I am on a roll.
Today is Memorial Day.
No matter the actual meaning of this day, the words “Memorial Day” evoke the itchy band front uniforms from middle and high school. Our tiny town–population approximately 5000–had a parade through the main street (actually name Main Street), ending at the cemetery. It was always blisteringly sunny. We wore the same wool uniforms that kept us warm for the Halloween and Christmas parades. Perhaps I was lucky, because at least I got to wear a skirt. But then again, I also had to wear thick “nude” tights. Imagine twirling a surprisingly heavy flag while marching around in a long wool skirt with matching vest. And an orange blouse and white majorette boots!
At the end of the parade, after a long, boring ceremony performed by the local VFW chapter, everyone in town returned to the park–the only park–for complimentary chicken corn soup prepared by the Ladies’ Auxiliary. As you might have guessed, chicken and corn are the main ingredients. I am sure you will be surprised to hear that hard boiled eggs were also a key component.
I will not explain why I participated in an activity as wholesome as flag twirling. Instead I will only say that getting into a very good college was intensely important to me. It was my ticket out of rural Pennsylvania. I knew that I could never stay there. I had known this since fourth grade, when quite a bit of time was spent memorizing state capitals. Where would I move? Sacramento, California. Montpelier, Vermont. Tallahassee, Florida. Any where but here.
One Memorial Day many, many years and miles later, you and I decided to drop acid. I’m not sure how the plan was born, but we pursued it enthusiastically. Calls were made, cash was withdrawn, and deals were sealed. Feeling excited about the onset of summer, we bought a total of 10 hits. I think we were assuming that we would pass some on to our friends. I am not sure if that ever happened.
We each stuck a tiny piece of paper under our tongues while standing in your kitchen. The remaining doses were wrapped in plastic wrap and stowed in my powder compact. We toasted one another with icy bottles of Pacifico.
“To summer,” I said.
“And destiny,” you added.
Twenty minutes later you declared “it’s working!”
I felt nothing, so I tiptoed into the bathroom to give myself a secret second hit. The moment I re-closed my compact, I felt the first dose wash over me.
“Hold onto your hat,” I whispered to my reflection.
The night was a blur. We went to a party. Somehow I drank an entire bottle of wine. It tasted like the most delicious liquid I had ever experienced. Gold, heaven, happiness. I described it to you like that. Then I was drunk. Not a good feeling.
We danced for awhile. I was convinced that my body would never stop moving.
“It’s like that story, ‘The Red Slippers’,” I told you.
You were confused. You thought I was saying I wanted to go home and put on my slippers and pajamas. We laughed about this until tears ran down our faces. Everyone thought we were quite jovial. Imagine us–the pretty boy with the glasses and the weird girl in the crazy dresses–as the life of the party. Because just then, we were!
Eventually it was four in the morning. We were walking your dog in the park. Humboldt Park. Only a pair of druggies would think this was a good idea.
“My head is filled with tornadoes,” I announced.
“It really is. They are calm right now, but any moment, they might be set on a path of destruction. Ruin and death and despair. Screaming and crying and running.”
I could see it so clearly just then. Darkness. Animals hiding. Families gathering in basements. Mothers worrying. Homes disappearing.
You threw a pine cone at me.
I was momentarily distracted. And the I remembered something else: my stomach was killing me.
“I need some bread!”
“You need some bread!”
I decided that I wanted to write a song about bread. The only rhymes I could remember were “red” and “dead.” It was not going well.
“If I could just do a cartwheel, I would be able to figure this out,” I said.
You agreed with this. I should just perform one. Why hesitate?
“I can’t. It hurts me ears to be upside down,” I explained.
This made no sense to you.
“I had an accident when I was a kid. Both of my eardrums were busted.”
You still could not follow my logic. Why couldn’t I just give it a try?
I squeezed your hand for luck. I took a running start, threw my body into the air and–I’m still surprised by this–pulled off a fairly decent cartwheel. Maybe not up to the standards of Mary Lou Retton, but still, a cartwheel.
You applauded. You chanted my name. Your dog barked in appreciation.
I bowed modestly.
You grabbed my hand and pulled me close to you.
“I’ve known since I met you that we would always be an important part on one another’s lives,” you said somberly.
I nodded my head in agreement.
Your face grew even more serious. “We should each confess something secret and somewhat shameful. You know, to seal our bond.”
“You go first,” I requested. I didn’t want to accidentally reveal too much. It would be best to gauge your confession.
We grabbed my other hand . You looked me squarely in the eye. I felt nervous.
“I am a convicted felon.”
I did not allow myself to react. I mean, I never even had detention in high school.
“I was arrested for selling acid in college. Part of some kind of sting operation or something. I didn’t go to jail, but I was on probation for four years.”
I considered this for a moment. This was not too terrible. Maybe embarrassing, but not disgusting or shocking.
You indicated that it was my turn.
“I was in a psychiatric hospital for awhile. Not like a year or anything. But a while. “
Your eyes held questions.
“I had a lot of stuff in my head to deal with. I tried to kill myself. I had been feeling crazy for a long time, and it seemed like the only way to end the agony.”
You look confused. Maybe worried. Perhaps I had chosen the wrong confession. Maybe I should have said that I was confused about my sexuality for a while or I used to take a lot of pilfered painkillers. Something less frightening.
“I’m better now. It was good because I finally had to work everything out in my head.”
You nodded your head. I had said what you wanted to hear.
You pulled me close and wrapped your arms around me. I could feel electricity moving between our bodies. A closed loop. Orange and hot pink and white and yellow. No words were spoken , but paragraphs traveled silently back and forth. I knew that you would never have any questions for me ever again. We would always know one another.
For this moment, I forgot about tornadoes. All winds calmed to a pleasant breeze. Clouds disappeared and birds sang in the sunshine. Flowers bloomed. Little girls played hopscotch. Mothers hung sheets on the wash line. Maybe even a butterfly or two.
Happy Memorial Day.