There is a blue sign at the top of the hill by the roadside gone T-shaped and it says No Sledding and it is the kind of sign that shows the wear and age of countless police officers standing by a bloody street with a horrified post-traumatic driver and a little bit of disheveled dirty cardboard or bits of broken plastic undertire as the snow gently falls over the stains and someone keeps repeating that they just came out of nowhere and sobered men stand on their lawns three doors down and mutter about damnfool kids and what’s become of the world. The sign bears nothing of that grim scene in its early-May sun-baked splendor, basking in non sequitir as the world blooms and the vaguest hints of precipitation are warm and inviting. He tumbles down the gravelly grassy incline at just shy of a run, mind bent back to a precipitous decline through trees in La Jolla that also ended in a sudden road below, the fortune of that moment’s lack of speeding vehicle having something to do with an entire novel and the belief that maybe we are all immortal. How lucky that seemed then; how unlucky now.
Over the would-be deadly street and into the next array, a field of resplendent glory as only the windy tilt of low-seventies sunshine can drift through shimmery new leaves and the bent blades of unkempt fairway. He stands for a moment to soak in the scene and all the places it takes him back to, shiny rain-spared lawns of Oregon or the parched but artificially thriving expanses of New Mexico under its thin and sickly attempts at trees. The trees are healthy here, robust, cartoonish in their solidity, and they beckon in the way that nature pulls at the soul of each of us, the way we can look at an animal or a landmark and try to remember that this, this is where we belong and always did and how to we fall so in love with the walls and right angles and resigned fellow humans with whom we log most of our hours? A book in a pack and water to boot and it is not until he is ensconced firmly beneath the broadest-reaching branches of the most personable plant that he remembers, squinting under hatbrim in the inconsistent cloud-shaped sunlight, what is wrong with this picture.
He is alone.
It is a place that other people take people, it is a place to be a pair, and the floodgates gently lift to reveal a torrent of parks and pastimes prior and the lazy adjustments of bodies in contact, the sighs and tilts of laps and lips and heads on stomachs in the gentle innocence of mutual peace. He burns, badly, in the remembrance of the irreplaceable, not to be quite that pessimistic, but how could he possibly restore the grandeur of first love or the anticipation of things undone when ships have sailed and time unrefundable has been spent? Each moment is a nod to the end of it all, a wink at mortality, and aging is as much about the gilding of memory as the ventures into the ever-darkening hollows of the unknown. And now the mistakes, not only the clear immediate one of trying to expend the afternoon this way, already swollen with dam bursts strangely unanticipated, but the past ones ringing ever louder, the girl jilted too soon or the other clung to too long. The inability to see the simple adoration in a moment in the fields and the yearning, powerful desire to simply return for a day, a simple mundane day like Emily in “Our Town”, to drag the mate of the moment out of the office or away from duty and into an empty green expanse to read and drape and hold hands against the backdrop of a summer day’s endless march toward twilight. Just one day, please God, and then I could sleep soundly forever, or at least till I did another stupid thing like this.
The pages don’t hold up long, their subjects hinting and gesturing leeringly at the wounds newly re-exposed and the clouds obscure far too much light in an unsubtle condemnation that starts to feel like warning. He waits for an aphid to scuttle ever slowly, pausing periodically, to the edge of the page and over it so he may close it without another pang of guilt piled on, then begins the sad slow process of stretching and repacking that acknowledges the inability to rejoin our simpler roots. He thinks about summer, thinks about the future, feels paralyzed by its limitless horizon and engulfing depth, wonders if any place will ever hold his person alone again without shadowy echoes of the people who are no longer with him. There has to be a way to reframe, to adjust, to find the kind of solace in loneliness that seems so natural to so many, or at least they’re good at faking. But not today. Today it is a race against thunder and quickening wind to make it to the doorway and the false comforts of an interior undrenched.
I am the old man waiting in the rest home to die, wondering what became of my gifts and nerve endings. I am the seventh-grader discovering a voice for his long-sublimated hopes, impatient to grow up already. I am the stickball player at a wedding that feels like a perfectly foretold homecoming. I am the empty-handed return flier from Africa, neck craning in half-sleep that covers what has been lost. I am the four-year-old just awoken from my first nightmare, the nine-year-old writhing with my first migraine. I am the man, possibly, comforting his child at their own pain, the visage of such an entity blinking in and out of existence with my own uncertain ability to hope.
I can pause the world, lie back on grass beneath a tree, look up, and see my selves, ever flailing into the future but seamlessly the same. What I cannot see, today, is the point.