Catskills Fireflies (single exposure)

When I get home from work I have a smile on that I don’t mean. My 3-year-old can’t tell the difference. He thinks I go to a fun place all day. I don’t want my kids to think my life is bad, to pity their father. I don’t want my kids to fear life.

So, I just smile and try to remember the beautiful things until the smile itself becomes real enough to me and I don’t worry about whether or not they can tell the difference. Sometimes I’ll fight quietly with my wife. We try to keep it down, but we’re both tired and we never seem to have the right words for each other the way we used to. I turn on TV, crack a beer, wait for the tiredness to settle around my bones.

I used to be a wayfarer back before I had my kids. I’d work enough to scrape up a little money and then head out for the next town. There was always another girl, another drinking buddy, another little place that looked shiny and new to me underneath all the rust and dust. That feeling of putting your feet down in a new place? Nothing like it. People and places are mostly the same all over, but it’s the littler differences that keep me interested. I don’t have a lot of difference now. I don’t have a lot of conflict. Just a slow boil, just a sameness. I occasionally think about leaving again someday. About taking off. This time, though, I’d like to take my wife and kids around somewhere and show’em what it’s like to be someplace else.

Leaving feels good. It feels good to miss things, to hold them pristine in a little snow globe memory in your mind that you can shake up whenever you want. It feels good to have these sharp pictures in your mind that you never let get too stale. They jump out at me like magic. I’m a wizard. I conjure my life up and it’s even more real to me now than it was then.

Sometimes I come out to the woods just to remember the little sweet stories of my life. The smell of my Mama’s biscuits. My dad’s laugh. I bring a case of beer with me and it’s just me and the fireflies, looking out and remembering. I don’t need music. Music’s for other times.

Some people don’t like to be by themselves. They’re afraid of the things in their own heads. My Mama taught me that the world was mean and ugly, and I didn’t know what she meant at all until I really experienced it myself. I guess I didn’t know what she meant until I saw it in myself. I’ve been in a few fights, I’ve gotten in too deep with the business of human feelings. Pride, jealousy, betrayal; all that mess they try to teach children about in Bible school. You don’t know it until you live it.

Now, I lived it, but I don’t concern myself with it primarily. I tune my memories into the sweet ones. Sitting next to my granddad in church, feeling him pinch my shoulder, the spell of his tobacco and cologne. Smelling a girl’s hair, watching her backside wiggle on her way out to a Friday Night. My buddy Rich from Columbus who put on a Richard Nixon mask he found in a bar, and then told me the night wasn’t over yet. “This night is damn wild, son. It’s gonna last forever,” he told me. I believed him. It was like that farcical magic of a girl you think you’re in love with, but you’ll both be numbed by sobriety and the pull of life in the morning. It’s so easy to be in love when the night is dark and the drink has put all the stars inside your heart. You don’t even need to be drunk for the night to intoxicate you. The night is for magic. It’s for love of all kinds. The night is blood and black, but the day’s business is all white and grey.

My kids, my wife. I’m not sure if we all know who we really are. We don’t have time to get to know each other. I’ve got a couple of buddies across this nation, a couple of girls I used to pal around with to, that if I saw them, we’d think we knew each other cause we’d had long talks and seen some things together. I don’t know if I know them either, just the distance from the everyday makes me think I do. My kids, my wife, we don’t talk about things. We don’t have the time to. We’re all tired. I’ve got a few guys at work I can say “fuck you” to, which means “I love you,” of course. But we don’t go out much together, we don’t share much other than that undercurrent of connection that makes you feel at home with some people.

Time is what we need more of. All of us. That’s the most important thing. It’s the only thing. I don’t know if I even know who I am. I’d like some time to get reacquainted with myself. When I go to work, my brain just shuts off numb. Work’s like a drug in that way, not a party drug that makes you feel and have wild thoughts. It’s one of those tranquilizers that turns you into a zombie, into a breathing robot. I do physical work, though. Picking up and putting down. I don’t know what it’s like for my wife. She sits in an office. She answers calls all day and does paperwork. Maybe she has just a little more time to think. If she does I don’t know what she thinks about and it would be strange to ask her. I don’t think she would tell me if I asked her. I don’t know if she would even know.

I used to daydream more. I’d dream about girls, mostly, and power. What it would be like to be a big guy. The boss. An important person. I’d dream about the next town. I still dream about girls, of course, but I mostly dream about dinner. I dream about the simple relief of the end of the day. I save my memories for when I can really live them.