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.

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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.

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Liverpool Dreams

Central Park Lake San RemoThe air feels chilly, but only because my jacket is light.  “It’s not such a gloomy day,” I declare to no one in particular.  I was happy for the rain, content with its embracing cloak of anonymity, so I started my day in the park and now I’m ending it there, as well. Most people are seeking refuge elsewhere, so Central Park feels all mine while I take shelter in the dawning signs of spring, in the blooming of the daffodils and crocuses.

Meandering more slowly than usual, I stop often and admire the pockets of yellow and purple blossoms that brighten the overcast landscape.  I feel submerged, breathing in the unfolding green, as if my past sadnesses are being cleansed by cool streams of raindrops and verdancy.  There is no real destination, save for heading north towards Harlem and home. I surrender to random pathways, letting them lead me around muddy puddles and under overhanging trees. I walk for more than an hour, emptying my mind of the workday, until the grey sky darkens even more and evening approaches.  I turn up the lane by Strawberry Fields and head towards the exit.

Around the bend by the famous mosaic a handsome, evocative man sits on the unusually empty benches. We smile at each other, hesitate, and then smile again.  Without stopping, I emerge from the canopied walkway, near the Dakota, and then fully sense this stranger behind me.  As I turn, our eyes meet.  For a moment, we both fumble for a starting point.  He comments on the drizzly day and subtly refers to the famous man who used to live near here by nodding in the corner building’s direction.

“I lived in Liverpool almost twenty years ago,” he says, telltale accent as evidence.

“Oh?”  I say, nervously.  “I’ve never been to England, but I’ve always wanted to visit.”

“I miss it sometimes, but haven’t been back in years,” he replies.

Lulled by his voice, my mind slips into a daydream…

In harmony together we would amble under the trellis and curve down along the footpath.  We would stroll, without really talking too much.  Absent would be the rush to tell our stories and satiate our early curiosity with a barrage of questions.  Instead there would be inhalation and calm as we would walk slowly, allowing the ease of spontaneity’s spark.  A relationship of movement right from the start.  Suddenly I feel I could fall right into him, immerse myself in his body, as if he were a pool of water.  I begin to notice details:  his very white, very straight teeth, thick, black-rimmed glasses that don’t obscure eyes so dark they’re endless.  His well-worn cap suits his confident stance.  This is a man with whom to walk through life.

I am awakened from my reverie by that voice.

“Would you like to stroll for a bit?”  he asks, gesturing towards the trellis.

It could be such a romantic story:  meeting by our imagination, by the sheer full moon I know is behind the clouds.  But despite the richness of the daydream, it is not to be.  I am still not yet ready.  Between the tree leaves, the darkness of night is settling in.  With my lips pressed together, I tilt my head for a moment, and silently decline.

“Until next time, then?” he says, smiling softly.

“Yes,” I reply, with a soft residue of regret.  Damp, I turn away, and step down into the crosswalk.

(~circa 2008~)

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