Going Home Again

By Damion Hamilton

Something came over Tony. He had an off day from work, so he decided to visit his old neighborhood. He had been thinking about the old neighborhood a lot recently; he was getting older--- he was about twenty-five now, and thinking about the death of his past life and this disturbed him to a degree. He had debated with himself, the question as to whether or not he should visit the old place or not. It seemed childish and sentimental to him. This wasn't something a sane man on the threshold of adulthood should do. Yet he felt impelled to do this all the same. When he got out of the car and began to walk around, everything seemed so small from the way in which he had remembered it. There was a slight chill in the air, the clouds looked pregnant and almost seemed to promise a storm sooner or later. He walked past a creek and remembered how all the kids used to explore the area when he was in grade school. And he remembered how this little wooded area seemed so dangerous to him at the time. He thought about snakes, raccoons, and mountain lions when he ventured into the trees and thickets. Whenever he touched a strange bush, he thought that he might get poison ivy-he couldn't remember what that looked liked. For a second he wanted to explore the old creek again-this time by himself, but he declined. Remembering that the creek was adjacent to the local peoples' backyards and they probably wouldn't know what to think of a grown man, walking through the creek by himself. They probably would have thought that he was up to no good, and would have called the police on him to see what he was up to. So he decided to walk through the streets instead. It was around midday, so most people were probably at work, so the streets and houses were impassive for the most part. He saw some older men washing a car and they glowered at Tony-they didn't recognize who he was. It wasn't the kind of neighborhood that a wide variety of people would walk through it. Just the local people-and one saw them pretty much everyday. Those old retired men, they probably would be washing their cars for a couple of hours at least. The trees leaves were changing their color, and the maple and the oak trees seemed as if they had been around forever. Tony walked passed a house with brown aluminum siding-it was the only one like it on the whole block. And old friend of his used to stay there and she was very gorgeous. She was brown skinned and skinny, and she was the first girl he had ever had sexual feelings for. She was strangely pneumatic. He remembered walking through the neighborhood with her, and they would talk about so many things. He even got a chance to meet her mother and Father, he thought for sure this would be the girl whom he married. They used to play and wrestle with each other and she used to scratch him like an ornery old alley cat. She loved to ride his back, as they walked up and down the street. His feelings would seize him and he remembered one time in particular, in which they both were tired and didn't know what to do for the day. So they began to wrestle each other in a platonic sort of way. She felt so small and delicate to him; her arms were as slim and fragile as twigs. Yet she was vicious and passionate, and she replied to his oppressive strength, by lashing out at him with her fingernails. She dug deep into the skin of his forearm. He saw the red streaks in his arm, but it didn't perturb him at all, or make him angry with the girl. Matter of fact, it aroused powerful currents of sexual longing with him. And the girl could sense that his playfulness had tinges of eroticism in it. The way he put his hands on her hips, the way he leered into her eyes. She responded by grabbing his crotch. His initial reaction was to break away from her embrace; then her assault caused him to become impassioned so they smiled and laughed at one another from a distance. Then he grabbed her again, pinning her arms around her back, so that she couldn't grab him again. He held her in this position, for awhile, then her father came out and it was time for her come in the house. Her curfew was up. He went by her house the next day and the day after that, but it was never the same, because someone would always in their prescience, whenever he came to visit. A couple of weeks later, she moved away and Tony wouldn't hear from her again.

Damn, he reflected, but he kept on moving, as drivers moved passed him this cloudy afternoon. He decided to go to the local park, were he used to spend so much of his days from childhood. He rested on a park bench and mostly watched the few people who were walking the mile and one half-track. Mostly older or retired men and women. One guy was running in a pair of gray jogging pants. He remembered the days when he used to go down to the track and run around. He spent so many summers out of his teenage years doing this. Tony sat on the damp park bench, crouched over from the chill of the autumn air. He used to wake up early on those humid summer mornings. He had dreams of becoming some sort of athlete: a boxer, a professional wrestler, football player, track star, or something, his dreams were so big, it seemed as if they could not be contained the narrow confines of his skinny teenage body. He once read were a famous champion boxer, used to get up early every morning to do roadwork, while he presumed that the competition was sleeping. So Tony woke up early in the morning, while he presumed that the competition were sleeping. He went running; he hated running, but did it anyhow. He felt self-conscious about running in the street, so he went to the Neighborhood Park instead. There were always a couple of people running with him, but they were older than he was. He always had trouble with distance running, he would see the guys do a couple of laps and leave, and he would stay until he did six laps, and each time around was a half of mile. He always had trouble with distance running, he was a natural sprinter, and could only run long distances slowly, but with much concentration and breath control and perseverance. The sweat from his body would be clinging to his white T-shirt, and some days it was so hot, yet strangely he seemed to like running more while it was hot, because he perspired more. And this gave him a sense of accomplishment. The sweat running down his forehead and into his eyes. Always those towering verdant mountains right in front of him, yet at a distance. He always thought he was going to make it-after all he worked so hard. And after all wasn't hard work and sacrifice all one needed to become a success? And later when he was through running, he would go over to a goal post on a soccer field and do pull ups-four two a set, and did sets until he could do them anymore. He was trying so hard to make it. A bitter smile appeared over his face. He reflected that there must have been hundreds of kids, perhaps thousands who were doing this. And just because he was the only kid in his neighborhood doing this-it didn't really make him that special. And sometimes even after running and pull-ups, he would run the one hundred hard dash as fast as he could, five times. He was so fast and so powerful running with the spring in his legs from his youth. He felt that he could even beat a cheetah. One time this kid from the football team at school was so impressed with his speed that he suggested that he try out for the football team. But he declined because he knew that he wouldn't be able to catch a football if it was thrown to him. He was all speed and clumsy, and nothing more.

All and all it took about a couple of hours for him to perform his workouts and he felt so drained after them. He imagined that this what a champion must have felt like after a work out. He felt so superior to the park the trees and the people and the city itself. He felt too big for the park, the neighborhood and the city. It felt as if he would become so big, and so light that he would levitate out of the park and the city and traverse the air and the clouds propelled only by his great ambition and his dream. Then he would land in a huge coliseum, like the ones used for the Olympics. And there would be thousands upon thousands of people around with bright lights and television cameras, and they would all be watching him. And admiring his sinewy physique and superior athletic prowess, as he ran with grace and slender speed like a great cat, leaving his competitors behind.

That would have been great, he reflected, while stroking the two-day stumble from his chin. But things didn't turn out this way. He looked around; people seemed to be watching him while he ruminated on the bench. Young people didn't sit on benches by themselves like he was doing-this was something older people did. It began to rain, fine and misty, which made it seem colder than it was. He put his hands in the pockets of his black polyester and cotton hooded jacket.

He remembered completing his work out and walking back through the park. There would be a local gang of teenagers there, and they would just be hanging out and doing nothing, while he was training to conquer the world. Weren't they concerned about their future, he thought? And they would look at him and smile and laugh, and they couldn't figure out why he was wasting his time with this training stuff. Tony loathed those kids. He had been a friend with some of them since childhood. But things changed somehow and he grew apart from them, by the time he was fifth--teen. By then he didn't need friends, just his dreams.

Damn, were all those kids now, he asked himself? Time really did go by fast. If it was the one thing he heard time and time again, it was this statement, and it was very true. He was looking at the playground now, which was empty. It looked very shiny and new, unlike the old playground he used to play on when he was a kid. He couldn't wait to get out of school, so that he could run in the park and play on the swings and the merry-go-round, before it became dark. The black, white and Asian kids would be down there playing together, not bothered by racial lines. And that playground wasn't so shiny and new-the paint chipped off on the equipment and there was always broken glass in the sandlot. Those kids were so addicted to the speed of the merry-go-round. They always wanted to have an adult around who could spin the thing around fast and hard and make them very dizzy. 'Faster, faster," someone would always yell. And the adult-usually someone's older brother, would spin the thing around so fast, that you had to close your eyes, crouch and hold on to a bar to keep from being thrown off or vomit. Some of the dads and big brothers were sadists and would keep spinning the thing around to someone cried. Some of the braver kids would jump off, and this was difficult to do, when the thing was spinning around so fast.

Damn, what happened to all those kids? They were probably all working and married now, having kids of their own. Tony got up and walked over to a wooded area of the park. They used to explore this area and get their shoes and pants all dirty, that made him afraid to go home to his mother, do to all that mud. The kids promised to build a tree house one summer, but they never did. Something always got in the way. But they made plans and would talk about what they wanted to be when they grew up. One guy wanted him to be a lawyer, but Tony didn't want to be a lawyer when he grew up. He had seen lawyers on television and they didn't seem like they were having too much fun at their jobs. He remembered one time in particular, when he was a real little kid, perhaps eight years old, and his grandmother had asked him what he wanted to be, when he grew up, and he told her he wanted to be a clown. And she just burst out laughing as if it was the funniest thing that anyone uttered in the whole wide world. And this made him so ashamed of his desire that promised not to tell anyone of his desires ever again. Clowns looked like they had fun at their jobs, lawyers didn't. Tony was sure at some adult put that in his friend's head, because what kid in his right mind would want to be a lawyer. That was just an occupation that the adult world forced on a kid, because doctors and lawyers made good money. He remembered loathing the kids when they spoke in this manner; he had gotten enough of this kind of talk from aunts and uncles at family reunions and holidays, the last thing he needed was for a peer, a brother to speak in this manner.

It was getting colder now, he felt his knees start to tremble now, and when he inhaled, he exhaled a white, wet cloud of air. He looked at the baseball diamonds now, which were empty. But in those hot, summer nights of his youth, they were crowded and ebullient with the shrills and bellows of grown men. There wasn't usually nothing going on in this little suburban neighborhood in the Midwest, which was like so many throughout the county. And Tony being a bored and restless kid would look for something to do; as if his nose was a compass, it would zero in on the park were the men were playing softball and baseball. The whole park would be lit up and grown men would be yelling and running around, swinging those aluminum or wooden bats. And he would wonder around the park by himself, and would see that the men had their wives and children sitting in the bleachers. He would try to blend in with their women and children. The men seemed like heroes or professional ball players to him. They would hit that white ball so far, and throw so hard. The men showed no emotion when they were at bat, or while the pitcher was throwing from the mound. With everyone watching the batter to see if he would: strike out, fly out, get a hit or knock one out of the park. There would usually be about five games going on ten different teams; He would leave one game, and go over to the next one, whenever he became bored. If things were dead with one game, something lively could be happening in another one. And sometimes he would walk over to the periphery of the park and take it all in. It was as if all the energy in that neighborhood had been centralized, and the only life that was important, was the people who were breathing, watching and moving and yelling in this park.

It was starting to rain heavier now, and he was watching the empty baseball field now; and he had the childish urge to climb the fence behind home plate. He looked around and just about everyone had left the park; so he figured it would be fine if he climbed the fence. He had always wanted to climb it when was little, but he didn't. so he climbed and climbed, and his foot slipped a couple of times. But he kept the stream of his upward progression, until he got all the way to the top. The rain seemed heavier at the higher altitude and he looked over the field: the wet grass, the dirt and the white lines in chalk of the baseball diamond. He couldn't imagine wanting to see those little baseball games, now. Yet he figured the games probably still went on here. But the guys didn't seem like heroes to him, any longer. They seemed kind of pathetic to him, really. Grown men all revisiting a dream in childhood, a fantasy of their youth, for a little while in the evenings and on weekends. They were all probably insurance agents, firemen, police officers, construction workers or plant workers. They had no chance of making it to the major leagues or the minor leagues. Couldn't they find something better to do with their time, instead of chasing a lost, now chimerical dream from their childhood? Tony climbed down from the fence. Just moment or two ago, he thought about leaping, but he didn't want to now. When he touched ground, he began walking, and as he walked he felt a frothy malaise began to germinate in his stomach. Why should he feel superior? After all wasn't he chasing the same chimeras, by coming down here today? And didn't coming down here and remembering the names and places and people of his youth make him feel good for a time? He continued walking into he came to the park's exit. He turned his body around and looked back at the track, the playground, the baseball diamonds and the grass and the trees. He didn't know if he would ever see this place again.

He continued walking through the streets of his old neighborhood, and the familiar sights and sounds, and his feelings upon visiting these familiar sights and sounds swept through him like a pleasant April breeze. He saw the old corner, were he used to wait on the bus to take him to school, with all those pretty girls who used to wait on that corner in the morning. And he didn't have the courage to talk to any of them. He always told them he would have the courage to speak to them tomorrow morning, but tomorrow never came. Oh how he would practice, he would stand in front of a mirror for hours, practicing what to say to them, and which way when he spoke made his mouth look more attractive. He hoped that they wouldn't peer to closely at his mouth though. He had a thin film of yellow covering his teeth, and some of his teeth were crooked, so he didn't have a great smile. But a girl told him once that he had pretty sad, and dreaming eyes, and he hoped that this would balance things out a bit.

One morning in particular, stood out in his mind---was watching a school bully get beaten up while waiting for the bus. A guy drove by the bus stop, than stopped his car in the middle of the street, got out and began pummeling the bully. What was so astonishing about the altercation was that no one said anything to each other, it just happened, and the kid didn't he try to fight back, the guy just pounded him for a half a minute. Then he walked away and got in his car and said mockingly, "have a nice day." Tony remembered never feeling so good in the morning upon going to school. There was nothing quite like watching a bully get what they deserved-the hunter becoming the hunted.

Tony kept walking and everything seemed so quiet and still, except for the occasional dog barking. All those husbands and wives and children, and living rooms and television sets, and carpeted rooms and bathrooms. Everyone seemed so cut off and isolated from one another. One could spend years living in the same place, and not say hello to a neighbor that lived a few houses down the street, or even know their names. He came to a house were a childhood friend used to stay. The house was on a little hill, and one had to walk up it to get to the house. He remember running down his street, many evenings after school and climbing that little hill to get to use friend's house. His friend was tall and heavy for his age, and he was white and Tony was black, but this made no difference to either one of them. When his friend invited him in, his mother and step-dad would usually be in the living room, and the television set would usually be on. He would say hello to the mother, and she would give a perfunctory reply. He didn't even bother to speak to the father; he just looked at him. His viscera and epidermis seemed to glow with anger and anxiety. David didn't like him very much, because he used to beat him with a chain. He used to always say that he couldn't wait until he got older, so that he could knock him on his ass. This was around when he eleven or twelve years old, and when he got older, he made good on that promise, and his step-dad would never touch with a chain again. Whenever Tony went over there, they would immediately go downstairs into the basement were David's room was at. Tony thought his friend was fortunate to have a room down there; he could do just about anything he wanted to. He remembered how thin the walls were at his home and how all the rooms were so close together. Everything was clean; it hardly seemed like a basement. He had two cats down there, a gray and white striped tabby and big fat calico, that Tony rarely saw, because it was afraid of strangers. Those cats were never allowed outside-they were just house cats. This bothered him, for some reason, it seemed to him that cats should be allowed outdoors, every once in a while, instead of being cooped up like a gerbil in a cage. He had cats before and they seemed to do the coolest stuff, when they were allowed outdoors: like climbing trees, catching mice and birds. If anyone has ever seen a cat catch a bird it's one of the most incomprehensible things ever. The cat sits real quite and still and makes itself into a statue, and the thing will just stare at the bird for the longest time with one paw perched in the air. While the bird will usually be pecking its beak into the ground, looking for food. The cat will lunge at the bird with great quickness, and sometimes the cat will catch the bird, but a lot of times it didn't. It always blew his mind, whenever one of his cats returned from wherever it was with a bird in its jaws. He felt a little sorry for the bird, but most of all he was very proud of his cat. Another thing that alarmed him about his friend's basement was the confederate flag, which was hanging down there on a clothesline next to the washing machine. The boys never talked about this though, even though it did bother Tony. He remembered reading about the Civil War in history class and his schoolteachers would give lectures about it. The flag was the emblem of racism, bigotry, hatred, slavery, misery, war and death. Everything his young heart feared and loathed, that symbol was it's incarnation. Yet it was a reminder of the great blank spaces between the races and history, which the two boys were trying to forget. Slavery was over a hundred year ago, and the only time one was reminded of it was in school and or when some entity from the adult world made a racial slur. But in the world of childhood and suburbia and pedagogy they could remain insulated from racism and history and the 'real" world, for a time. Latter the boys would find out about these amorphous things and how they related to them, especially Tony. But he didn't blame his friend, for that flag being down there. He blamed the step-dad. Now he hated him almost as much as David did for beating him with that chain.

The boys played video games, because David loved it, because he was good at them, but Tony wasn't that good, because he didn't have them at home-couldn't afford it. And even if he did, he doubted if would ever out play David at them-he had a very strong and practical and scientific mind. He didn't mind playing the video games, even though he usually lost, and he would rather be outside wandering around, doing what pre-pubescent boys liked to do. But the games made his friend happy, so he couldn't tell him that he was slightly bored. David would get so excited playing This game and that game, showing his friend the graphics and features of each game, so fast that Tony would feel as if his head was spinning. "You like this one, look at the graphics." And Tony would feign enthusiasm and go, 'yeah, yeah I like it." Even though he wanted to go outside.

Tony stood right there in front of David's old house. He had to stop because the memories sent vibrations along the various pressure points of his body, which were like little earthquakes. Last time he saw David, he was working at a convenient store, which was not too far away from the house. Damn, he was really bright he reflected to himself. But a big change came over his friend shortly after turning sixteen and getting the job at the store, and getting a car. His grades dropped, he stopped going to school. The only two subjects he could talk about were women and cars. He was in pursuit of that allusive "coolness" which so many of us are after. And while we are chasing it, so much passes us by, or goes unnoticed.

He sighed deeply, and continued walking, letting the old sights and sounds of the neighborhood stir and settle within him. He wanted to assort his memories neatly, and store them in the deep banks of his memory, and to be able to withdraw them, whenever he needed to. He came to his car, which seemed to be smiling. He put the key into the ignition and drove off. Not knowing if he would see the old neighborhood ever again.

Copyright 2005 Damion Hamilton

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