In a town where nothing ever happens, and time is told by a calendar of deaths, I find myself, again.
I come back to see family. Every time. It’s the only reason to keep coming back. The last handful of friends eek out a life that seems to revolve around work and alcohol.
I tell everyone who will listen to follow me away.
“Why do you hate it so much?” My sister-in-law asks, as we drive through Jersey.
I tell her.
You remember that person – someone you knew, who was insanely good at something. And you thought: that person is going to go far with that. Only they didn’t. Instead they started working some dead-end job and drinking themselves stupid. And they did it in some two horse town in Pennsylvania. Because that is what Pennsylvania is.
In the hot summer sun, the oppressive air thick and leaden, and the thought that you could live there if you could just find someone to photograph.
But it’s beyond ken or reckoning for most folks, in places like that. Taking a photo? What are you, crazy?
I fled that place. And once I tried going back, but there’s very little left for me there.
People who can’t break free. My little brother and his wife. My little nieces. My mother.
Dusty memories I dig up every now and then, just to monitor their slow decomposition. Jumping into lakes with Tom. Driving down unknown roads with Kit. Kissing Autumn late at night at a gas station. Laying in a cemetery, looking up at the moon.
And the memories of summer, hot and oppressive.
It was always hot and oppressive. Even if I remember it now, it was like Hell had come to life. And always the same.
Over hills and far away, in another life, I might have stayed there and become like other people. Might have married. Might have settled down. Might have opened up my mind to the idea of a normal kind of life.
But that’s for the suckers and idiots, I think. For the people who couldn’t find a way out. For the people who couldn’t sacrifice anything.
But that’s not true.
Lurking there, a well of sadness. And everyone’s drinking from it. A bitter struggle to live, to get by, an air of desperation, hot and oppressive.
The liars and cheats were my friends. The sinners and the law breakers. The drunkards and addicts. The crazy people no one wanted.
In the late afternoons when the sun finally began to sink. Or at sunset, softening and dying the sky. Or in the night, still and alive with a symphony of insects.
We’d go out and get drunk. And raise Hell.
Up, up, up.
‘Til one day, having seen my exit, I disappeared.
Sometimes, I almost miss it.