It was a dingy corner of a gym at a local community center during a simple 6th birthday party. I was chasing down the two-year-old, an interloper on the kindergartner’s birthday circuit, amidst hardened gum stains and up and down rubber-lined steps set against linoleum flooring.
The building was dated—40s? 60s?—and I drank in that musty smell peculiar to old gymnasiums and the backs of stages, a blend of sawdust and teenage sweat.
Backstage. Where we traded secrets between scenes, crushed hard on the band, grew up behind bleachers. Among discarded cracked-wood benches, their chipped paint a faded orange or blue, holding history in a layer of dust, stray nails, and Sharpie stains boasting who “wuz there.” Peering out from behind thick burgundy curtains, I alternately wondered if he liked me and what was for dinner.
Or turn right off the lone hallway in an abandoned public school in Hicksville, New York. During a free period, we’d trespass in the cluttered dark behind the faded gold drape of the auditorium’s main stage, pressed up against donated furniture and music stands that dug into my back.
A hollow farmhouse in an empty field, explored at dusk,
A swath of sand in the shade of a splintering boardwalk, seashells piercing skin,
A muddy campground on the banks of the Delaware River, sleeping bags to soil, a single bathroom—pink?—where we’d forego showers,
An apple core, consumed whole, along the Appalachian,
Ants crushed under dirt-filled fingernails and eyes blackened from ball with the boys,
Nights spent in cars or sleazy roadside motels,
Or on a repurposed mattress flung unceremoniously onto the floor of a handsome bassist’s bedroom.
Memories line up into a life. One lived dusty-kneed, in the dirt, on the ground, steeped in artifact and earth.
Bells and whistles be damned.
Life shines brighter against a lackluster backdrop.