I think of my past. The endless winter hiking trips, a good mix of under and over prepared friends meeting at the base of a snow covered mountain range, seven days on snowshoes, climbing mountains during blizzards, dragging supplies on sleds up and down peak after peak, eating only Dinty Moore Beef Stew and loving every bite of it, drinking moonshine and piping hot lemonade on the tip top of White Owl, getting hypothermia at the very end of the trail, huddling around an almost empty sputtering camp stove at the end of a dark logging road helplessly waiting for someone’s girlfriend to drive up the impassible access road in the dead of winter in the endless dark of night to take us home. I remember being so cold that I lost all sensation in my body and stopped caring about the pain in my fingers and feet enough that it seemed like a good idea for my friends and I to start slapping and punching each other in the face to keep warm yet also to experience a punch to the face when our nerve endings and mind were so numb that you can’t feel anything and don’t care either. Eventually, a little black Jetta bobbed up the icy logging road and us boys stopped mindlessly beating each other and piled into the car. We were completely quite for the duration of the long ride home. The slow silent thaw of our stiff fingers by the heating vents sent ripples of pain from frostbite through our re-emerging minds as our bodies started reminding us what kind of pointless adventure we had just finished. We all deserved trophies.
I think of my past. The steamy summer days spent jumping off of bridges and cliffs into water that is way too shallow for any sane person to jump into from forty feet above. “You gotta keep to the right. Other wise you’re gonna break your legs on those rocks. Andrew Clack jumped to far left a month ago, and he dived, so now he’s got thirteen stitches in his head and can’t move his neck. He’s gotta heal up fast before the Marines ship him out in a few months to soak up bullets on the other side of the world. You know what, it’s best just to jump right through that little tree over there. You gotta jump from that ledge way above it. Make sure to jump out far enough to clear the cliff wall. Jake didn’t jump far enough and pin-wheeled off the cliff last year. He’s fine, but he won’t come out here anymore. Don’t worry about the tree, we’ve all jumped through it a bunch of times, it only scrapes you up a little. Not like those rocks on the left. Just don’t think about it when you’re up there or you’re gonna psyche yourself out and fuck it all up. Or we can go to Huntington Gorge if you like, but three more people died there last summer so now there are way too many concerned moms running around taking people’s beers away.”
I think about my past. I remember Hell. Hell was the name of the bomb shelter in the basement of my High School. At least that is what someone spray-painted on the walls down there. “HELL”. There was this little three-foot tall green metal door underneath one of the school stairwells that opened up to a steel rung ladder leading down to an unlit basement. There was a lock on the door, but it was never locked because if bombs were falling and you needed to get into the bomb shelter and the little door leading to the bomb shelter was locked, you’d be pretty pissed off. Even though it was unlocked, there was no handle on the door so you needed someone with fingernails to pry it open. Five minutes after classes started, the halls would be empty and we would meet up in Hell and smoke down. The ground was gravel, the air was stagnant and full of mildew and asbestos, and the ceilings were so low you couldn’t stand up. When we first found Hell, everyone brought flashlights to school. That eventually stopped. After a few trips to hell, you just knew where to go and when to duck. There was also a rule among us about flashlights, you never shined them in someone’s face when you were coming into Hell, because no one would know who you were and would assume that you were the Dean of Students coming down to bust everyone for getting stoned in the basement. We had set up a circle of old broken desks chairs down there, the kind where the seats are attached to little right-handed desks that are too small for a piece of full piece of paper to fit on. Some of the desks we found had ancient tags on them, Metallica or AC/DC or ZOHO or some senior’s initials from 1973 or “Amber Lucier is a SLUT!” scratched on them. My buddy J.G. once spent a whole day down there tripping his face off. You never brought someone down there that didn’t know about it. Hell was a secret that only the bad boys and girls knew about.
I think about my past. I remember Downtown Dave. Downtown Dave was a genius. That mother fucker hooked up his beat up old knock off Stratocaster guitar and a duct-taped shitty little Dictaphone microphone to a handheld radio transmitter powered by a car battery strapped to his back and would play for hours while walking around town. Any time we would see him, we would tune the car radio to 97.3, crack down the windows, crank up the volume, and listen to him jam. No shit. He was his own radio station. Everyone had it tuned to their one of their radio presets in their parents car. “There’s Davy! Switch it to WDAV, dude!” That’s what we called it when he was on the air, WDAV. He would play Dream On and Four Dead In Ohio and Tangled Up In Blue and Rockin’ In Your Free World and Add It Up and Sweet Child Of Mine and Born On A Bayou and Sweet Jane and any and every song that we could think up. Everyone knew him as Downtown Dave but no one ever called him that to his face. His parents lived in a big old beat up green van, which was always parked behind City Hall. His dad was named Big Bear and his mother only had a few teeth. Davy was always around, always invited, always welcome, and was never expected to chip in for beer money because, well, he didn’t have any money, and because he was always the best person to have around while drinking around a campfire. He had stringy black hair, dirty fingernails, crocked yellow teeth, and the world in the palm of his hand.
I think of my past. A fire burned my neighbor and best friend, JB’s house to the ground days before Christmas. He lived with me and my family for a year after that while his mom and step dad lived in a different house with his five year old sister and three year old brother, on top of a hill, miles away from where they used to live while the charred old house was ripped down and rebuilt with insurance money. He stayed in the room across from mine in the renovated attic of my folk house. It was basically the same room as there was no door between us, but we put up a curtain and some book shelves to make a pseudo wall between us; the room was the length and width of the whole house with a half a wall in the middle where the chimney was. JB had the east half, I had the west. He became my brother that winter. We went to school in the mornings together, came home late on weekends together, went to parties together, got drunk together, chased girls together, broke rules together, ran from cops together, and innocently smiled at our parents when we didn’t get caught. He once told me that his family wasn’t his any more. JB’s real dad left his mom before he was born. After raising him on her own, his mother had started a new family with his new dad and together they had made a new life with a new daughter and a new son. With the burned out house still visible out every window of my house, JB and I braved a long Vermont year together, side by side, as best friends, as brothers. And as that house was rebuilt, we had some of the best times of our lives. We had a serious falling out in 2001 as roommates in Boston and haven’t spoken a word to each other since.
I remember these things and feel good inside. I can crack a smile at the memories. I can think about my past and marvel at what an unrecognizable path it has lead me so far. All the way to this chair, this apartment, this job, this city, this life that I live now. Most of the time I see myself as a different person when I look back into my past, a young punk oblivious to the world outside of himself, full of spirit and spit, vigor and venom, chaos and compassion. Once in a while, in my head, it’s the right-now me, the thrity-one year old guy with the headband and the beard in the basement of the High School, or underneath Cook Down Bridge, it’s the immediate me with the job in the Greenhouse getting high with my old buddies, it’s the present tense version of me with my indelible and overwhelming yet totally justifiable fear of Hippopotamus jumping off rocks into frigid streams full of rocks and mud, it’s the $1800-a-month-in-bills me with my short salt-and-pepper hair and scratched-up designer eye glasses chopping down a ice coated tree on top of a mountain so that the wood stove would burn all night long. It’s me right now watching my neighbors house burn and telling him, “It’s okay. You’re gonna live with me now, and some how we’ll find some way to cram as much elation and madness into every second that we are alive.”
This path isn’t done yet and I smile when I wonder where it continues to lead me. I smile when I wonder how I’ll see myself now once I’ve gotten a little further down the line. I smile at the beautiful mystery that is forever unfolding before my eyes.