My life sometime around 1981.
“Out here in the fields…”
I’m walking out the back door of our house in Byram Township New Jersey. I walk straight through the neighbor’s lawn behind our shed. I move quickly because they don’t like it when I cut through. The bushes are overgrown. I have to rub my shoulder against the other neighbor’s wooden fence. On the other side of that fence is a pool that I have spent much of my childhood in. I pass from the darkness of the narrow alley on the side of the fence into the front yard. I am mostly clear now. I have come this way because I don’t want to see anyone I know. My mother may have been just pulling into the driveway before I left. I am not sure if this is true but I was suddenly struck with a very claustrophobic feeling and I had to leave. I know where I’m going but I also don’t care where I’m going. The air is crisp and clean. I have an adult sized army shirt for a jacket and work boots. I am maybe 10, 11, 12. I am the loneliest kid on the planet.
“I farm for my meals…”
I walk quickly down the street. I don’t want Mr. or Mrs Matulo (the neighbors with the pool) to drive up the street while I am here. It’s not that I will be in any kind of trouble. I am just ashamed. I couldn’t tell you what I am ashamed of, but my whole life is filled with shame. There are only a handful of people that I don’t feel ashamed around. I’m on my way to see them.
“I get my back into my living…”
Sean’s house is at the end of the street I am on. I am walking quickly and I stare at the ground. I don’t want to see anyone I know. Or more accuarately, I don’t want to make eye contact with anyone who knew me when I was 8. I don’t know that person anymore.
“I don’t need to fight…”
I walk straight up Sean’s driveway without looking at the front door or the house. When I reach the garage, I pass to the right of the house and follow a stone wall to the woods behind the house where I pick up a faint trail. I haven’t slowed down once, but now I can breathe a little easier.
“To prove I’m right…”
The path emerges from the woods onto a steep slope where nothing grows. It’s clay and top soil and rock mixed together and it’s treacherous. I can see the backs of the buildings along 206 from here. I walk straight down the slope without slowing down. At the bottom of the slope, I am in a gravel parking lot and I walk to the front of the building. A store front of some sort. I can’t even visualize it. I still don’t look up as I step into the busy traffic on 206. I am not exactly reckless. I can see the cars and I am timing it well. But I don’t want to see anyone I know on 206. It could be my mother. Any one of my neighbors. It could be any of the dozen friends I used to have before my parents split.
“I don’t need to be forgiven…Yeah yeah yeah…”
I am across 206 and walking through the parking lot of a bar whose name I can’t remember. Now I am passing down a gravel driveway and I am hidden from 206. I don’t care who sees me in West Brookwood. I hardly know most of the people and most of them don’t know my family. It’s the eyes in East Brookwood that I find oppressive. I make my way through the streets of West Brookwood to the Wecht’s house. It doesn’t matter who is home. Jason or Jonathan will be somewhere. I am free.
“Don’t cry… Don’t raise your eye… It’s only teenage wasteland…”
There are no uncomfortable questions here. I don’t care if I eat or do drugs or break into a bar. I don’t care what we do. If only one of the 5 other siblings is around, I will sit there with them until Jason or Jonathan show up. If no one is home at all, which is damn near impossible, I will sit on the porch until someone shows up. I don’t want to be anywhere else ever.
“Sally take my hand…”
My fantasy life is about someone that I have a crush on in school. It doesn’t matter what name it is. Melissa, Laura, Michelle, Patty… The fantasy is about someone that doesn’t exist. They are being abused and I save them and we run away. I feel it like it’s real. We escape into the night and don’t look back.
“We’ll travel south cross land…”
My life is so miserable and discontented, I would go anywhere and do anything other than be around my house. There is nothing I can do at home that is satisfying. There is no person I can see that I have known for years that won’t produce some kind of anxiety. I don’t know how to answer the simplest question. “What do you want to drink?” “Would you like a hamburger?” Can you imagine how the more invasive questions are handled? “How are you feeling?” I can remember not being able to speak. Knowing it was my turn to speak and not being able to move my lips at all.
“Put out the fire and don’t look past my shoulder…”
I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be completely annhilated from the list of my parents mistakes. I wanted to be so high that I couldn’t think about anything. I wanted to be around people that felt the same way that I did. I wanted to be around a group of people that didn’t have adults. No rules. No judgement. No real questions.
“The exodus is here…”
We truly didn’t have that many drugs. We liked to think of ourselves as big into this kind of thing. But truly we spent a lot time dreaming about what we would do if we had a lot of pot. But we seldom had any. Alcohol we would steal when we had the chance. Most of our lives were defined by a lot of incoherent laughter about nothing. A lot of aimless wandering that was deeply meaningful to us.
“The happy ones are near…”
I hated seeing my previous life so much that I would make this same trip every morning just to be on a different bus from the one I had been taking since Kindergarten. When I made it to the bus stop, Jason, Jonathan, Laura and I would make a decision about whether we were going to school. Obviously, often we didn’t go to school. If I got up too late to walk across 206, I would wait until the bus was gone. Then I would walk out the front door and go a different way through some yards and across a stream until I got in the woods. Without a trail of any kind, I would make my way in a straight line to the school. Maybe a 2 mile walk.
“Let’s get together before we get much older…”
I had no thought in my head about anything changing. The only comfort I could comprehend was my friends. We smoked cigarettes until our lungs hurt. We broke into the storage shed for the bar on 206 multiple times. We scrounged for money. We asked each other how much money each of us had every day.
We crashed the older kids parties. They tried to hide them from us but we always showed up. Midnight parties at the older kid whose mother never left her bedroom. The lean-to at the boy scout camp. If the police showed up, we ran. I wouldn’t come home on the weekends until 3 am or later, if at all. No one ever seemed to notice.
“They’re all wasted!”
I hear this song and a desparate longing fills my chest. There are times of my life that I have avoided listening to it. Times when I was trying to build something else. I have a fairly successful life now. I have a son and a girl on the way that I hope never feel that rejected by everything around them. But all of my fears and desires have their basis in that longing. I can still see the looks on all of their faces the last time I saw them. I lost some brothers and sisters 25 years ago. Everyone cried a little.
My whole life has been about leaving little pieces of myself with different groups of people. We were children. And children move away. And grief is a hard lesson to learn. But I left a piece of myself with them. They saved my life in ways they couldn’t possibly understand. I don’t really understand it. But every time this song comes on I can see Jonathan, Jason and Laura on the last day I saw them in New Jersey. It makes my heart hurt for all of the innocence we didn’t think we had left at that time. It makes my heart hurt for everything I wasn’t able to share with them later. But really, being able to feel something with this kind of intensity is what life’s all about. And all of that intensity is tied up for me in this song and that narrow strip of Northern New Jersy that we stomped in our time.