Texas is a memory. A fragmentation of images pieced together like a Cubist painting. If I stare long enough I can start to make out the patterns, the sequential order of things. I see the lonely house at the end of the gravel road. I see the haze over the engine of the truck I crashed. I see the dog over the gate, the kittens under the sink, the snake coiled in the bathtub. Mom still doesn’t know about the snake coiled in the bathtub. He survived. So did the truck. It was a blue truck, painted red with rust.
We sat in the bed of that truck one night, my mom, my dad and I. Its ridged floor pushed uncomfortably through the sleeping bag. The air smelled clean. Quiet. Calm. Clouds pushed toward us in the distance, heavy and burdened. They strobed erratically, sporadically, fitfully. We watched them approach, battering the ground below with thousands of tiny fists. Thunder transformed from a mumble to a grumble to a growl. My parents kept talking, ignorant to the war of excited particles brewing before us. The clouds pushed on. They pulsed and cried and yelled. A tendril of light emanated from the blackened cotton and split the horizon in two. Still, my parents chatted as if nothing was the matter. A roar of thunder startled God. Still, the conversation continued. A spear of electricity broke the black cotton and stabbed deep into the Earth, erupting the dirt around it into a violent explosion of particles colored orange and yellow and red. And then another. And another, stabbing ever closer to the truck. We ran. In the morning I played in the mud. That was Texas. I miss Texas.
Illinois is family. That’s where the folks live, and the folk’s folks. It’s where I grew up. It’s where I stopped sucking my thumb and started chewing on pens instead. Bad habits. I had a Normal childhood. In fact, that was the name of the town I grew up in: Normal. Normal, Illinois. It is a fitting name. You will be impressed to know that Normal is home to the nation’s largest Dairy Queen Grill n’ Chill. It even has a fireplace. I went there once. Normal is also home to State Farm Insurance, whose HQ is just down the street from my parents house. They were okay neighbors, not great, but good.
Geographically, Illinois is like a cardboard box, folded nicely into a perfect cube, and then thrown into a 18-ton crusher and smashed a dozen times. It’s flat. Illinois is flat. Illinois is most known for two things: corn and corn syrup. And Chicago. But Chicago is as much a part of Illinois as Austin is a part of Texas. Both are the Cinderella’s of their families. Their home may not cherish them, but the rest of the nation sees their beauty.
I had a dog in Illinois. Her name was Booey. When we got her, my parents said I could come up with five names and they would pick their favorite. They assumed they’d have time to influence me. Silly parents. The names I gave were Ghost-y, Halloween-y, Boo-y, Skeleton-y, and Scary-y. My parents chose Booey. (I was a fan of Halloween.) Booey died in 2014. We buried her in the front yard. Marking the grave is her old, fake tombstone we used as a prop for our pseudo-cemetery. I guess it’s not fake anymore.
What was Illinois again? Family, right. Two parents, one grandparent, three uncles, one aunt, five cousins, and a dead dog. I miss them, some of them. I don’t miss Illinois.
Ohio is purgatory, the in-between. It’s where I spent $40,000 to say I went to Ohio State. They won the championship that year. People set couches on fire to celebrate. The cops teargassed them. I watched it all on TV.
After I dropped out I started delivering pizzas for Hungry Howie’s. In June the car I used to deliver said pizzas was stolen. In July the PlayStation I used to distract myself from the stolen car was stolen. In October I moved. The landlord kept the deposit.
Washington is the prologue. It’s the story before the story. There was a mountain climbed on the way to Washington. Not a figurative mountain. That’d be cliche. It was a real mountain, in the Olympic Mountain Range. I lost my glasses on that mountain. I almost lost my life. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, I don’t know. It’s hard to say how close one gets to the point of no return. No one knew I’d decided to climb a mountain in Wyoming. No one knew I’d decided to do it in the dead of winter. They certainly didn’t know I decided to do it in a pair of blue jeans. Somewhere along the way up I lost feeling in my feet and ankles, but I didn’t notice, because I couldn’t feel them. About three-quarters of the way I lost feeling in my hands. Mountains don’t tell you this, but they get steeper at the top, and the snow seems to get slipperier, like it wants you to slide all the way back down, or hit your head on a rock. Just before the peak I paused to lean against a boulder. It was two in the afternoon and I almost fell asleep leaning against that rock. Apparently this was a sign of hypothermia, but I didn’t know that. So I continued up the mountain. 10 minutes later I reached the top. I pitched a tent and stripped down to my underwear. Funny thing about jeans: they absorb water. Or in this case, snow, which melted into water, and then re-froze into ice. Ice jeans. I had to punch them just to break the ice and then slide them off. I curled up in my sleeping bag after that and slept for an hour. When I woke up my toes were still numb. I decided it was best to head back to my car.
I don’t know if that had much to do with Washington, but it’s a good story. I lived in Washington for four months after that before selling my car and buying a one way ticket to New York. I’d retire in Seattle.
New York is home. It’s the home I chose. It’s not where I was born. It’s not where I grew up. But it is where I belong. My father was from Chicago. My great grandfather from Poland. My Mother from Austin. My great grandmother from Canada. Me? I’m from New York.
Did you know mother giraffes kick their children? It’s true. When a baby giraffe is born and struggles to his feet for the very first time, the mother kicks him back into the dirt. Again, he rises, legs shaking. And again, the mother kicks him down. She doesn’t do it to be mean. She doesn’t do it to be cruel. She does it to show him he is capable of getting back up. New York does that too.
New York isn’t for you. It’s not for me either. It’s not for anyone who sells there car and buys a one-way ticket, carrying with them nothing but a backpack and guitar. New York isn’t for those people. It’s for who they want to be, who they dream of being in ten years. And ten years from now, that will still be true. Maybe in Normal, IL you can get away with stasis, but not in New York. Someone will shove you out of the way if you stop moving here. I like that about New York.
Unlike like the other places, much of New York is still unwritten. If Washington was the prologue, I’ve still only read the first chapter of New York. And that makes me excited for what lies ahead.