There is a boy. He is seventeen. He is young. He sits in his mother’s house. Don’t we all? His world is small. He is looking out the window at it. He is slowly driving onto the expressway of it. He calls it a freeway, I tell him it’s not called that where I’m from, he still calls it a freeway. He is a little bit afraid. He is excited. He is brave. He is me when I was seventeen. We are sitting in my mother’s house. We are all here together, talking. At night, when no one else is with us, he tell me stories of him. His cat is laying on the rug in his room. His cat looks like my cat. He likes pizza. Of course he does. He likes pizza with meat, like most Americans, I tell him he’s got it all wrong, that he needs more veggies. When the pizza is gone, he tells me more. He lives with his mother in a small city in a small apartment. His world is small. He goes to school online, somehow, isn’t it amazing how children use to go to school in tiny rooms holding chalkboards, that’s what the books all say, but he goes to school online. In my almost old age I can almost understand it. His parents are divorced, and that seems to matter. My parents never divorced, but that doesn’t mean they were together. He sits with his cat and his dog and he tells me. Some clock goes off again and again at the start of every hour. It sounds like the grandfather clock that lived in my grandmother’s house, but his runs on batteries, not the swing of the pendulum. The story isn’t straightforward. He is his own narrator. There are questions I have that are not asked or answered. Listening, it is a mystery that never plans to reveal the answer, that never knows where it is trying to go. He might be getting a job soon. He’s so excited, he tells everyone. He is kind. He is silly. I notice we all start to sound the same, make the same jokes, our accents merge into one, we all say freeway when we mean expressway, we all turn a little southern though we were born elsewhere. His mother is not kind to him. We only hear the story that he tells. He might not be kind to his mother. She might be ruining his life. She might be saving it. There might not be anything to save. What damage will we do to other people? We are all laughing together at midnight. My jaw is sore from grinning. It was not like this before. There was no happiness in sitting alone, not this much. We sit together. We tell our story so far. There are questions we do not answer, things we don’t include. There is a expressway that runs from me to you. It might become a freeway before it gets there, or something else. The police came to his mother’s house one night, weeks ago. They put handcuffs on him, or so I imagine, it was one of those unasked questions. When he sat there in his mother’s house, he was still the boy who loved pizza, who was afraid of driving on the freeway, who took silly pictures of his cat that looks like mine. I imagine the clock chiming in the background, the cat winding around the officers’ legs, his mother sitting sternly, trying to teach her son some lesson of life. It is some story I don’t know. I am looking through the window at it, wondering. We might hear about it, someday, but the story is not straightforward. There are many blank pages that will never be written, that might be left alone, that might be filled in later. Imagine an empty pizza box. There is a circle of grease on the bottom of it, where some restaurant worker put the steaming, cheesy, meaty thing. They closed the lid, pressing down on the cardboard. He might be that person someday. His mother might have been. The policeman might have been. You might never know.
Today’s a great Monday because Youth Lagoon just released a song from their upcoming album! This band is especially special to me because I’ve got great memories of awkwardly standing alone in a dark room and listening to them jam. Really, it was great!
Happy Monday. Try not to do anything too awkward today. Tell me what you’re listening to!
The Knower – Youth Lagoon
The Tea Song – Michael Hurley
You Can Have It All – Yo La Tengo
Wakin on a Pretty Day – Kurt Vile
Philomena – The Decemberists
1. You must earn respect again and again. It is not a birthright. It doesn’t come from a title, even if you think it comes from a title, even if it seems to. You have to prove yourself, always, forever, until you die. And then maybe the respect or the disrespect people held for you will live on.
2. Everyone’s already finished the new season of Orange is the New Black. So, now that you’ve got some free time, you should binge watch Grace and Frankie!
3. I love so many people so much and it’s so wonderful.
4. “I can dig it.”
5. Hey guys, maybe we should be more concerned about the planet than like, kim kardashian, whoever that is? Just a thought.
6. Why are you not internet stalking me enough?!
7. Breaking News: White boys white girl dance, too! I’ve seen it! With my very own eyes! Now excuse me, I have to go flail my arms around to this music.
8. Go outside!
9. He has a selfie stick but I still like him. Which is impressive. Although, selfie sticks are becoming more acceptable generally. I think it all started in Asia and then maybe someone flew one over to the States and the rest is, um, selfie history! I could really talk about this forever. Shall I go on?! I won’t. #selfiesticks
10. I am not afraid of many things, but, expressway construction is terrifying. Please stop making me drive in pretend lanes you basically drew with sidewalk chalk and built solid concrete walls around! Thanks!
Can you hear yourself talking? Sometimes all I hear is the loud noise that comes from your lips. The whining empty words that don’t mean anything, the drift-less thoughts, the sentences just filling up time and space.
I wish I could sing like him. I wish I would take the time to learn how to make music, how to make more beautiful things. I can’t hear myself; I only listen closely to other people. I can hear when you’re not hearing me.
His hair is shorter now and his face is long. I remember the sounds in the room, the stillness of standing alone. My stomach grumbles and she asks me how to make soup. I will dream of it all tonight, music and carving potatoes and sharpening knives in the tiny, dirty kitchen.
When I wake up she is still here. A lot of people have disappeared, somehow. I am grinning and my jaw hurts. He tells me stories about the bay and people who ride bicycles. I imagine all of the roads I will have to drive on between here and there. Where will all of my books go, all of my stories?
I have so much to say, but he is not the one to say it to; I know, I’ve read the list of approved questions and answers. I have met him before over the years, I can see him and hear him well. My guitar is leaning against the wall; it’s ready to go, it’s waiting, too. Beautiful and terrible things and people just want more of everything even if you don’t have any to share.
The conversation goes on without me. He is singing in the background of my head and I’m not paying attention. Are you always this quiet? They ask, they are the same people, I have met them all before, I will meet them all again, I will love them until they don’t say enough.
She is eating a cheese sandwich somewhere on the other side of the world. She finally found a girl who will laugh at her jokes. She speaks softly and wants more for you than what you have. I want to be strong like her someday, I want my strumming hand to be strong, I want him to smile in photographs.
He is a straight boy with dyed black hair and thin lips. He looks like a mass murderer, really, but he’s wonderful. She swears to me she won’t talk to him today, but she does, she does, she does. I send her pictures of flowers and we talk about things that are important and I don’t feel guilty afterward like I’ve done something bad.
It seems like everyone good will end up there with me. You know how to tell the difference by now, don’t you? What good is growing older if we can’t shake their hand and see the outcome? But that is why you and I are not the same, that is why I love the people that I do, that is why you’re staying there and we’re leaving here.
“You should go to the moon,” he says. “I’d go to the moon. And Mars. Did you know it takes two months to get there? Or it takes four years if you don’t leave at the right time. So you’d have to leave at the right time.”
He is sitting on top of a table swinging his legs. He needs a haircut. He is excited and scared and smart and I love him.
“We’ve done all the tests,” he says. “We tried the needle one with the string and it swung and it said it will be a girl. My wife is doing good, she’s happy, she’s healthy, we’re all doing good.”
He is going to be a father, this man. I walk away and write poems about him on flashcards. I think about how he has changed me as a person. I think about him being a father.
“I wanted to be a guitarist,” he told me. “A musician. Now I’m sitting on this table.”
Years later I see him again, with a tiny pink sweater thrown over his shoulder. His baby girl is growing up. Is he still growing up?
“What do you think it would be like to leave? To never see your family again? What if I didn’t hug my father goodbye? Do you think I would regret it?”
“I wanted to go to the moon,” I said, “when I was younger. Now I just want to see as much of this planet as I can. I haven’t even seen much of this country, not yet. How much time do I have? Why is it always going by? Should I hurry?”
“Juxtaposition,” he said from the table. “Do you know what that means?”
The moon is far away now. He is far away now. Mars is farther. I still remember what juxtaposition means. The flashcards are duller and the pencil is smudged but the words are still there.