Song: “The Pros and Cons of Breathing” by Fall Out Boy from Take This To Your Grave
He sat on the curb across the street and looked across the well-manicured lawn. The steady ca-chunk ca-chunk rhythm of the automatic rotating sprinkler down the block created an unlikely soundtrack to his visit to his past.
It was summer, but early. Early enough he could still feel the heat from the rising sun rather than just being stiflingly blanket in it. Early enough that he could still appreciate the smell of suburban summer without losing that delight in a sea of humidity and discomfort.
He felt as though he could still see the exact spot where he stood on the lawn and shouted to the heavens in the hopes that if she wouldn’t take pity on him, perhaps God would. It was silly, of course. It had been ten years and it was a large lawn. In fact, the place he imagined he was standing was actually underneath the window that would’ve belonged to her brother back then, not her. When he was 17, he knew exactly which window was her’s, second from the left, and had placed himself directly beneath it. At 27, he was guesstimating without really knowing it.
This was all part of what he had been calling—only in his head, never out loud—his reunion tour. He left for college in August. Mom was dead by mid-September. Dad moved just before Thanksgiving. He had not set foot in this town, the place he called home for 18 years, since. The friends he kept in touch with joked that his avoidance of the place made it feel less like a choice and more as though someone had told him that if he ever came back, he would surely die.
But now he was back. There was a job opening that he was interested in. Running the library downtown. He was too young for it. Too inexperienced. But he sounded like his ideal job and he simply had to at least give it a whirl. The whirl led to a phone interview which led to an in-person interview tomorrow morning.
So he decided to come back a day early. To make sure he was not late, he told himself. Really though, it was because he was curious. Curious if town would feel the same. If things were as he left them.
He had meant to start with the bagel place on West and Grant, but somehow, he ended up here instead. Her house. Well, her parents’ house now. Maybe. He honestly was not even sure if they still lived here. He had not bothered to check. Truth be told, was not even sure how he would check. But while he didn’t know who lived there anymore—for the record, it was still her parents—and he misremembered which window was which, he had found the right house with almost no effort at all. He imagined he could have found it blindfolded.
He sat and looked and waited. For…something. Some kind of magic feeling or…something. He expected the sight of his biggest heartbreak, his most crushing humiliation, would possess some kind of historic power. As though the ground itself might remember that night too and give that long held energy up, back to him, back into the world.
Instead, he sat and he felt nothing.
Well, not nothing. He felt good. The sun felt pleasant. The place smelled like he remembered, a delightful light smell that he had never and would never put words to. It was lying in the grass and kissing—or not—and running and laughing and hiding from the sun under a big tree and wandering down the middle of the road on the yellow lines as the heat hit the point where it made the air just above the street actually seem to ripple and shake. It was flashlight tag and more kissing—and more and more—and friends and screaming with the feeling of teenage invulnerability and helplessness. It was everything when he was in his teens. And now it was…nice.
But more than that, what he felt was silly. It took him a little while to realize it but then, it came. It pushed up and out of him in a smirk and a chuckle. He once stood under a girl’s window, his ex-girlfriend, and bellowed to the sky. Begged and pleaded and swore out curses at her, apologized, and then began again. It was ludicrous. It was just this side of insanity. And it happened right across the way from where he was sitting now.
He stood, still giggling a bit too himself, and kicked a pile of loose gravel that somehow always seemed to be there toward the sewer at the corner. He laughed at the kid he was and the adult he became, the two versions of himself that had assigned an almost talismanic value to this place, this well-manicured suburban lawn. He laughed and walked away, not noticing that as he did so, he drifted to the yellow lines. Holding his arms out wide and walked down the middle, as if on a balance beam. Just as he always did when he left her house, his heart aflutter with possibility.