“Do you have everything?”
“I think so.” I peer into the car, then mime the sign of the cross as I pat down my pockets, “Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch.”
Mom grimaces, knowing as well as I do that I only have one of those things on me. After a moment, she says “Are you absolutely sure?” She speaks slowly, giving each word its own space to breathe. She is not just asking about my absent-mindedness.
“I’m sure” I breathe through gritted teeth. Before she can give me another meaningful look, I open the door and get into the car, throwing my wallet into the glove box. I check the rear view mirror habitually, seeing only the fading white garage door behind me. I can’t wait to watch the whole house fade away.
Mom bends slightly to try to meet my eyes through the rolled-down window, “You’ll visit soon, won’t you?” She fidgets with her sleeves, picking at the mustard wool of her turtleneck.
“Probably not, mom. I’m moving out for a reason.”
She doesn’t say anything to that, which is unusual for her. Fitting that I should finally be able to shut her up just before I leave her in my past. I shift into drive and start rolling up my window, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.”
“Safe travels” She manages to say before her voice becomes muffled by glass. I pull out of the driveway and start driving away.
Driving through the suburbs, and then the town I grew up in, knowing it is potentially the last time I would ever see them, has a strange effect on me. Not quite nostalgia - I have no great love for my formative years. But just the emergence of those memories makes me feel like I am losing something, even if it is for my own good.
Some of the streets I pass look the same as they always did, and some of them look so impossibly different. But I think the real difference is in me. I am such an impossibly different person to the ones I was growing up in this town for 20 years.
I pass by my old school, and remember the little girl getting her pigtails pulled by the popular girls. She had no interest in the boys in the school down the road, and spent much of her time playing hopscotch on her own. Now the school is co-ed, and I’m a man.
I pass by the barbers where the teenage girl got her hair cut short because she thought there was a uniform to being the lesbian she thought she was. I have started growing my hair back out again recently. Short hair never suited me.
I pass by the public park the teenage boy used to hang in after school. He started putting the pieces together, telling people to call him Rex because he thought it sounded cool. For a time he asked people to call him Johnny, simply because it seemed like a normal name for a normal guy like him. Ezra suits me so much better, but I couldn’t tell you why I picked it. It just… fits.
I drive down these streets now, as him. Memories fly by me and get left behind with the dust coming out of my exhaust pipe. I am done with that time of my life. I am going to live a new life, a new me, away from here.
As I enter Vic’s neighborhood, I think about how I never associated it with him. I always associated it with the other families here that my family knew.
The Smiths, who live in the big fancy house in the cul-de-sac to my left. They always gave me money on my birthdays, despite me never being able to remember their first names. I still don’t. Mom hasn’t mentioned them in a while, so maybe they had a falling out. All I know is I stopped receiving birthday money around the time I stopped wearing dresses.
The Duncans, who live in the smaller house now passing on my right. Marcy Duncan saw me smoking a cigarette once when I was 15 and told my mom about it, despite it being an isolated incident. I never smoked again, but Marcy Duncan put the fear of lung cancer into my mother’s head, and I never heard the end of it
I never associated this neighborhood with Vic because we never met here. We met in the park, or the or in the school yard after dark, or wherever we could find a pocket of privacy. Never in his house and never in mine. If I had passed by the theater, that would have only made me think of him.
He sticks out like a sore thumb on his own front lawn. His short gold hair glows on his head like a halo, which only draws more attention to the fact that he is wearing an entirely black outfit. He is even wearing circular sunglasses, despite the overcast weather. I love him so much.
I roll down the passenger side window as I slow to a stop in front of him, “Get in, babe. We’re goin’ explorin’.”
He pulls down his sunglasses and fixes me with a smirk, “Do you say that to all the pretty boys?”
“I haven’t seen any others.”
He clicks his tongue, “Good save.” He pushes his glasses back up and opens the back door, tossing in his matching black suitcase.
“I wasn’t aware I was saving.”
He walks back around to me, his finger on his lips, “Shh, don’t ruin it.”
I grin as he gets into the passenger seat beside me. He checks himself in the mirror, fixing his hair, taking off his glasses and setting them aside.
“You ready?” I ask him.
He turns to me and fixes me with his huge blue eyes, “Are you?”
I breathe in through my nose. The autumn leaves are falling from the trees. I can smell them. I breathe out through my mouth. I am ready.