Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Simpler times

Lately, it feels like a sumo wrestler has been river dancing to Ska music on my spine. Work kicks my ass so hard I can literally feel the pain in the tips of my ears, and the peeling sunburn just adds insult to injury. While continuously adjusting my posture in the car today, trying to find a more comfortable position for my back (to no avail) I began to yearn for a simpler time. What seems like a million years ago, a barely reachable memory in the back of my head, the simple pleasures of childhood.

There was a time before things got complicated, this I know. A time before sex and controlled substances, a time before car payments and cable bills, when cookies were cookies and not calories, when sneakers came in Velcro and underwear came in days of the week. It was in this time my earliest memories were formulated, and now driving on the Illinois tollway they slosh around in my head like forgotten floaty toys in the deep end of the pool.

My fondest memory, maybe ever, was from about the age of 5. My family lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn on the west side of Prospect Park. It was a 2 bedroom on the 4th floor, and the view from every window overlooked a courtyard into another building the mirror image of our own. If you squinted your eyes and leaned out you could see into the kitchens of our neighbors, people who we never knew except for the green retro tile design on the floors. When my sister and I trick-or-treated for Halloween we never even left the building, just took the elevator up and down knocking on doors and scoffing at the old lady on the 12th floor that always handed out pennies instead of candy every year. I said hello to the doormen, carried a stuffed elephant named Dumbo who had a feather duct taped to his trunk and would only brush my hair when forced to do so. I was 5 years old, little and clueless about anything of importance in the world I lived in. I only needed to know about ice cream flavors and play dates, these were the criteria for a full and accomplished day.

My father was never really around, so my mom, sister and I were a constant trio. From this fact comes the memory I was talking about earlier. My mom, being the freedom loving 60s child that she was, always gathered us in the large living room that was the center of our apartment. She would roll out the ancient record player she had and slide out a Beatles album, setting it carefully down underneath the needle. We all pushed the sofa and coffee table against the wall, leaving a large open space on the red carpet in the middle of the room. The record began to crackle and when "Cant buy me love" or "I wanna hold your hand" began to blare as loud as the old speakers could muster, we would begin to dance around like possessed women. Completely free and untouched by the burdens of embarrassment or shyness (things you don't learn until middle school). We jumped and rolled and spun around until we needed to slurp water from the tap in the sink and fall down panting onto the cream leather sofa in a giggling heap. Sometimes on these occasions, my sister and I would raid the dress up box and throw on floppy hats, boas, and sequined shoes. My mom would voluntarily dawn plastic necklaces and clip on earings, then one by one we'd form a Congo line, my mom in the front with me attached and her hip and then my little sister holding on to my legs, we'd wind and turn and shake our butts until they were ready to fall off. At the end of the day we were exhausted from the pure exhilaration and joy of it all.

A few weeks ago I payed close to four thousand dollars in taxes. A few weeks before that I decided that I was going to have to start dieting again. A few weeks before that I thought briefly about picking up the phone and reconnecting with my father... It didn't even ring once before I hung up. At some point in my 22 years of life, I grew up and missed it somehow. I got mentally and physically old before I was ready... and now I'm pondering how unfair the natural succession of things can be. We all start out life dancing in the living room, and then somewhere along the line we blink and miss the good stuff without noticing or meaning to change.

So tonight I'm going to fall asleep with a half a tube of Icy Hot rubbed on the parts of my back I can reach, cursing the fact that I have to get up early tomorrow morning to go to the gym before work, and wondering periodically where I'm going to pull grocery money from this month. But when I was driving home this evening and 97.1 the Drive decided to play a Beatles marathon, I had an emotionally significant memory jog that sent me spiraling into a welcomed distraction. As I chucked my half smoked cigarette out the window and belted out the lyrics to "Hard days night", I forgot for a few minutes how badly my back was hurting, and took some comfort in the lasting significance of simpler times.

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