I went back to the old apartment. The old apartment was best going back to alone. I tried taking my kids there or Dawn, but to them it was just an old apartment. To me, there was so much more. It wasn’t the apartment, it was the grounds. I’d walk them and with each step, a different memory stirred. The memories weren’t images as much as feelings. It’s where I grew up, my first 11 years.
There was a sex offender who lived across the parking lot in one of the other units. I was lucky, my parents warned me about him: even though he tried to get me and my friends to come up to his place, I never went.
The building management printed out the last names of the tenants on this thick plastic material they had in the 1970s that left the characters kind of raised on the surface, embossed. I was about six. There wasn’t much to do. So we went around to the different apartment units touching the names on the tape that got put on the metal mail boxes lined up for each unit. The sex offender’s name stayed blank.
There was a field behind the apartments where we’d play Wiffle Ball, where my dad and I practiced soccer. Once I was out there with my friends and the sex offender leaned out his window and said he had the Yankees game on and a pinball machine we could play for free, a life-sized wooden Indian with bubble gum cigars, and candy. He leaned out the window watching us, smoking. I was only six but remember it well.
My friends David and Daniel were twin brothers but didn’t look anything alike. David and I sided with one another and ostracized Daniel. Once, I saw Daniel get stung on the eye by a bee and it swelled up and closed like a walnut shell.
I can’t remember how I found out, but Daniel went up to see the sex offender. We fell out of touch after we got older and went off to middle school, but he was never right again. The sex offender had thick glasses and yellowish skin, had done prison time (my parents told me that). His hair was curly and turning white. He had a cream-colored Mercedes he kept parked out front and I used to play with the hood ornament: I learned you could bend it back and when I did, one time I saw him up in his window looking down at me; he just popped up like one of those cardboard silhouettes you’d see at a firing range or the fair, a cowboy in half-profile with a cigarette.
But there was more than that to remember at the apartments, much more. I tried to remember it as I walked across the field that once seemed so large but now, nothing. There was an old picture of me in the spring when my hair used to be blond and the field was full of dandelions, and I was about the same size, it looked like I could drown in that field.
I walked the grounds and wore a heavy look, I’m sure. I was now in my 40s and we lived in Seattle and I had a wife and kids, and coming back was just a self-indulgent sentimental thing we sometimes do, but there was something there I was sure. There was me, somewhere. It was in the white stains on the red brick they used to coat the metal shutters nailed to the building exterior: somewhere in the tree in the field I used to climb and talk to myself and make deals and predictions about where I’d wind up. It’s where I cut my arms open running away from a kid on a bike we called retarded back then, who laughed when I put both arms through a window and said I was in trouble now and he was ‘telling,’ even though my arms were gushing blood. It’s in the basement of one of the units where I stood playing hide and seek, running from a girl who was older than me, the moment I realized I had a crush on her when she stopped in the half darkness and I could hear her breathe and sense her, but remained hidden in the dark, unseen. We leave parts of ourselves behind in places no one knows, not even us. You go back and the worst part is how little remains.