The lords of everywhere.
May 19, 2011 § 7 Comments
“All right youse guys, I want you to steal the Brooklyn Bridge.”
This was my grandmother talking as her alter-ego, Iron Joe, giving me and my sister and brother, along with the usual crowd of neighborhood kids, our “instructions.”
Intent on stealing that bridge, we’d scatter into the dusk, leaving my grandmother on the patio in a folding chair, a glass of iced tea sitting in a cool puddle of condensation on the table beside her.
The real Brooklyn Bridge, although not that far away from our suburban New Jersey neighborhood, had little to do with the one we set out to steal. We would have been just as happy to steal an imaginary Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower. The important thing about our mission was that it turned us loose in the dark of a summer’s night.
Streets which, by day, were baked by an unrelenting sun and bordered by a repetitious parade of split-level houses and a poverty of trees, became mysterious in the dark. We grew monstrous shadows as we ran under the occasional spotlight of a street lamp. Our voices carried down the block, accompanied by the thrilling song of the peepers. Fireflies rose from the grass.
When we got tired of running the streets we would mime carrying parts of the bridge back to my grandmother. “Here’s the railing, boss…the piling…the toll booth.” We quickly exhausted our knowledge of bridge anatomy.
As kids we had the freedom of owning no one place, and so we owned all places, even if that ownership was provisional and temporary. I remember having a fierce loyalty to the privacy of my bedroom (getting my own room was one of the watershed events of my childhood), but I had squatters claims to so many other places.
When we lived in Pearl River, New York I owned a low, sturdy limb on a giant quince. Claudia, Linda, Loraine, Donna…each of us claimed a particular perch in what must have been the largest quince in the world.
And then there was a spot under the forsythia hedge which was the official headquarters of our Nature Club, a hollow in the dust where we would sit cross-legged. One branch had a rag tied to it, which made the branch sacred. Whoever broke that branch broke the club as well.
One of my best places ever was a blue Schwinn bicycle. It gave me the freedom of all places and provided a nice breeze, along with the chance to show off. Wanna see me put my feet on the handlebars? Are you watching?
As a babysitter I turned the scrap of field that lay on the other side of the pencil-thin Canoe Brook, the trickle that ran along one edge of our development, into a swamp inhabited by the troubled soul of Wilhelmena Willendorf.
Having lost her own children, she assuaged her sorrow by dragging the kids I was babysitting off to her swamp where they were lovingly drowned. It was the first fictional place I spent so much time it became absolutely real, not just to me, but to the children I routinely terrified.
In high school one of my favorite places was a cape I’d made out of an army blanket. Deep blue and lined with red satin it could be draped over me like a tent. I often had the company of a friend or a boyfriend. My cape created a small but separate place, great for solitude or conversation. I didn’t think much about what this bump of blue wool looked like from the outside, and would not have been surprised to learn that it was invisible to the rest of the world. My blanket tent was a place apart.
I now own a house. A real and literal house. It is not something else in real life, like the cardboard box a refrigerator came in, or the porch of an abandoned home on the shore of Long Island, or a chalk square drawn on the road—all places I have happily inhabited.
It is a concrete block house with stucco on the outside and paintings and family photos and furniture and a husband and a dog on the inside.
I like my house.
But when I hear the neighborhood kids click by on their bikes I wish I were riding with them, a kid again, the owner of no place, the lord of everywhere.