So, after watching Richard Linklater’s superb Boyhood last night, I left the theatre drowning in nostalgia, and it reminded me of a performance piece I wrote nearly a year ago now. As a would-be performance poet terrified of actually performing, I realised in a few months I’ll be 25, and won’t even be able to share it. Not as it is now anyway. So here it is, in all its earnest messiness.
There is a magic in storytelling that reaches out and transforms the world around us. All it takes is a single word, a single story, a singular character that speaks with our voice, and we are forever changed, forever one step to the side and a little askew of everyone else. This is how we sometimes catch expressions flitting across faces; a hint of fear, the glint of a smile, this is how we can see what they’re running from. Of course, it’s different for everyone and we lack the ability to look back on our own, so we turn to other writers, to other poets, and other stories hoping to catch sight of the monster on our heels, of the expression on our faces.
I live in dread of the day that I say, or think or hear the words: I’m too old to read about fairies. Too old for pages with colour, too old for wonder and delight. I know what’ll happen, I’ll look around and ask, where did all the stories go? Then I’ll remember I left them behind that old sock draw in the attic lined with yesterday’s dust, dust that seeps through cracks in wooden panels placed in perfect rows by my grandfather. Some mornings, I look up hoping to catch sight of it sprinkling down, to know that I am still nourished by stories, by what came before.
It’s easy to forget the things that shaped us, easy to get lost in the white roaring rapids of present currents. But there are rips in the everyday, that can pull us under on an idle Tuesday, and there beneath the surface we will find the things we let go of that never let go of us. Like my first dog Princess, that was who she was, pretty and pristine, but we came to call her Houdini because she delighted in outfoxing us all, in careening through the wild and exploring the world. She was a trailblazer, but one day she blazed too far, out of sight, and I never saw her again.
These are the things I lost: my cousin, taken too soon by the streets; my first crush, two houses down, we used to rollerblade by Old Kurrajong Road but her name escapes me now; my mother, to the drugs she can’t beat & the ghosts of men she can’t defeat. I hear them debating sometimes, or maybe that’s just the TV. My neighbour Wally and his daughter who took us to her church youth group even though we were Muslim. We played games in hallowed hallways empty of sermons & it was there I found faith for the first time. Found it, and lost it again, though I’m really not sure when.
I’m 24 this year, rounding the bend. My friends talk about reaching their quarter-life crisis and I think how mindless it is that we arrange milestones as disaster points.
I’m 24 this year, rounding the bend, and I find myself thinking about first times because I don’t have many left: my first breath, heaving between screams, my first sunset, first word, first punch, first kiss, first hurt, first friend, first right, first wrong, first fight, first song, first hug, and of course, first love. That last I appreciate the most, because I didn’t know I had it in me. Thought I’d never have it & having it is indescribable.
Losing it just as much.
My first dream was not a good one – I dreamed my mother burned my hand for receiving a bad letter from school. Of course, I didn’t know what dreams were then, or how cruel they could be. I was just a boy. To me, the line between what’s here, what’s Real and what’s not, was blurred. It still is and I’m thankful now but at the time, when asked why I was afraid to take a letter home, it meant I answered my teacher with a lie. My first lie & first truth, you see
My first dream was my first fear and first punishment all wrapped in one. I learned then and there the measure of sleep, the pain of what’s done, and the value of reality; I count that as my first lesson, first wake-up call. I’m 24 this year, rounding the bend, and I’m still learning this lesson over and over again, in catnaps between classes, in snatching at something better in the cracks between days. Days that stand shoulder to shoulder in blocking the way & locking you in a pattern that never ends.
I remember my first adventure, running through overgrown creeks searching for tadpoles in the wetness, watching the lizards in the weeds. Here in the seeds of yesterday, I remember the first time I swore at God, the first time I cried myself to sleep, the first time I slipped inside someone else – in a book, looking out through someone else’s eyes and discovering magic in pages, realising anew how tragic it is that we live only one life & even that in stages, in carefully segmented roles with clear cut lines about what’s real and what’s not, what’s possible, and what isn’t, what’s bad for you, and good for business, never mind that this addiction is a sickness & what we need is to stop, to take stock of where we’ve been, what we’ve lost, what we’ve seen and where we’ll be next.
Maybe these are all the elements that herald a –I refuse to use the word, to give value to the term ‘crisis’, it just gives you a license to act petty, to act small and mean and life’s too short for those kinds of scenes, it’s best to leave them on the cutting floor and instead compose a narrative that matters. I’m turning 24 this year and rounding the bend, so I thought I oughta take a moment to reflect, to report on this quarter, because there might not be another but if there is, I hope it’s a brother to the first, full of firsts, of beginnings, middles and ends, of growth and change, of struggle, of the familiar and the strange.
These are things that I have lost, people I have betrayed, moments I let go of that I find did not let go of me and for that, I am thankful as I round this bend and for just one moment, see them all extend behind me, my monsters, my fears, in the end, nothing more than memories wanting to be remembered.