Sometimes, for no reason, a thread to my distant past will suddenly materialize, dangling in my mind and, depending on my sense of commitment or curiosity, I may spend an inordinate amount of time rekindling the incident even though it may have happened a long, long time ago or I’ll amusingly dismiss it. This happens as you age. Distant memories really do become very distant, subjectively in your recollection, and objectively as measured in the march of years as they slowly accumulate. I realize as I sit here that if I talk about a memory thread that visits often (this is one thing about memory threads…they tend to resurface for no obvious reason), most people will be amazed simply because my recollections hark back to a time before they were born. This says something of your age when you run into more and more people who can’t relate to your memories because they predate the person’s life.
So if I sit here and recall this memory that regularly drops in for visits, people will relate to it as a museum piece because it occurred sometime during the period of 1970 through 1972. I can’t be precise as to when, but it was in that window because I was in elementary school. Our schoolyard was bordered by a chain link fence and the surrounding neighborhood was lined with well-groomed houses. It was a quiet neighborhood except for the yells and screeches of the children playing on the playground on this weekday afternoon.
Of all the memories I experienced during that early period in my life, this one has never strayed far. It was not special, it was not particularly memorable. Nothing happened of note. But still, it repeats its narrative over and over in my mind. Why is it old memories like this seem to revisit you through a foggy haze of warm electric shrouding? It’s as if all that existed in the early 70s was defined by a gray, diffuse state of existence. Everything I remember seems blurred into a mishmash of smoggy incomprehensibility. It’s as if my childish immaturity defined my recollections, the haze of unawareness and grade school obliviousness. We used to play kickball in the playground. We used one of those large reddish/violet rubber balls that seemed to be full of air more than anything. They were squishy and pliable and they could never really hurt you because they felt like large beachballs with more leathery skin. We played kickball out by the fence that lined the rear perimeter and overlooked a pleasantly quiet street.
They were a group of young men. I can’t visualize them well, but I would guess they might have been 18-20. At that age, everyone looks older and the guys looked old to me. Thinking of them now, they just looked like some young, barely-out-of-high school guys, can’t remember their race. As they passed, one of us kicked the ball over the fence accidentally and it went careening to the street. It was 1970 and these guys were just walking along a residential street in the middle of the day. One of them scooped the ball up. He had blonde hair and a mustache, I believe. He looked very much a product of his era. The style, the hair, so 1970. He picked up the ball (he was barefoot) and kicked it sky high right back into our playground and then he continued walking with his buddies.
This scene, this specific scene, continues to rehash itself in my mind. Just this slice of reality involving the teenaged boy kicking our ball back for us, and then his continuing to walk away with his friends down the middle of the street.
I’m fixated on this meaningless distant scene from over 40 years ago. Why? What did it portend, why is it engraved in my mind?
They continued walking. Randomly appearing and randomly disappearing.
Where were they coming from? Where were they headed as they passed the school? Had they just smoked a joint or were they on their way to get a 6-pack? Were they going to the store? I remember marveling at the guy’s barefooted kick and its accuracy as the ball arched lazily in that blurry early 70s sky. Where are they now? Alive? What brought their lives to intersect with mine in such a haphazard and inconsequential manner, never to return. I wonder if I’ve run into any of them now that they are much older. At the store, maybe in a fit of road rage, maybe that funeral procession I saw last week was for one of them.
Where are they now?
I can still see and breathe that sunny afternoon though it seems distant and hazy gray and smoky.
I know where I am now. Sometimes that doesn’t seem enough.