.  I liked it well enough.  A little too gruff and not enough melody for me.  If I had any complaints, it was that the show felt a little bro-heavy, but I was still happy to just be out in the sea of smiling punks.  When the pit started too close to me, I just kept a side eye on the crowd and kept an elbow out, a tactic that has kept me safe for well over two decades now.  I thought about that time kids in Olympia jumped a dude, drug him out of the bar and broke a pint glass in his face for dancing too hard.  Color me relieved to be far away from reactive nonsense like that.

I grabbed some water at the bar before Battalion Zoska.  Pat was up there grabbing a pitcher of water for the band at the same time.  We made small talk for a second when he complimented me on my “Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist” shirt.  Thanks dude.  I awkwardly shuffled through saying that catching Violent Society shows when I was a teenager was like finding an island in a sea of dead eyed pop mediocrity when I was a kid.  I went on to elaborate that watching one of my best friends deck a Nazi skinhead with every ounce of strength and bravery in his teenage body at a Business, Warzone, Vision, Violent Society show in April of 1997 was one of my introductions to antifascism, and gave birth to a lifelong hatred of Nazi skinheads, full fucking stop.  He said thanks for telling him that story, and walked to the stage.

Watching Battalion Zoska, felt so much like coming back home to the kid I once was, enthusiastic about punk and guarded all the same.  I only felt sad for not knowing any of Battalion’s songs.  I did, however admire Pat’s vest from the front of the stage – it looked like the kind of thing any one of us would have worn as a kid, but made by a man well into his forties, decades past giving a fuck about what anyone at the show thought, and if they thought he was a poser for having a Sex Pistols backpatch or not.

The Boils played next. I’d been so out of touch with their music, that I didn’t even realize that they had more or less retired a decade ago, only reuniting occasionally for special one-off gigs.  The kids and the middle-aged weirdos absolutely fucking lost it from the first note, to the last echo of feedback.  I stood onstage occasionally ducking a stage diver or crowd surfer doing their best to get into the light fixtures hanging from the low ceiling.  I smiled and got that feeling in my body that shows gave me before I left the east coast – the one where you feel at home and like this room is the center of the world for a half an hour, and that’s just fine.  All the war and oppression, and atrocity that you worry about 8 out of 10 of the days can wait at the door for a bit and you can just be.

I’m well aware that I’m idealizing a scene a bit, but goddamnit if I don’t need to believe in something right now. When I was a kid, punk kept me from killing myself I don’t even know how many times because it was there to remind me of the good inherent in my fellow human beings.  Right now, I want to remember that more than anything, so it’s what I’m running on because it’s a thousand times better than bitterness, emptiness and misanthropy.

Lion’s Law played, and shit was energetic, flawless, but less emotional.  I sang along to the songs I like and wondered how skinheads make those tiny cuffs in their jeans.  I’m more paranoid about germs than I used to be, and it’s funny.  I have papercuts all over my hands from work, and was constantly trying to touch sweaty crowdsurfers as little as possible for this reason.  The set ended, I bought a shirt and J and I drove back home listening to Bell Witch and making plans for a trip down south later in the summer.

I stayed up way too late talking to N, well past three AM.  The next morning all three of us went out for breakfast and coffee.  I felt hungover despite having consumed not a drop of alcohol the night before.  Just ragged from no sleep and movement.  I was happy to sip strong coffee and think about how much I love punk and my friends.  Maybe I was drunk on how real J and N are, and how sorely I have missed that authenticity while sequestered in the gray land of passive aggressive cliques and infighting.

Driving through Southern York County felt like searching for something without knowing what I was looking for, as it often does.  I followed my routine of going to the Shrewsbury Wal-Mart that opened in 1997, reshaping (read decimating) the economy of this town, like I always do.  I go to the bathrooms in the back of the store to piss, then I buy some tea.  I am always ready for someone to recognize me and make what-have-you-been-doing-all-these-years small talk, but it never happens.

When this fluorescent lit monument to consumerism opened in 1997, all my friends, and my mom got jobs here.  Before the Wal-Mart opened, these were just some vacant hills that kids rode their dirt bikes around on homemade trails.  Those days are long, long gone.  You stand in the parking lot now, and it’s almost impossible to imagine there was anything but a Wal-Mart here.  I cannot help but wonder how long the structure will stand after humanity starves itself off the planet?

When my mom briefly worked here, it was the first time I had seen any trace of hope on her face.  She even chastised me viciously for bleaching my hair blonde while she was at work.  “Now you look like a San Francisco Faggot, and I can’t take you to meet my manager!”.  It was like she believed a nine hour a day, forty-hour week at nine dollars an hour shift might let her re-write her story just enough to let her forget that she spent most of her days wanting to die.  The despair crept back in within a month.  The work was grueling and thankless, and for scraps at that.  The final straw came when one of her co-workers told my mom that their manager had been mocking her for wanting to change her schedule enough that it would allow her to see me on some days.  Writing this twenty-two later, I still feel incredibly anger at the insidiousness and heartlessness it must take to exploit the fading dreams of all the small-town suckers like my mom and my friends, desperate to change their stories.

It’s strange to think about my mother wanting to see me, considering how little she has “seen” me my entire life.  She saw what she wanted to see, putting the low down and dirty of who I was from her mind.  She still does this, I just resent her less for it now than I used to.  I mostly feel bad for her.  She missed out on the entire adult life of her only child.

I remember when one friend quit this place when she went to the hospital for her eating disorder.  That trip to the hospital began a downward spiral into heroin addiction that I don’t know if she ever recovered from.  I lost track of that friend over two decades ago. My other friend, the same aforementioned one that punched out the Nazi skin at the show worked there too.  He quit in style, just a month or two after my mom.  He came over directly afterwards, laughing and telling us how he balled up his apron and threw it in the shift manager’s face, telling him to go fuck himself.  This was the same manager my tangled with.

After Wal-Mart, I drove to the Shrewsbury Cemetery.  I’m always drawn to this spot anytime I’m back in Southern York County.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because it’s in such close proximity to where I attended my first punk show, at a rented church hall across the street.  Maybe it’s because it’s where my friends and I rotted away countless crawling hours that seem so serene and idyllic now.  D and I would hang out in the gravel shack during slow as molasses summer days, doing graffiti while D smoked weed.  We’d stand on the hill at the south end of the cemetery and look out off into the distance, into Maryland.  Watching the radio towers blink red steadily in the distance reminded me that life, an entire world existed outside of this tiny town, and one day we’d all escape it.

I couldn’t tell what, but something felt missing, like I was being pulled somewhere else, so I got in my car and moved on.

From the cemetery, I drove south on whatever that street that runs parallel to Main is.  It exits on Tolna, right near where E and L lived when we were kids.  Tolna Road is unrecognizable now, and part of me felt sad about this.  I drove down Main and took note of what all has changed at the intersection of Constitution and Main. I surprised myself at being disappointed that the Getty Mart is gone.  Torn down who even knows when to make way for a Walgreens.  The shopping center next to it looked like it had changed, but it was hard for me to tell, never having been as much of a focal point for my friends and I.

I thought about driving through the neighborhood where I had my first job – a paper route when I was 13, but skipped it.  Instead I drove South on Main as it gave way fully to Old York Road.  I passed the hill near the baseball field where DS broke his arm in 1993.  It’s still there.  I wondered how many kids have broken bones on it since.  There was the house across the street from the hill where I used to awkwardly fool around with a girlfriend in the basement when her parents thought we were watching movies when I was fifteen.  I thought about pulling into the bank parking lot further down the street to snap a photo of the spot in the parking lot that my friends and I utilized for skating late at night, but thought the better of it.  I try and spend less time looking sketchy nowadays.

My old neighborhood has changed considerably.  The last two years mom and I lived there, developers were building a new street and new houses at the end of our road.  J, A, and I hid up there one night when it was still relatively empty to smoke weed.  That’s my big memory.  Not worth driving up for.

My childhood home looks significantly different than it did the last time I drove past it.  It doesn’t look at all like the dilapidated repository for my mother’s dead dreams that I left behind two decades ago.  No overgrown lawn.  No peeling paint.  No foreclosure notice tacked to the door.  The owners built a new front porch, vastly extended from the stoop that my friends and I once sat on, listening to tapes and talking.

I left my neighborhood and headed back to New Freedom proper by the back road that I surprised myself by remembering my way around after two decades since the last time I walked it.  I remembered this one night during the summer between seventh and eighth grade when M and I were spending the night at his parent’s house.  I was on the phone with two girls across town while M tried to fall asleep watching TV.  The girls asked if we wanted to come over and make out.  I was into it.  I asked M if he wanted to go, and he said no.  Too worried about getting caught.  I tried to implore him to go along, telling him we could take this road, and not a soul would be on it at this hour and see us.  M wasn’t having it and went to sleep.  I got off the phone.  I remember little about those two girls past that night.  I fell into punk, and they fell into the background, significantly less enchanting then the world full of joyous outcasts I was falling in love with.

In New Freedom, I went to the Rutter’s to buy coffee and piss again.  I skipped going up Third Street.  I don’t even remember if M’s parents still live in that house.  I think she told me that they had long since left.  I think I remember the last time I drove east on Third, that K’s old trailer had been demolished.

Probably just as well.  Who knows what kind of energy would still haunt that place?  I think about that house, and being there as a wide eyed and scared kid.  Watching K’s mom nod out, watching her sketchy murderer boyfriend drink beer after beer. I remember listening to sad songs in K’s room, huddled around her small boombox and CD collection like it was salvation, or at least an escape from the kind of listless summer drudgery that I could almost wish for now, in that our days were filled with more boredom than worry.

Somewhere in the winter of ninth grade, K’s mom disappeared for a few months.  She ended up living with relatives.  One night she spent the night at my house just as the nights were their frozen nadir.  My mom made her sleep in the guest room, as if I wouldn’t end up just sneaking out of my own room and sleeping next to my friend anyway.  If my mom knew, she never told me.  Nothing happened that night anyway, aside from shared secrets.

K told me how she lost her virginity to a boy she was dating a few months earlier.  He was older than us by a couple years.  His name is lost to the years now.  Something beginning with a J, I think.  She told me how they had nowhere to go to have sex, so they broke into her mom’s vacant trailer and she had sex for the first time there.  When they were done, the boy held her all night.  They broke up a few months later.  I always thought that the trailer was maybe totally empty, and they must have fucked on the floor, but I think how little sense that made now.  K was living in the trailer with her mom and a different sketchy boyfriend by that next summer.  D, L and I went to see K shortly after they moved back in, and all the furniture was still there, smoke stained and sticky, just like it had been the year before.

I drove north to Glen Rock, and found the high school without a GPS after a friend challenged me to see if I could do so. I was only a little disturbed to find out I could still remember the way.  I drove around the parking lot and remembered being up there fucking around with D one summer and seeing this other fuck up that I knew only as someone who one of our friends had tried to stab in the neck with a pencil that year over him violating one of our other friends. The boy was driving his parent’s van fast over the speed bumps in the parking lot to see if they could get all four wheels of the van airborne at once.  Everyone in the car was laughing.  I noticed a younger girl in the passenger seat that I didn’t recognize.  The next school year that girl was dead from an accidental overdose after the boy broke up with her.  Everyone blamed the fuck up boy their friend’s death. So much so that he had to change schools to escape the bloodthirsty groups of kids out for him.  A few of us found out where he lived one night later that fall and threw forty bottles full of piss through his car windshield.  I remembered driving away laughing, and seeing him darting out to his front lawn to stare down our taillights.  I remember how angry and defeated he looked standing there in the lawn, fists balled up at his sides.

I thought about hanging out at school to write and let my dog run around, but the memory (and many others left a bad taste in the back of my mouth).  It felt too weird being there, almost like an atmospheric pressure, telling me I was in the wrong place, to keep moving.  I took a picture and left.  Eager to put distance between me and the place that had done it’s best to indoctrinate me and kill my creativity.  It didn’t even feel like a victory, writing there.

I drove to Glen Rock proper, left at the intersection where J and D and I once stalled out in a stolen car.  I drove past SM’s old house which I had totally forgotten about.  I instantly remembered how F told me he was out walking with his niece one night, and had seen the cops in front of the house, looking for SM.  They walked by later, just as SM was coming home.  F told me how he saw SM’s dad on the porch, waiting, and how hard he shoved him, right there on the porch.

I have always wondered if that was that awful night.  Driving past, I wondered if SM’s parents still lived there.  I heard somewhere that his mom never got over having to bury her firstborn baby.  I felt for SM’s mom, and his dad, and his brother and sister, and his own children.  Weird how different people can have different perspective on a life and its loss, and how time can soften that perspective.

I wished that the Wetzel’s was there, so I could go see if DS still worked there.  I haven’t seen DS in twenty or more years.  I’ve heard things here and there though.  F and L both told me that he worked at the meat counter there since just after high school.  That’s twenty years and a thank you for all your hard work and good luck out there.  I just googled it.  Wetzel’s was open for thirty-three years.  That means D worked there for twenty of the thirty years the store was in business.

I wonder how that was for him.

I drove back down Old York Road from Glen Rock, trying to find a place to write in Shrewsbury.  The park was filled with cub scouts.  Not really who I wanted to be near while I sat around and chronicled my lost youth and dreams dried out.  I went back to New Freedom to sit b J and L’s graves for a few minutes.  In another month, they will have been gone for twenty years.  I remember how significant that death felt at the time.  We were so young.  I sat with them for a minute, said hey, and moved on.

I used to skate in that church parking lot. A and I used to meet there to make out too.  I wasn’t allowed at her house.  Both because I was a bad kid, and because she wasn’t allowed to see boys yet. So that left the church.  The day before ninth grade, we met there to talk and make out.  She was mad that I had cut my long hair in favor of something I could put into liberty spikes.  We kissed goodbye and said we’d see each other tomorrow.  The next day I passed her in the hall, said hi, and she ignored me.  That was it.  We never spoke again.

I think we saw one another one more time after that.  On D’s porch.  She came over with her cousin who I had also dated to score weed.  I was visibly uncomfortable, and I remember D joking that I should make an ex-girlfriend club.  I heard later that she was seeing SM.  I worried for her, knowing the monstrosity that guy was capable of.

I finally settled on New Freedom Park to write.  I sat at a picnic table beneath the bandstand and wrote a love letter to C, wanting to share a significant and strange part of my history with them.  While I was writing, I noticed Crip and Blood graffiti on the table, which amused me to no end.  I told C a few things I remembered about the park and told them I missed them, but I was maybe glad they weren’t here.  I thought it would just be boring for them.

The park was eerily empty, save for a few kids playing on the other side of it, near where A and I once made out.  I left and went back to the cemetery in Shrewsbury to say goodbye to Southern York County for now.  The moon rose red and low in its majesty just as I pulled up.  I felt so thankful to greet it.  I looked to the south at the radio towers that my friends and I used to watch when we were kids, desperate for any sign that life existed outside of this place.  They were there, like always.  Blinking softly in the fading light.

When I looked to the south, I felt an old lover out there, somewhere else and I smiled.  I said hello to their spirit out in the night and thought about love, and time, and movement and letting go.  The sun was down, and it was time to get moving, to go home.  It was sweet, and I was ready to leave Southern York County.

I drove through the night, arriving home reinvigorated and relieved to live on the east coast once more.

The Road – 5/17/19-5/19/19