Twenty years ago this summer, I moved to Wilmington and lived in a little one-bedroom condo with Matty J. I was nineteen years old and Matt was a mere 18. Can you imagine? Together, we went out every night, usually starting at Front Street News to hear dudes play the blues (not as bad as you may assume) and then off into the night with the locals we had met. When you're young, you meet everybody. I was a spindly 115 lbs and even in the heat and humidity, wore nothing short of long pants and flannel shirts. I didn't really drink much alcohol yet, but took No-Doz twice-a-day and occasionally washed them down with a shot of rum or vodka. We laid around a lot and I heard both Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly for the first time that summer.
I was in love for the first time and she was in Atlanta. There were letters received, signed with a lower-case a. and I would read them twenty times a day. I hung out with a lesbian named Novella, of all things. I'd let myself in the side door of her house in the Wilmington ghetto about midnight and sit in her kitchen writing poems until she finished up with whatever girl she had over. After, she'd take me out and we'd find Matt and roam the Wilmington night. Suffice it to say, I went a little crazy. I remember one time, I covered myself with all of my dirty laundry and just sat there on the couch, looking through the open zipper of dirty jeans.
When you're nineteen, your world is wide open. That's a lot to be optimistic about, but if you're sensitive, you can't escape the simultaneous sense of foreboding - the knowledge that all that you know (which at that moment is EVERYTHING you know) - is going to fall apart and get replaced with other, unforeseen things. The only thing I couldn't account for is HOW MANY times that would happen in the ensuing twenty years.
Anyway, I would do laundry in this hot little laundry room. I would always bring down a little boombox and listen to Van Morrison. Astral Weeks was my favorite, because my girlfriend gave it to me and because it is utterly perfect to this day. But in the laundry room, I would listen to T.B. Sheets, a reissue of very early Van Morrison songs. It wasn't better but it was bluesy and raw and young. I would try to write poems.
Outside, the humidity was what it is in coastal NC and I would sweat out my soul while the Spanish moss swung on the branches. I wish you could have seen me. I really do. Not because I was so cool. I imagine I cut a remarkably ridiculous figure across the lives of the people I met that summer. I wish you could see me because I was so young and so pretty and so earnest. It's funny - I don't feel so very different tonight, sitting here in Arlington, Va, listening to Van Morrison, half drunk on Pabst Blue Ribbon.
There is a difference though. I incurred a hurt that summer that never healed. I can't explain it; maybe it's just an innocence lost that everyone feels at some point. Whatever it is, I can still feel it. It's like a an old war wound that tingles before a storm. If tonight I wish you were there, it's because I needed you. Even if I hadn't met you yet, I know you now - you could have talked me back from whatever ledge I jumped off of, twenty years ago. I was so scared of what was to come, so scared of today without even knowing it - I really wished you could have taken my hand and talked me down.
The train for Madame George was coming, that was all I knew. In mere years, it will have left the station. I find myself having done nothing but wave goodbye for twenty years.