Canoeing with my dad on the Shenandoah. The smooth river winding along, trees leaning in, sitting up front with him in the back behind, fishing, watching the countryside, the riverbanks, keeping an eye out for rocks and finding the best places to glide through innocuous Shenandoah rapids, looking down into the dark green water, wondering how deep and what was down there, unafraid because he was with me.
Walking in the woods one day, finding walking sticks—somehow it’s just one day, overcast, chilly, and I seemed completely alone but couldn’t have been. I can see a dry creekbed. We listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd in the car on the way there on that old white cassette tape, me and dad. A Virginia boy I was, but not quite through and through, never quite, with my D.C. dad and Minnesota-California mom, the three of us in Appalachia. Why do I see myself in those woods alone?
Going for drives with dad, with mom and dad. Sometimes a joy, sometimes a chore. When it was a chore I could smell the dry, heartless smell of the sun baking the plastic and cheap fabric interior of our blue Chevy Citation, regardless of the weather, smell the engine, smell the tension and I just wanted to go home and be alone. When it was a joy, we were going somewhere, excited, and we were together.
Exploring the woods behind our house, which really weren’t woods but a big area of leftover forestation, just a wooded, gladed, hilled promontory reaching into civilization. The creek down the hill into which I once fell, straight through the ice on some Decembrish day. Remember thinking how silly it was that I’d tried so hard to keep from slipping off that branch—the water wasn’t so bad. The abandoned, collapsing house on the hill, way back there, up past that creek, up a steep, dry yellow-grassed hill that seemed to represent the limits of my safe kid-roaming and I was nervous about being there. A skinned deer carcass hanging from a tree outside that falling house on a bright, windy, cold day. Who was I with? I felt death and danger, as palpably as I can ever recall.
Lighting strike in the back yard, no more than twenty-five feet from the window I sat at (I mean at which I sat—Virginia boy, I said), eating dinner. Well, it didn’t quite strike, it just lit up and boomed, loudest thing I ever heard, stopping several feet above the edge of our yard and I stared in astonishment. Everything was so green.
Speaking of yard, but not speaking of green, mowing our rocks before the lawn grew in when we first moved there—I suspect that was training for adult employment. You could say I mow rocks for a living now, and make a decent amount of money at it. Somehow I’d prefer to go back to doing the real thing, with that piece of shit rust-faded blue lawnmower that was somehow always out of oil but I thought all the smoky exhaust was cool. At least there was that. And the occasional rock—probably more than occasional—that would get picked up by the blades and launched out across the yard, into the street, into your leg, into the white plastic siding of our house, making holes I hoped no one would notice.
Ah, and speaking of smoky exhaust, our cream colored, diesel Mercedes, 1970-something, with green leather seats and green interior. This was assuredly not the vehicle Kanye had in mind when he made his clever little rhyme about miracle whips. But it was ours, a gift, in fact, and we rolled.
What else? Bike crashes, many, and cuts and gashes and resulting scars. Indoor tackle football with my dad and my friends, perhaps the best game ever devised—all we had to do was get past him, which was no small feat when your dad’s six-foot-seven and approaching three bills. Baseball—not indoors, but often with dad and/or friends. Baseball cards, Jeremy’s house, the townhouses out at the edge of the neighborhood where Omer and Ali lived, my best friend Jesse and I harassing the redneck dumbass kid from the house behind named Buddy who was not our buddy, the fat man down the street—down the hill—with the fat kid and the dog named “D-O-G” (I’m not kidding), the Simpson family up on the corner with the alcoholic dad who I once saw throw a concrete stepping stone onto the hood of his wife’s car as she tried to back out of the driveway. Can’t imagine why she’d want to leave. And yes, he was shirtless with a beer belly—we’ve all seen “Cops.” My mom making sure home was always home. Learning about music, talking about girls, trying to grow up. And then avoiding the first kiss but pretending I wasn’t afraid. Beth was her name. We couldn’t have been more than ten.
Somerset Drive, that was. It didn’t all happen there, but it happened then, I think.