Dismantling Youth

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin. My soul.  Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.  Lo. Lee. Ta.”

When I was 20, maybe 21, signing up for yet another semester of Humanities at the local community college, adulthood perpetually as imminent as the red button, the Cold War was unknowingly about to end.  In a desperate ploy to hang on to childish things, to look cool in the eyes of others, I graffiti’d a pair of white Vans with titles of Vladimir Nabokov novels in red magic marker.  Save for that  stunning opening paragraph that even now astounds me by its physical lyricism, I hardly knew who Nabokov was, much less Stanley Kubrick or James Mason, who together brought Lolita to the screen.  Smitten as I was with the younger intellectual skateboarding boys on campus – with their long hair and side-parts, lanky surfer bodies and West Coast fantasies – I scrawled ‘Bend Sinister’ across the left shoe and ‘Invitation To A Beheading’ across the right, in true contrarian embrace-the-enemy fashion.  What’s that mean? they’d ask, as we’d hang out in concrete basement bars, pretending we were old enough to be there, but not so grown up to be confused with the proletariat drinking their dollar and a half draughts during dusky happy hours.

God forbid our fraud should slip.

While Michael, boyishly cute and charming and the one I had the maddest crush on, played aloof, I did my wiliest to mirror his nonchalance (therefore showing him how much he really wanted me) and instead tried impressing his friends with arcane Soviet trivia.  When I found them gawking over stacks of nudie magazines one afternoon after class, I casually mentioned Nabokov’s penchant for getting published in Playboy, proving that yes, men really did read it for the articles and they should, too.  Were any of us planning on graduating and growing up at some point?

We never saw that our restless energy was held in check by end-of-the-world-as-we-knew-it propaganda.  What young adult wanted to stake claim in an era of Reagan and Gorbachev and the crisis of missiles?  We did as we were told:  good little Communist-haters, except that we weren’t.  We were too naive, still, to really understand anything, so we played on both sides of the rail, never knowing when the train was going to race down the tracks and split everything in two.


Meanwhile, I taught them to play chess, (the Russians were masters, right?) and we’d plot moves until dawn, taking rooks and pawns and they taught me to say “Prost!” as we toasted with cheap vodka;  it wasn’t until I went to Germany years later did I realize that I didn’t have a trademark on affectation.  In time, our attempts to dazzle each other with bluster and bloc fizzled, but as the breezes of destiny blew, it turned out we all just really loved being together.  Especially Michael and I.  Ultimately, we paired off, whirling around in a magical wonderland with passionate abandon, leaving the group behind.  For months, we were intoxicated by the blindness of bliss, closing our eyes and diving deep enough inside to feel lo. lee. ta.  in each other’s mouths.

Eventually, the other boys all said goodbye, scattering off to four-year universities or low-paying jobs in nearby towns.  Michael and I remained, still partly caught in the stickiness of our infatuation, but somehow sensing a shift in the wind.  That fall, with legs entwined, curled up in front of the TV, we watched the Berlin Wall come down, governments toppling like dominos, the only world we ever knew crumbling, and we tried to imagine life without impending nuclear catastrophe and its fear we unwittingly swallowed. The structures that had defined us were no longer.  Where do you go when you can go anywhere?

As we planned our escape to California, as far from New York as we could  imagine, tragedy struck.  There was an accident and his brother died.  All spells broke.  The world had changed;  nothing would ever be the same.

The stranglehold of the eighties loosened and catapulted us into our futures.  The cocoon of youth dissolved.

He left for Hollywood, alone.  I never saw him again.

Leave a comment


  1. Jane

     /  1 March 2011

    Wow! Well said.
    (Ahhh. The intensity of new young love.)
    I got caught up and damn….so sorry for us all. We’ll never know.

    • Jane~I was reminded about this time of my life when I came across that Lo. Lee. Ta. segment – my all time favorite. And English wasn’t even his mother tongue – such brilliance.

  2. Jill Rowe

     /  2 March 2011

    Ok, I just seriously choked up at the end of that- you took me for a ride on your skateboarding , Ruskie trip!

    Powerful stuff!

  3. Damon K.

     /  2 March 2011

    i’m with Jill on that one. whew.

  4. CAR

     /  4 March 2011

    I have high resonance and identification with this entry. My high school girlfriend reached out 2 years ago, came to New York to complete some unfinished conversations from 1983! There really is no time in the unconscious. What you write about you and Michael I call merging – she and I saw ourselves as one word ‘robinandchris’ and when we met in NYC we were merged again. To ‘dismantle youth’ I think is, in part, to realize where we are separate and THAT we are separate. It’s such a horrible feeling. Why can’t I stay at one with you … FOREVER!?!

    “Where do you go when you can go anywhere?”

    Once again Kellie you’ve asked a very meaningful and meaning filled question – a central question in my life. The worst thing that ever happened to me was graduating college. For 21 years I had served the external structures of home and school and now I was asked to know my own internal structure. I could go anywhere. This was not a happy moment.
    “Know thyself”
    Not a chance.

    I’ve seen this in so many aspects of the world I know – the railing against another’s structure and yet a steadfast resistance to know, name and deploy your own. In NYC, after years of acquiescing and bending to restaurant guests who loved to dismantle menus and custom create meals that fit their personalities’, Tom Colicchio decided to give people what he (and they) thought they wanted a restaurant, Craft, where the kitchen was their own personal pantry to create and design dinner. Everyone balked and demanded that he tell them what to eat and, to circle back to your question, where they should go.

    Film star Kenneth Branagh, in his biography tells the familiar story of actors who, at the outset of the rehearsal process protest input from the director and demand that they be allowed to find their own way with the character. A week before opening though, lost and scared, they beg of the director “Tell me what to do. Tell me where to go!”

    Mesiter Eckhart says, “When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image.” –

    What makes the writer/artist apprehensive? – The blank page. The empty canvas.

    And of course, in my world, when a patient is free to say whatever comes to their mind. To ‘just talk’. The resistance is the strongest. You can go anywhere in the analytic hour and once you realize that (usually in about the 10th year 😉 ) It becomes joyous. Until that time many suffer as they demand to know what I think, what I want for them, what agenda they should follow etc. Especially when it comes to the fee. What do you want to pay is the hardest question for so many and the difficulty in knowing frequently expresses itself as not wanting to offend me. They only know their own mind in relation to the other and the larger I loom, the less space they have for themselves – they box themselves in and get rid of the option to “go anywhere”

    Like I said – good question

    • CAR~
      “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”
      -Kris Kristofferson

      Thanks for the multi-faceted view! I love your free-form flow.

      We can look all around us and see the external structures we both willingly and unknowingly enter, and feel acutely when we leave or are thrust out of them. I’ve resisted both my own truth and others’ for years, and am still dismantling much of what I had accepted while looking for understanding. Now, I am learning how to build my own, and oftentimes am joyous in the construction of something from nothing. Resistance has evolved into relief.

      I remember talking with you about Jackson Pollack and how he put on the canvas what was inside of him, taking his inner structure and giving it physical form. Luckily, I have storerooms of paint (decades worth) I’m swirling around on the page, so apprehension has been absent. I show up and start creating.

      Wonder what your canvas will start to look like as the year progresses…


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