The fins on the air conditioning units were cold and bent in places and dripped on the pavement. I noticed that, and the texture of mortar between the red brick on each of the apartment units, the red berries on the bushes and the color they turned when you crushed them: the look of a slug when you poured salt on it and the color it turned as it died. We bent back the hood ornament on the sex offender’s car and he popped up in the window like a cut-out figure in a carnival shooting game. He was leaning out the window looking down at us with his dark glasses and white curly hair, smoking. We were playing wiffle ball and he invited us in to watch the Yankees, said he had a wooden Indian with candy cigars that blew fake smoke. I didn’t go in but Daniel did, and he was never right after that. It’s hard to tell if it was that, or something else (‘chicken or egg?’).
The building manager‘s name was Keimig and he was a man to be feared. We paid him the rent, sometimes late. His name was printed on plastic and fit into a spot above the mail slot and I felt the embossed letters with my fingertips, KEIMIG.
He had two teenagers who cut the grass and did maintenance. They kept dirty magazines in the tool shed under the cushion of an old recliner and sometimes let me look. I’d never seen a woman like that, and it terrified me each time I did.
At the mini market up the street they had magazines like that on display. I befriended a young boy named Stevey and taught him the art of shoplifting. We accrued cap guns, candies, baseball cards and later, magazines. We both wore puffy coats and fit everything in our pockets, walked right out of the store. Stevey had a pug nose like a pig, like the pig on the Hatfield bacon package who was always smiling.
I rode the bus into work on a Thursday and it was already warm by 7. We passed one of the new apartment complexes, and between the trees I noticed they had air conditioning units like the ones I remembered growing up. I was always going back in my head. When I actually went back for the first time and looked for the tree I used to swing from, it was gone—and the sand box I used to play in looked like a dump site for building materials. It had the feeling of being scoured out, so all that remained was a shell.
This is the abandoned feeling that comes with age, being reminded of our first discovery of sense as a child, and then mourning over its loss. Like it or not, these memories are ours alone, and most aren’t worth keeping. So the sum of your life, if measured by memory, gets reduced down over time. You build it up, but like all things it wears down until it’s barely recognizable, just a small outline only you would notice.