Monday, June 16, 2008

RS: Walking Down Memory Lame

With the exception of car keys, I tend to find whatever I go looking for. Fortunately, I don’t have a car so losing the keys doesn’t have the impact it once did. I’ve spent my life sifting through memories and imaginings, prospecting meaning to support whatever hypothesis bounces around my head at the moment. Cuddle up with a Rockwellian remembering and suddenly I’m curdling on neglect and isolation, not just deserved but predestined. Stare into a photo of myself from yesterday and suddenly I’m staring into a mirror from yesteryear; and the ugliest, most awkward 15 year old to ever skip through the hay fields of southwestern Missouri begins to point out every physical flaw that can only be cured by reconstructive surgery and a well-constructed show tune. Recall a minute most lovely and reconfirm 60 reasons I am completely unlovable. When it comes to uncovering reasons to believe the worst about myself, I am a veritable Agatha Christie, assembling disparate clues into indictments, circumstantial evidence into convicting verdicts.

This time, I was searching out an experience. I found myself just north of San Jose, California for the first time in a decade. While I awaited a call from my friend to coordinate schedules, I decided to pass the time by driving to the apartment I had once shared with a past lover—the one who had an affair and left me a week before defending the dissertation I helped pay for, the one who taught me that the collateral damage of cowardice is cliché, the one who isn’t responsible for most, if any, of the destructive things that serve as my emotional foundation, he just poured concrete onto shaky ground. I talked myself through the myriad reasons it was a bad idea to bulldoze down memory lane, including but not limited to, gas is too expensive to waste money on the trip and fear of getting lost—literally and figuratively. I could come up with only one reason to go: there’s no better time to pick a scab than when you can easily reach it.

I hadn’t seen the old neighborhood since it evaporated in the rear view mirror in 1995, when I took an on-ramp from adventure onto a toll-road. I was returning to an innocent place, comparatively trouble-free; but I was also returning to a cautionary place, unheeded because I am color blind to red flags. They were easier to see as I turned down Scott Boulevard. As a matter of fact, they were the only things that looked familiar on the entire street. Adding to the irony, I made a series of wrong turns along the way.

Finally, I pulled up to Royal Street, 2050, right where I left it. I took a deep breath of carbon-dioxide-laced anticipation, expelled gases from a toxic past. It burned a little, but not enough to stop me from gasping for a second breath, grasping for straws, and lapsing into a sleep-walking coma. I passed through the front gate, tripping over my own trepidation. Turns out, it was all a waste of flop sweat.

Thirteen years and nothing had changed, except it looked a lot cleaner. The landlady must have died, not as evidenced by the sanitization, rather she was prehistoric then—glaciers moved faster—odds were against her. Imagining the clamor to divide an inheritance that consisted of a signed photograph of Richard Nixon, six rooms full of Precious Moments figurines, and a MASH unit stockpile of morphine suppositories, I pondered the futility of life and material acquisition until I walked shin-long into the concrete half-wall that mocked me in its steadfast purposelessness. I stared at it in that where-the-fuck-did-you-come-from-mother-fucker? look, reserved for deflecting blame onto the inanimate when you’ve done something stupid or my déjà vu disbelief every time I hear GW say “nucular.”

Simultaneously familiar and foreign, the two apartments I once called home, the pool I once called my own, and the “laundry cabana” I once called “a genital wart on the twat of Calcutta” stirred exactly nothing. No rush of emotion, no flood of late-night, skinny-dipping memories, no choked back tears. Nothing. It wasn’t numbness. Or struck dumb-ness. No experience at all.

I walked away from a place I once lived, nothing more, nothing less. Air no heavier at the exit than the entrance. Not a twinge of regret as I turned off Royal Street and back toward the freeway. Not satisfied with my in-experience, I pulled into the donut shop I’d eaten at every day I lived down the street. Got myself a cinnamon twist, a chocolate milk, and a glazed donut hole (free gift with purchase). I stopped by the convenience store next door and bought a lottery ticket as I had twice a week, every week—each one representing an idealized future where all things were possible and money would fix everything that was broken in the relationship. Several dollars, one dream.

It all turned out to be just a little too sweet, the pastry and the past. So, I wadded both up and threw them onto the floorboard. I’ve always had the knack for not being able to identify a single emotion I am experiencing unless it is accompanied by a discharge of fluid; but I mindlessly sing lyrics that slather subtext like graffiti. I began to sing a song from Jekyll and Hyde. Yes, sometimes inferior moments warrant inferior musical selections.

“Letting go, of a hand, that I’ve grown so accustomed to holding. . .
Moving on, in my life, there’s so much about me I’m unsure of. I must find my own way, on my own.”

I snapped back to attention as I almost made a wrong turn. I screamed, “Shit” as I cut off some guy in a Kia Sportage, veered left toward highway 101, and watched my past evaporate in the rear view mirror.

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