Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A Ghost From the Past

It was too wet to be outside. I had to find shelter. I headed toward the University.

I couldn't return "home," which is an almost absurd description for the place I had left; a garage converted into a bunkhouse for eight teenage boys with nowhere else to go. It was licensed by the state as a foster home, meaning the owner got a fat check each month. The more boys in the garage, the fatter the check. The preferred form of discipline was to pull the offender out of bed in the middle of the night and bounce him against the wall a few times. I stayed through the worst part of the winter. As soon as it seemed warm enough, I stole a good coat and new pair of boots, and walked away.

When I reached the campus, I first searched the dorms, and finally found what I sought; food trays in the abandoned dining room that had not been taken to the kitchen. Potato skins, rejected green vegetables, and cut-away fat took the edge off my hunger. I moved quickly and quietly, as it was too early in the evening to be prowling the dorms. Any minute one of the college boys might wander in and sound the alarm.

As I slipped out the door, I was startled by a strange sound coming from the large evergreen in front of the building. A lone blackbird was singing a sad song from deep within the branches. For a moment I considered joining my feathered brother under the protection of the pine needles, but the brightly lit dorm entrance caused me to choose the safety of the shadows instead.

The rain had changed from a light mist to a steady drizzle. I increased my pace. Next stop was the Newman Center. The Church was usually left open, and the confessional was a warm and dry place to hole up for the night. For some unknown reason, this night there were people there, doing some kind of strange ritual up by the altar. Students in pressed slacks and cashmere sweaters. They looked at my soggy state, and dripping long hair, and ordered me out of "their" Church.

I tried to swallow my rage as I once again stepped into the wet night. At the end of the street was a cyclone fence barring the way to the campus athletic field. I kicked it, and then kicked it again and again and again, until my foot was throbbing and my fury was exhausted. The noise had brought the occupants of the church out into the street where they stood making low guttural sounds in response to my display. As one of them move towards me, I moved the blade I had slipped into my hand so that it would gleam as it caught the rays of the streetlight. "Call the cops," someone muttered. Time to move on.

I kept to the alleys to avoid the cruiser's spotlight. I stopped and listened every few steps to make sure I was not being pursued. Miles later, I was moving towards the distant sound of music and laughter. A beautiful smiling face in an upper window of the YMCA invited me up. The dance had been going on for some time now. After a visit to the facilities in an attempt to dry myself with paper towels, I joined the beautiful smile at the window. We talked and kissed and held each other for one glorious hour. The lights came on, and the adult presence announced it was time to go home.

The beautiful smile got me a seat in her ride. Soon, the man behind the wheel had delivered all the teens back to their waiting families, except me. I asked him to drop me off back at the Y. Being a responsible adult type, he refused. I decided to take the risk. I told him I was on the run. He drove in silence, eventually turning into the driveway of a small ranch house with a well manicured yard. He invited me in. As I sat in the kitchen, I could hear a muffled conversation going on in the next room. The man reappeared with a towel, and showed me the way to the shower. When I stepped out, my clothes were gone, and a terrycloth robe was in their place.

When I emerged, the man led me to a bedroom containing a single bed and numerous boxes piled against two of the walls. On the bed were the contents of the pockets of my jeans, including my blade and the gum wrapper on which was scrawled the phone number of the beautiful smile.

I awoke to the smell of bacon. My clothes had reappeared, freshly laundered and folded. A place had been set for me at the kitchen table. The man served me bacon and eggs, and then sat and drank his coffee while he watched me eat.

As I put on my coat, he said "I have to insist you call your parents." Should I tell him I had not seen my parents for five years? Should I tell him about the garage? Better not. I walked to the phone, placing myself in the way of his line of sight, and dialed the number for time. Pressing the receiver hard against my ear so he could not hear the recording, I muttered a few words to the automated voice about being alright, and that I would call again soon. The man frowned when I hung up, but seemed satisfied there was nothing more he could do. He dropped me off at the Y, pressing a five dollar bill into my hand before putting the car in gear and vanishing into the morning traffic.

The sun was shining. I was rested and fed. My clothes were clean, and I had a new phone number stuffed in my jeans. The day was full of promise. As I sauntered along with a fresh spring in each step, I hummed Joni Mitchell's new song that I had heard for the first time the night before. I think it was Joni. Maybe it was the Beatles? Or maybe it was the blackbird?

J.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly...Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly...Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life...
you were only waiting for this moment to arise...

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