We sped through Mennonite country in her old blue car, mason jars of Wild Turkey splashing over jammed between our bare legs, and the long gold light of August spilling heavy through the windows rolled down. Air-drying in our soaked bathing suits, quarry water coming out our ears, licking trails of ice cream from our elbows, I looked over at her and that smile like a flashbulb popped back and my heart beat, twanging along with Randy Travis, steady as anything. She’d pulled me back from the edge of the roof of our house once, slow motion I started to go, backwards, away from them hollering and laughing and finally catching the glint of fear in four sets of eyes just as she caught me by the one arm. The shingles were that type of cheap grit-brown, biting and hot and cut up my knees when I fell forward but it was better than the drop and she handed me half a watermelon and we tossed that over instead. Hanging around the undersides of train bridges in humidity novel to small towns, dangling our legs over creeks too shallow to catch us. Lying on our front lawn in thunderstorms, soaking through our shirts and then taking them off under purple streaks of heat lightning, the amount of times we forgot we lived on a cul-de-sac - had neighbours - seemed a tic. I’d read all your ratty Stephen King books and climb into your bed in the basement every night, sometimes when you weren’t even there, and the one time I woke up with a wolf spider instead. When you moved to the other side of town and I hopped a train, hanging off it the 4 blocks over cause the quarry rocks they used to fill around the wood tracks kept popping my bike tires, or when you stayed for a bit in that place with the screened in porch and I whipped rocks at your window til you let me in and put me to bed out there with a peanut butter sandwich. That cowboy karaoke bar we kept showing up to with 40s of Colt 45 in our bike baskets and appeased the bouncers by tossing handfuls of grass over the frames, flung down and tangled right outside the door. My move was: helicopter spin the mic by the cord and clear out the first few rows of seating. They learned to serve us everything in mason jars. That time we left and I turned the corner too sharp riding the sidewalk and ran over that cop and had to beat it back to the old house was when I’d decided it was time for me to move the couple blocks downtown. You were a pilot light. You were the call back from all the parts I’d wanted to ramble out to, echoing back my own hoots in the dark, calling me out farther still. You were all my miles registered in a speedometer you had to thwack a few times cause there was never any reliable way to keep track save for the scrapes and vibrations of the first memory you could remember of coming here from Russia and eating bunch after bunch of bananas in the back of an unmarked cargo van from Montreal to Toronto in the middle of the Ice Storm. I’d never been so proud to know anybody, I’d never been so proud to fall down with you in the night. When our knees banged the edge of the quarry cliffs on the way down and our yelps ran around the milk-blue water after we’d gone under the first thing I’d see when I gasped to the surface were your brown eyes, steady and pointed on the spot where you knew I’d come up.
We pulled over to the side of the highway and climbed up a hill lost in loosestrife, above us in all directions were fireworks, skittering and bouncing across the sky like someone skipping rocks on water. I got to the top and looked back and saw you small at the bottom, the explosions coming off your glasses in a soft glare, the car idling on the shoulder, drivers gawking going past, I’d dumped you 80km ago.
That town for me was not knowing any better. It was flooding kitchens with orange juice and breaking into bakeries at 4AM. It was climbing 200 barrels at the Seagram’s distillery to teeter at the top of the pyramid and launching a garbage can through the zoo in the park into the lake during a lightning storm, the emus wailing their ghost moans through the flashes. It was hanging a 40ft 50 Cent poster from the roof and an apartment with a kitchen in the attic where the cats puked worms and we laid our bodies bare on the linoleum while other ones slept in our beds. It was leaving for a time to go live in Mississippi, to take up one of 8 rooms in a plantation house while ghosts took the rest, spending long days wandering red dirt roads back and fourth through the four blocks Marks was made of, nodding at the chain gangs, burning up. It was coming back, it was a lot of coming back. It was making trips to the quarry to swim til we’d tired ourselves out, it was getting lost in the dead of winter in the middle of the night out in the fields, pulling the car over to stand in the snow. It was getting the pizza delivery guys to drive us home with the pizza. It was the shittier towns around ours and prodding them til they snapped their cagey teeth and ran us back into ours, frothing like idiots. It was how green we breathed. It was two years. It was tearing things apart, people apart, in walk-in coolers or in the backs of vans, to see if we could. It was haggling with new power before you know what it’ll get you and catching a streak of luck that carries you on it’s back, taller than anything. It was blood, all over, but it was the amount of blood I lost in that place that left me light enough to leave it for good and for the Atlantic. That town burned through me but we left the outlines of our shadows blasted into every part of it, always going twice as hot and taking from it everything it could offer up in open, trembling hands.