28 March, 2010

Sleepless Nights, Past and Present


I am in the throes of insomnia and reading poetry when, seemingly from nowhere...
 
I remember being sixteen and the moist summer night spent jaywalking with Nichole and Jan and Melissa through the city's vacant streets. Pleasure was palpable; though, we could not see the stars. Had we managed to get our sweaty hands on something alcoholic to drink? No, I think the free-spiritedness we all felt was another thing altogether. The thrashing exuberance of youth, maybe. If you want to say we were "high on life," well, I won't stop you. Just know that I'd never use such a phrase unironically, myself.

Jan and Melissa were holding hands intermittently. Somewhere in that bizarre fact was a warm, juicy truth we might have hurled endless questions at, any other time. Clearly something was up — not just with them but with all four of us. When she thought no one was paying attention, Melissa raised a slender hand to brush his hair out of his eyes.

There was heavy silence. The shuffling of Jan's feet, Nichole's humming, the occasional buzzing of a street lamp — these were all the sounds we had to buffer us as we roved the empty roads of Midtown after midnight. What more could we need in those moments? Young and free and —

I remember Melissa and Nichole dancing, twirling arm-in-arm around light poles. Their hair, long and straight, flashed alternately raven and strawberry in the sulfurous glow. They spun, and their hair flew horizontal as their laughter spiraled up around the buildings' earnest facades. It bounced from darkened windows of shopfronts, away into the vacuum of the sky. Jan and I watched and listened, all smiles at the girls' silliness. What a perfectly absurd show they put on! Then he looked at me and laughed out, "Sollen wir auch tanzen?" And there we were: spinning around right alongside them.

And I remember the fountain and how Nichole was the first of us to yank off her shoes and step in. Her feet were so small. Under the water, having waded out to the statue of Poseidon at its center, they all but disappeared at the bottoms of her narrow legs. "Come on, Melissa, let's be his nymphs," she shouted, and Melissa crouched for her own shoes. Soon we were all waders in the bronze sea-god's domain, throwing handfuls of water up at one another in loose diamond arcs, pushing each other in the way of burbling spouts, crying out in mock-offense at each splash. Did Nichole and I kiss then? I recall her hair draping like seaweed strands around her small breasts and her breath smelling hotly of spearmint, but nothing more.

From nowhere, then, barreled the black SUV. I remember that part without difficulty. "SECURITY" emblazoned on its doors, the uniformed man who leaped from it was equally capitalized: tall and musclebound and all barked imparatives like, "Get outta there!" Way to wreck the mood, Barney Fife. With a militaristic order for IDs, the four of us, sodden and guilty-looking — why guilty? — made dark blobs of moisture on the concrete beneath us where we sat. Was he actually going to call the police on us? Had we broken the law? We waited for answers.

Two more security vehicles came, each with another overzealous man in uniform, compounding concern. So much fuss over such a tiny thing as joy! Or was it the joy they'd mobilized against? It seemed their way, those mustachioed men with their hissing radios filling our previously peaceful space.

The silence shattered, the mood disemboweled, we were finally given back our identification. And warned. "Go home," they told us. "Go home and go to bed." But we were youth adrift in ourselves, without homes, without beds...
 
And now I am tired and the charm of my book of poems has been lost, and I let it fall to my chest and let my eyes close, and hope to slip soon into vertiginous sleep, perhaps to dream of a past long passed.

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