Sunday, December 23, 2007

Flight

Maybe you remember this. Adults would peer down and say: enjoy it while you can. They meant childhood. I studied their eyes for evidence: were they lying to themselves, or just to me? I never figured it out.

I collected stuffed animal mice, if I kept them under the bed then maybe they could teach me something about disappearance. I refused childhood, but still I asked: do animals have souls? I didn’t want to eat them -- I flipped over mousetraps to rescue someone. I tried to bury my grandmother's fur. I rushed outside to set a lobster free in the yard.

I imagined myself with a forcefield, flying around with mysterious best friends. We would be thirteen forever, there was something magic about thirteen because of the teen part, finally. We would intervene when children were about to be crushed by the hopelessness of imagination, when animals were dying of starvation, when war was about to begin. You could do a lot with a forcefield, especially if you were between worlds, forever between worlds.

I didn't want to get too old because I saw the way that adults forgot. Thirteen came and went, the only thing I got was money for my bar mitzvah and I saved it. I already knew thirteen wouldn't be enough, now I fantasized about sixteen and eighteen and twenty-one. My father would scream and pound on the door while I turned up Tracy Chapman’s "Fast Car," tears pouring down my face, repeating "fly, fly, fly, fly away-ay..."

I did get something when I was sixteen, a while back it had been the fancy car but now it was just perfect for your teenage son, the third car in the driveway hierarchy -- you know how Volvos are safe, it didn't matter if the kids had picked away at the shoulder rests on the sides so they looked like they were rotting away, a defect. Volvos break down, but they're safe, and they last forever -- that's what liberals say

It wasn't my car, but I could drive it, 85 on the highway until it was shaking yes I played Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild then Magic Carpet Ride when I decided Born to Be Wild was cheesy and overplayed, every teenager who drank listened to that shit. It's so tempting to excuse this taste in the universal language of teenage rebellion by saying that I was only thirteen at the time, but then I said I was driving on the beltway as fast as the car would go and it was shaking so you know.

Okay, so I got to 16 but it wasn't what I wanted I was already dreaming of 18 and 21 and way further in the distance, so let's circle back. Before I could drive, there was this new kid at school who was from the suburbs he had a perm but somehow he pulled it off as masculinity, he was pale and had lots of freckles he drove a white convertible which was tacky for our school but he offered me a ride, we ended up in his apartment which doesn't make sense because really it must've been his mother’s but his mother wasn't around so it felt like his apartment. We were lying on the bed and maybe he was drinking or I was drinking, he was definitely smoking so maybe I was smoking. It felt sophisticated because we were alone in the house together but it didn't last long, maybe a few times and then he realized I might not be the right person to be friends with. Now I wonder if he wanted me to kiss him.

Things were different in the suburbs, I knew but I didn't know. The city was what I wanted, in this city we thought the suburbs were tacky. In our neighborhood, we never knew any of our neighbors, when we first moved in our parents tried to introduce us but I was scared. We always went to school in the city, so all the suburbs meant was longing. But when we first moved into that house, a bigger house than the other one in the suburbs, I was ready to create my parents’ dream -- we were still living in Rockville, a middle-class suburb with upper-middle-class areas, but in a neighborhood called Potomac Highlands so I started saying we lived in Potomac and it stuck, everyone changed the zip code so that it was 20854, the 90210 of suburban Maryland, and then for years after that the post office would correct the zip code on our mail but we decided they were wrong.

I went to the same school from second to 12th grade, and most of the students grew up in the wealthy neighborhoods of Upper Northwest DC, but in high school there was an influx of suburbanites -- they had perms and drove convertibles, now I didn't want to be from Potomac but it was too late -- sometimes I joked that I was from West Chevy Chase, since Chevy Chase was just across the border in Maryland and seemed as urban as DC, the part of DC that we knew. The truth is that the kids from DC were actually richer than the kids from the suburbs, but it didn't seem that way because they didn't have cars and they asked you for money at recess. It's funny to have an awareness of class privilege and a desire to erase that privilege with a different kind of privilege of belonging.

But back to 16, what was good was that I could have imaginary friends and just drive away into the distance and then I was hanging out with them. They weren't imaginary to me, I mean I didn't imagine they existed I just wanted other people to think I wasn't so lonely.

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