The Remedial Math classroom is open and in it dozens upon dozens of Liz Claiborne suede jackets are piled. Billows of soft brown. Purses piled on the teacher’s desk.
In the corner of the cafeteria opposite, the DJ’s table sits. Four lights flash on a black pole behind him. Blue and red and green and yellow.
Young men in new cable-knit sweaters and dress shirts purchased from the department store by the movie theater. Young women in green and blue dresses that glitter in the flashing lights and matching shoes that skate across the tiles in time with the drum machine. Hair ascending heavenward or new fades or tight ringlets around the neck. Gold chain necklaces on everyone. Our posse is on Broadway and the drop ceiling titles rattle.
In the halls that surround the cafeteria, the multi-colored chairs are lined and filled with nervous boys who do not ask girls to dance and the shy girls who do not get asked. Their best shirts. Their nicest shoes. I sit and in my mind there is another Spring Dance of my own creation. There, in a cafeteria much like this one, a slow song comes on and I walk over to where she is standing, alone, pink ribbon in black hair, grey eyes seeing me through the dark, and I take her hand and we rock slowly back and forth at an arm’s length all night long.
No one seems to have noticed me sitting here.
R. Stand in the place where you live. Rural Kentucky. Late Winter through Spring of 1989. The two largest things in our town are the cemetery and the stockyards. Cows escape regularly from the stockyards and roam the downtown. Luckily, the cemetery does not have this problem.
Along the Northern end of town, a man-made lake and dam. A blue bridge across green water. Limestone ledges. High school students on pontoon boats crushing beer cans disappeared from garages and basements. Older girls in cut-off jeans and older boys without shirts on, diving from the edge of the boat and slicing the water without a sound.
To the South, a small shopping center with the movie theater. On Friday and Saturday evening, pick-up trucks cruise slowly around the perimeter of the parking lot, windows down, bass booming like blooms of new flowers across the hills.
I am standing in line to buy a ticket to Pet Semetery. The mother of a boy from my church buys tickets for us because it is Rated R. I was born here and will live here as long as I can imagine.
Inside, sitting two rows away from me is the girl with grey eyes. If I remember correctly, the goddess Athena also had grey eyes. This girl does not have an owl as far as I know. She is sitting with her best friend who happens to be my third cousin. They whisper in each other’s ears something I cannot hear. The movie starts and my mind drifts. There is nothing else to do in this town.
At dusk, the sky is pink. During a storm, the sky is orange. During the day, the sky is grey. At night, the sky is brilliant white from the perfect revelation of every star in the Milky Way.
5. I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down. Christmas, 1988: My step-father gives me a Walkman. Halfway through 8th Grade and I’ve never listened to music before. Before this, the empty hours of my days were spent reading collections of ghost stories and watching movies that my mother rents for me and my siblings. I take ballroom dance lessons on Saturday evenings. Come here lover boy as a girl puts her white gloved hand in mine and we awkwardly describe squares around the church fellowship hall.
I don’t know the names of any musical groups with the exception of the Beatles and the Pointer Sisters and the Judds.
With money saved from Christmas, I purchase a cassette tape and listen to it non-stop for weeks. A keening voice and reverberant guitar. I save money for another month and buy a second and third and fourth cassette. Each uncovers some hidden room, secret staircase, lost letter to a lost love.
In April, the first warm waves of wind blow across the county and I walk from place to place, earphones on, volume on 8, hands in pockets and mind scattered across the Arm of Orion. With my birthday money, I buy an album by R.E.M., recommended to me by the redheaded boy who sits next to me in Language Arts. Later, I will be the best man at his wedding.
2. Sleep delays my life. When I imagine her standing on the Blue Bridge looking out over the lake, I hear those chiming guitars like all of the handbells of all of the churches in the Commonwealth ringing at once and I want to actually see her standing there and know what she sees.
When I imagine her walking with me through the cemetery at night, sharing some secret feeling, I hear that distant, buried voice calling to me to Wake Up! Wake Up! and I want to wake to walk with her in the choir of cemetery crickets.
When I imagine her standing alone at the dance waiting for me to take her hand, I hear the mandolin strings skittering across the surface of the organ drone and I want to take her warm hand in my warm hand and I want to move past thinking about things to being.
Faint words rise up in the dark, but I want to be something more than words but words are easy for me.
6. A late long march into spring. The Spring Dance looms. As waves loom over a child at the beach for the first time. A wall of salt. A hidden pull.
Our academic team wins the local and regional competitions. We go to the state meet and get a day off from school. We ride on the bus to the city. I sit two rows behind her, listening to my walkman. “Let’s sing a happy song,” our teacher says as we rattle along, but we don’t know any.
The low bare hills are crowned with black trees.
The boy next to me is drinking ginger ale. “I’m not supposed to be like this, but it’s okay.” I can’t hear what he is saying. I turn to the window.
7. Follow me. Don’t follow me. All of them, all of them, all of them. The girls in tie-dyed t-shirts and long hair. The boys in football jerseys after practice, sweat still beading, panting. The girls with short hair and glasses bringing too many books home. The boys in pleated pants and tucked in Oxford cloth shirts whose mothers press their underwear. The girls in the language classes and the math classes and gym extending long arms to say “Écoutez! A² - 2ab + b² = (a – b)²!” as they launch the volley ball to the rafters. The boys in jean jackets with sleeves cut off sitting on the hoods of their sisters’ cars and the boys in Black by Popular demand t-shirts sitting on the bumpers of their brothers’ trucks and the boys in both. All of them listening to the same songs in their bedrooms or their brother’s cars or on their parents’ stereos. All of them.
10. I remember this. A short list of things that I will never see: The gleaming glass of the teeming skyscrapers of New York City. Blue water that is blue beyond blue in a remote Caribbean bay. The eternal summer sun quaking with strange harmonies as it sets the Pacific Ocean. The Borely Rectory. The countless reliquaries of forgotten saints scattered across Europe. The endless white expanse of Russia or the Arctic or the Antarctic or Canada or Montana.
I am consigned to these bare hills and limestone outcroppings. These short streets and cows milling about the parking lot of a department store. I will forever consider Pizza Hut a fancy night of fine dining and will walk from one end of town to the other, listening to this album in this Walkman until my batteries die.
But in my mind, there are other things that no one will ever see and I remember them all.
11. This world is big and so-awake. We stream through the halls on the Friday of the Spring Dance. A girl smiles at me and I look at my feet.
A boy in the library looks at another boy reading from the World Book Encyclopedia and knows there is nothing he can do about how he feels.
The old librarian speaks French and German and wonders how she got there, sitting behind the low desk, checking out few books to few children, waiting for the last bell just like anyone else.
The girl in the special class wearing her older sister’s green sweater is excited because her mother is taking her to a movie that night.
A tall girl in a jean jacket with her name spelled in rhinestones tries not to cry as she takes the back stairwell down to gym, her Biology book pressed close to her breasts which she wished she did not have so that everyone would stop looking at her.
In the locker room, I stand in my gym shorts and no shirt and a boy who’d been held back several times asks me if I like sucking on titties and I blush and avoid his gaze. He then asks what makes me such a faggot. I shrug and he laughs, beats on the lockers with his fists and runs out howling.
The heavy boy sitting next to me giggles and I call him an unkind name. Bells ring and ring and ring.
9. Feed me banks of light. And Kentucky explodes in warm, wet life with drooping leaves and plump petals of pink and purple flowers and our jeans and sweaters and puffy coats and scarves and gloves are forgotten forever in favor of shorts and t-shirts and beads of sweat on arms and necks and in Algebra, the last period of the day, she turns to me, the girl with the grey eyes and who may or may not have an owl, and says, “I don’t think I like anyone. Does that make me bad?” and I say, “No no no no no.” and she asks me what language I am going to take next year, our first in high school, and I say, “I don’t know. What are you taking?” and she thinks for a moment and says, “Maybe Latin. I don’t know.” and I say, “Latin Latin Latin Latin Latin!” and she asks me what I listen to on my Walkman and I say, “R.E.M.” and she says, “Oh, I have that. I like it. I was listening to it last night in bed. I was so tired, I went to bed early. Before it was dark. I just stretched out and listened to it until I fell asleep.” and I say, “You aren’t a bad person.” and she said, “Oh, I know. I am awesome!” and I think, “Latin Latin Latin!” because the words I have cannot contain this.
3. Here’s a scene. Everything that exists has always existed. When you lean in to kiss the neck of the person you love, the atoms that are your lips and her skin have always been, spinning and flickering from the birth of the universe, spinning and flickering in the crackling void for innumerable years, only to find themselves here, now, constituted as two people, in this sudden moment, this moment that will not last forever, but even as you and he lay, someday, alone in your graves, and your bodies disappear, and the earth disappears, and those atoms wander off again to other cold corners of creation to become black holes or destroying stars, even then know that all of everything existed just for that one moment, and that one perfect song played, and everything else after is just its faint memory.
When I get to the dance, I found a chair along the wall and [redacted].
The stars are the greatest thing you’ve ever seen and they’re there for you.