It had rained earlier in the day, David could tell as he drove a rented car into the outskirts of Newsome, Ohio an hour after dark. His home town was deliciously familiar, yet there had been minor changes by those who had no respect for his memories. When the road into town left the main highway the gas station had changed brands and there was a brash new burger stand. It had been much, much too long since he’d been back. Pat lay asleep on the seat beside him. The summer air was alive with the moisture of pervasive greenery and farmer’s fields. Insects floated lazily around streetlights.
After David checked into the town’s only motel and left Pat sleeping on a bed, he walked the rest of the way into town with a great sense of importance. He saw the field where he’d flown kites and fought mock wars as a kid, and a vast lawn where he’d played touch football. He watched entranced as fireflies cruised the darkness, winking at each other with tiny lanterns. Inside homes, the flickering glow of television sets confirmed that there really were people living here, just like in California.
With trepidation, he turned and began to walk up the street he grew up on — the street where his parents still lived. It was like entering the Navajo reservation again. He finally caught sight of the house where he grew up, dark and lifeless, and much smaller than he remembered. He wondered where his parents were, and remembered his mother on the phone a week before, inviting them out — “We’d like to buy your plane tickets.” David remembered conspiring with Patricia to fly out unannounced a day early so they could check out the area before having to honor family obligations.
He slowly walked on the sidewalk in front of the house with all its gingerbread and history. The little trees planted when he was a boy were now as high as the second story. He didn’t pause long because the town police car drove by on an adjacent street. David instinctively checked himself to see if he was in drag.
He walked further up the street under darkened, spreading elms, passing houses whose lawns he’d mowed as a boy. Memories of summers growing up flooded him — the sunny, sinful days of lying in deep green grass and fishing in little streams and going on expeditions with BB guns. His memory also dredged up winters of lying in his upstairs bedroom with windows made opaque by heavy frost. That cold, spartan room had almost driven him crazy with its repetitive-patterned wallpaper. He remembered hearing through his heating vent the sounds of his father powerfully shoveling coal into the basement furnace before going to bed. Through that same vent came the sounds of his parents fiercely arguing downstairs the next morning, and his mother’s tears after the old man went to work.
At the far end of the street the public school stood on a hill in moonlight. In place of the old brick grade school was a modern glass and aluminum box. Next to the newly-tamed stream where he and his buddies used to probe with sticks for crawfish was a new, trendy, blacktopped playground. Why can’t my past remain the same? Why do things get covered over and forgotten?
He forced himself to keep walking. People were probably watching, he thought, wondering what he was up to. Eventually he reached the small downtown and it was without life. He bumped into one semi-inebriated man who remembered him from school days and who invited him into Arnie’s Bar but David politely declined.
As he walked under the big clock of the bank on the corner, he realized with a pang that his classmates here had already lived out a hundred stories of success or mediocrity while he played out his little transvestite drama in California. Many of them already had children and were running businesses.
David went on up to his old Methodist church in the north end of town. He loved the homely designs of the bricks in the walls, the white wooden steps and the illuminated steeple that went up to the stars. It was in their building that David had developed a crush on a just-married, very pretty woman in the choir and had once walked through her clothesline just to brush by her bras and panties.
Arriving back at his parents’ house for a final reconnoiter before returning to the motel, there was still no sign of anyone. He walked up the long dark driveway to the patio at the rear of the house and sat in a metal lawn chair. Were his parents staying with one of his sisters overnight?
He rocked from side to side on the uneven legs of the chair until he remembered how as a kid he’s obsessively rocked himself in rocking chairs to anesthetize himself. And how he’d rolled in bed, like rolling halfway buried in sand, until his parents shouted at him to stop.
Finally resigning himself to return to the motel, he went to the back door of the house and turned the old ornate doorknob. To his surprise, the door opened. Amazing — they still leave their doors unlocked around here.
He went in and prowled around the house. Weak shafts of streetlight and moonlight penetrated the darkness and highlighted certain familiar scenes in an eerie fashion. He went in to use the bathroom and didn’t turn the light on so as to preserve the mysteriousness. Not finding the toilet, he had fun peeing in the sink before moving on.
He heard the faint sound of a car. Its faraway sound brought him a deep loneliness, a loneliness he relished.
David wondered if Patricia out at the motel had awakened in an unfamiliar room and had forgotten that he’d left for a walk.
He gingerly began walking up creaking stairs to the upper floor of the house. Through lace curtains hung over a window he could see darkened neighbors’ homes. Everything including himself seemed deliciously frozen in time.
He reached the top of the stairs and peeked in his old bedroom, lit gently by a night light. New wallpaper, same old bed. Then he walked stealthily down the hallway to his parents’ room, the only bedroom being used. Their bed didn’t seem as substantial and imposing as before. In fact, it seemed quite ordinary. His old Pandora’s Box of sensual delights, his parents’ chest of drawers, stood familiarly against a wall.
He flopped down on his parents’ bed and let its coolness and firmness support him as he lightly began drifting off to sleep.
Unaware of how much time had passed, he jolted awake when he heard the crunch of automobile tires on the gravel driveway outside. He immediately reverted to a fifteen-year-old dressed in his mother’s clothes masturbating on her bed while the rest of the family was at church. he involuntarily checked himself to see if he was wearing a bra.
How long am I going to be a frightened boy? How long will these charades go on?
He walked downstairs switching on lights as he went.