(Sensitive content - nudity)
We as young people don't often tend to write about our memories. What person, during this time of their life, has time to be so reflective? When you're this age, the world only tends to move forward. Nostalgia and sentimentality aren't the type of thrilling emotions one wants to feel when they're young.
On the other hand, it's why a young person should write. Writing is reflective, but rarely do we hear the reflections of the young. What will tumble out of the pen of one still wading through the periods that those who write usually decide to reflect upon, much later in life? At the very least, something worth paying brief attention to.
And so, as the rain dribbles down the window, I'd like to write about the first memory that comes to mind.
Strangely enough, it's about my Father. A house he, until about a month ago, lived his life in. After my parents separated, about a third of my time away from university would be spent there. It was, in keeping with my Father's easy-going view of life, a house which I'd mostly do pleasurable things. An inconsequential house that leaves its mark on my memory as much as a sudden outpour of sunshine on my face. Emotional in the moment, but quickly forgotten.
But that may be too harsh. I can't brush off the house so easily like that. It was a lovely place, one where I spent many a good moment with a father who was, with age, appreciating his children more and more. As if he suddenly had the realization we were there, to speak to and laugh with.
The house was down a winding road from the local town. The road was unpaved and thin. You'd bump over logs and sink into potholes. All the while the trees would watch. Thick and imposing, it always seemed miraculous that some living thing so large hardly made a sound. Contained and mute, the town was more one to pass through than stop in. The occasional lingering person on the sidewalk held the expression you'd expect them to - stunned at the eeriness of being outside the car, rather than in.
My father spent many evenings in the local bar. It was the only way to escape the melancholy of the town. Indoors and rosy with wine, he could've been anywhere in the world. He'd befriend anyone he sat besides. For the evening at least, someone would cradle his cooling life in their warm hands. They'd laugh with deep delight, reminisce and grow weary, gurgle wine and grow drunk. The evening would become a cocoon of sorts, nurturing some futile goodness between him and another. And then, with the cold morning, they'd be gone. As if they never existed at all.
His house was best in winter. Immersed in quiet pine trees, it seemed just right. As if the architect drew the plans with snow piling outside his window. Inside, things were rather the same as out. The hush of an afternoon nap. The creak of the kitchen floorboards. A smokey smell tinging the air. Perhaps the neighbors, lighting their fireplace.
I can imagine it now. My Father's here, and so am I. He's sleeping in an armchair, and I'm reading an old book of his. The scent of the pages tickle my nose. It's of musty dust from another era. Maybe his childhood, when his eyes still burned with some burgeoning love of life.
I may occasionally tiptoe to the cupboard for something to eat, at which he would shift slightly in the chair, and recross his stiff legs.
"Is it dinner time yet?" The words foam through the film of his sleep. Only half awake, he says this mostly to break the silence, which sometimes hung a touch too heavy in the room. He'd be back asleep in a moment. Back to his dreams, the sacred space where everything was okay again. The room would fill with hush once more.
This is the house distilled. How did such simple things find their way into the crevices of my mind? Possibly because they came to be the image of my Dad at the time. A cosy bar, a quiet town, a winding road. Hush. These things were him, and he was these things. But perhaps that's how we remember everybody. A basic routine, and not much more.
(My writing is slipping into sadness. This always happens. I'm not sure how to avoid it. It just settles, for one reason or another, into my words. Like morning fog settling over a still pond. Maybe it's the easiest way to write. Just as it was easier for my Father to divorce rather than stay married, it's easier to recall those events that grasp my heart with the stillness of a grey day. But let me recall the train. The train will give my story hope, I hope.)
I'd hear the train from my bedroom in the house. On the second floor, the room was empty aside from a bed. The stairs up were too narrow to heave much else, and my Dad couldn't fathom filling up a distant room in a house he lived in mostly alone. And so the bed remained unaccompanied. Of course there were windows, too. Through these came the sound of the train. Always late into the night, always undisturbed by other sounds.
I'd hear the train, my whole body stuffed in a blanket aside from my eyes, and think of what I'd lost.
The long, continuous moan. What else could I do? The train only briefly passed through the small town. Coming from somewhere and going to somewhere, the train reminded me that my town was, really, nowhere.
The train went as soon as it came. Like deep friendships I end for reasons too simple. Finished, done. The familiar dull throb of a colorful friendship that has trickled through my fingers returns when I hear the train. The ache is unbearable. Like the grandfather clock that ticks in the corner of a country house, I feel forgotten about.
But loss and melancholy are at the heart of a small town. This is what you have to get used to here. Lack of significance, a faint whiff of irrelevance. They drag on the heart. They paint drab every whispered conversation in the street, and every fleeting moment of enthusiasm that one might eventually leave the town.
For one never really leaves a small town. Run as far as you might (and, without doubt, I now have done that), it remains with you. The empty, dusty shops. The wide, flat roads. They remain in your mind, tugging at the corners of your conscience. They whisper in your ear that someplace more exciting is merely an illusion. The small town and its solemn silences will always be there, no matter how far you go.
(Well, that hardly brought any light into this piece. Oh well. I should've never expected so much of the train. It's okay, though, as I have another idea. Maybe recalling what I always wanted to do in the house would be best. Right under my Father's nose. But it never happened. It's merely fiction, woven into the memory of the house. Let's try).
I was younger than I am now when I spent time in the house. Much of it was alone. Even if my Father was there, he was either sleeping or in a distant corner. He always felt so far. Not only was he often in another room, but his mind was hardly ever really present. His separation from my Mother was only a few years before. This must have pained him everyday. Perhaps he was finding solace in another, better, time. Inside the warmth of his mind. The cocoon of gentle memories.
When I occasionally spoke to him, he looked at me as if looking through the pain of the past twenty years of marriage, now lost. His eyes were flat, grey, and unfocused. His responses hushed, staggered, and pale. And so we stayed away from each-other.
Most nights I'd walk the dirt roads around the house. The trees along the road never died throughout the year. They must have been the kind that persist, solemnly, through winter and summer alike. The roads were narrow, and cars rarely passed along them. And so I'd trudge in the middle of the road, wearing a fluffy jacket I'd stumbled upon amongst my Dad's things. A ski jacket, maybe decades old. Hands shoved in the fraying pockets, fingering a grainy coin, I'd amble under the yellowing moon.
I felt most alive in these moments. My passion would soar as I walked, and I'd find words tumbling from my mouth, turning tangible as my breath met the frozen air and condensed into tufts of steam. I felt like I'd shaken off the rigidity of the house. Liberated, my very soul stirring with newfound freedom, I felt deeply romantic.
I'd tiptoe past the lighted windows of houses tucked away in the forest, craning my neck to see what was happening inside. There usually wasn't much. A family eating dinner around the table, melding into each-other's company. An elderly couple watching TV, smiling softly. Everyone seemed a touch happier than me. As if they knew something I didn't. As if the key to life had revealed itself to them, settled nicely in their laps whilst I toiled to find the clue to its whereabouts.
Of course, what I really wanted never happened. I almost laugh, reminiscing now. Roaming down the empty roads, whispering to the trees, I wanted a girl to wander from her house. Taking out the bins, she'd recognize me from next-door. I'd totter over, face deep with the forest, and we'd softly conspire to walk together. We'd share the rest of the walk telling stories to each-other. Laughing with the stars, brushing each-other's shoulders, aching to be closer, we'd suddenly find ourselves back at my Dad's.
He'd have long gone to sleep as we crept through the shadowed kitchen. As if he'd have minded, anyway. He'd long ago stopped caring what I did with my free time. As if, around his separation from my Mother, he'd decided to gently close the book of child-rearing. He had done his duty with us. We were molded by his leather hands, and sent out into the world. And so, most of the time, he left us alone.
The girl and I would sip bitter beer in my room up the narrow staircase. We'd chat aimlessly, our faces flushing with the sudden-found closeness. It would have felt so odd. I'm not suited for something like this, I would have thought. My heart beating a dry thud, everything I'd say would come out wobbly. Like a nervous tightrope walker, my words would fail to balance themselves. But, in some odd way, things would drift right where we wanted.
"I don't want to be on the outside, looking in." She says this in my arms, on the floor. We are nude, and the house is dim. The only light is a spill of yellow that pools under the door from the kitchen, far away. There's a chill, as if the winter wind is tiptoeing in through an open window somewhere. A police siren, caught somewhere in the town, wails. It's made it through the dense forest. It's what I listen to as I wait for her to go on.
Instead, she begins to cry. Soft sobs that tell of all that's gone wrong with our generation. I dab the tears with my thumb. The sirens have stopped. Life feels dense and heavy as we cling to each-other. Her parents, too, are separating. Cruelty and chaos are soon, too, to cling to her household and not let go.
"What if it's okay to be on the outside?" I whisper. "I am. "
For a while she says nothing. I can feel her tears on my arm, but she no longer makes a sound. Her soft breasts press against my side. They make something stir, far inside the darkness of my chest. The bed, perched next to where we lie on the floor, suddenly seems much lonelier. It shouldn't be there, I think to myself. None of this should. This ugly furniture. This empty room. This depressing house. It's the result of separation, the product of misery. At that moment, there's nothing I hate more in the world.
"Maybe." Her words mingle with the black dense air. They turn heavy and shapeless when they leave her mouth. She doesn't believe me. Of that, I can tell.
"I have to go home now. They'll wonder where I am," she says.
She brushes down the narrow stairs. The hallway is dark. She closes the front door, ever so softly. I watch her colorless figure, like some soft of witch, as it crosses over the patch of frosted grass at the front of the house. Down the hill, and back to the road. Under the gaze of the trees, it's the last I'll see of her.
Of course, this hasn't happened and probably never will. Instead, I'd bid goodnight to the stars, take a deep breath of forest air, and return home alone. My Father would usually be in the bathroom, brushing his teeth. I'd hear his sleepy voice drift through the hall.
His bedside light would click off. And then it'd just be me. For a while longer, I'd perch at the kitchen table. The moldy moonlight would filter in there. That light, so delicate and forgotten and sad. In that light I'd sit, waiting for a feeling that wasn't coming. Something about my Dad, something about missing him. The hum of the fridge would rouse me from my seat. It'd be the last sound I hear before going up to bed.
I'd curl under the blankets, shivering with the chilled sheets. I'd bound myself cosy in the itchy quilt, and cast a glance at the empty room. Sleep, with all its forgiveness and escape, would seem far away. I'd wait then, wait for the train. I'd wish then, with all my heart, that I could board that train. To run away from this room, away from this house. Away from my youth.
For the longest time I'd lie awake.