I remember the day I found you. I couldn’t forget that day if I wanted to. You always seem to float into my thoughts as if you’re standing right behind me whispering in my ear. It took me an entire week of exploration to stumble upon you. I rode along that street, a street I couldn’t fathom how it was possible to even call it a street. Hernandez road. I imagined it was named after Keith. It was paved but not really, since the seasons ate up the asphalt. It was just earth, a stretch of pebbles, rocks, ground up roadkill and meteorite fragments. It was made of things intended for microscopes in a science class. The ground shook the handlebars of my bicycle violently, painfully. The bike was a rusty powder blue Essex bicycle with a broken speedometer. My Nana and I found that treasure at a barn sale in another town. We were on our way to our new lives in upstate New York. Most people in this world are nothing more than broken speedometers, moving but never registering, never really getting anywhere. That bike was dinged up and dirty, with charred spokes. It was like me. Back in Queens, where they have real streets I would have never heard the end of the ridicule. I still would have rode it. I executed short lived wheelies and bunny hopped the larger rocks in my way.
I immediately loved upstate. I loved the Sacandaga river outside our window, with its lulling gargle. When the water was low, which it often was, I would wander up and down stream jumping from rock to rock. I loved hiking the mountain that granted us permission to reside in a modest A-frame house which napped at its base. Almost everything about the wilderness was better than the city, better than Queens. There wasn’t a million kids to play with all the time. There wasn’t a million girls to have crushes on. There were no places to play handball but there were frogs and salamanders, who didn’t object too much to being briefly captured. There were no domestic disputes. There was only adventure and mystery. I investigated all the houses along Hernandez road. I didn’t know what I was looking for, I had no real expectations, but I wanted whatever it might be, to be special. I guess it’s safe to admit I always wanted something special for myself, just for me alone.
I started by examining the house closest to ours, and then extended the search outward toward the bridge. The first house was a dalipated structure, it reminded me of the bridge. Both appeared to want to fall apart. All things in due time fall apart. Later on that summer, we met the extended family that crammed themselves into the house next door. They returned less and less as they years went on. I suppose I did the same. They had an outhouse that steamed and the family as a whole abhorred footwear. I didn’t try to spend any time with them. I checked about two houses a week until I reached yours. I was always alarmed and slightly embarassed when I walked into a convivial smile. I figured every house was empty, they were almost always so. I was raised with manners despite being surrounded by dysfunctional and occasionally immoral people. I remained polite introducing myself to a man resembling Santa in flannel. His white hair looked coarse with his gut looking firm.
“Hi, I’m Dieter Craven. I just moved here with my Nana. I like your hat,” I said. I wanted to shake his hand but felt weird. I always found something to compliment someone on. I like your hat or your dress or your laugh. I always find something nice to say.
“Well, hello young man. Nana, huh? I had a nana. A nana is a lot better than a grandma. Where are you from? You talk funny.”
“You’re the one who talks funny,” I laughed. “It’s not me. I’m from Flushing.”
“Sounds like something you do with a toilet. Must be pretty crappy there. Is that in the city?”
“It’s in Queens. The city is Manhattan. Flushing is not so bad.”
“So it’s not the city.” He scratched his disheveled white hair.
“I mean, It’s the city compared to here. Yeah, it’s city.
“I’m not a big fan of the city. I like it right here in the sticks. Dieter, you and your Nana should come over for dinner one night. Too bad, My beautiful wife went to the store. Maura, is my wife’s name. She is the prettiest girl in the world. Do you miss all those pretty girls?” I couldn’t bring myself to say that I did. I just felt my face flush and smiled stupidly. “Alright, Dieter, so we are timid. Some girls like that. Well, you come by anytime to meet that pretty girl of mine. Be careful on this road, people are crazy. They drive too recklessly and for the love of God, do not stray too far in these woods. Especially if the sun is setting. It is incredibly easy to get yourself turned around in it.”
“OK. Hey, what is your name?” I said after stopping and turning to face the old man.
“I apologize, I’m Franz Behen.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Behen. Nice hat.” He waved.
I remember seeing your house from the bank of the west branch of the Sacandaga river. It flowed effortlessly passed both our houses at different points. I saw the hand carved wooden sign that read The Moores, then I swore I almost met a rattlesnake so I headed back home quickly. I rode my bike to your house first thing the next day. The woods were thick and protective on both sides of your driveway, a driveway that desparately needed to be manicured. To think, initially I walked right passed you, and straight on to the house. I crept up the three steps, creaking across the porch, warning any unsuspecting residents of my intrusion. When I stood still, it was eerily quiet, cupping my eyes to peer inside your window. It looked like a real home. A place I could only wish to have of my own with you.
There were no cars on the property. I should not have attempted to betray your trust but I tried the door, I was relieved to find it locked. There were neat stacks of fire wood under a blue tarp. Where was everybody? It looked like a house people lived in regularly but maybe you were the reason it was uninhabited. As I walked back up the driveway to my bike, I noticed you on my left in my periphery. I was frightened. I was exhilarated. I felt a seizing feeling of disbelief. The closest thing possible to experiencing love at first sight. I walked up to where you were resting, self-consciously inspecting my legs while walking awkwardly toward you. You didn’t say a word. I suppose you did not have to. I read your name aloud. I counted your age on my fingers. Madchen, such a pretty name. Madchen was one year younger than me at the time. I was fifteen, when the sun set on her and I made a promise to come back the next day, and every day after that to see her. There are no worthwhile promises in this world anyone can keep.
I spent that whole night thinking about her. My mind inundated with musings about Madchen, ruminating about her black hair and her philtrum. I imagined the mechanics of her mouth as she spoke to me in my contemplations. I fell asleep to Beetlejuice after the sun rose.
I kept my promise that following day. I couldn’t get to you quickly enough. I cleaned your face. It was filthy, bespattered with clumps of dirt and growths of moss. I dug my fingers in the lines of every letter. You shined. I took the liberty of borrowing the ancient lawnmower, first used in Mesopotamia, looking bored and leaning on the side of your house. I only cut the grass around you at first, only later did I cut and cultivate the perimeter of your land. I thought of you the entire time. I roamed the woods in search of flowers for you. I brought you flowers everyday that summer, replacing the ones from the previous day. That first day I placed them before you I sat with you. I unwrapped the lunch my Nana prepared and offered you half. I always offered you half of my sandwich or a slice of a clementine. You never accepted. how could you?
I told you about Queens, the borough I came from and my first kiss. You listened so well and witheld any judgement. I told Madchen how nervous I was with that girl’s sweaty hand in my own. The way my stomach thundered and how it made me unsure if she was someone I wanted to kiss in the first place. I stretched my neck toward her like a giraffe being dragged away to clink my teeth against hers. I captured her bottom lip and tasted her top. She pushed her tongue into my mouth, making waves, at that moment I think I never wanted it to leave. I told Madchen how I felt strange, I felt something I hadn’t felt until then, I felt special. That girl made me feel special, until she went and made someone else special. I spent three summers since perfecting that action and I would discard everyone of those girls that I swore I loved for you. I thought that if you revealed yourself to me. If you pressed your lips to mine there would be no denying the perfection in us. I knew that you and I were it, forever, only you had a head start. I wanted us to be the embodiment of precision, and the veracity would be confirmed with our mouths. These conceits were sincere, but impossible to fulfill.
I did not know how she felt about me but I spoke and spoke. There was no way to tell. I attempted to rouse Madchen with my confessions about everything, an honesty I’ve never allowed myself to exact. Where were you hiding, Madchen? Was there true love buried beneath me? It was possible that she wasn’t watching me but I felt it, I knew I was alive even if she was not. I believed I could make her feel alive and she could make me feel special again. It truly felt like she was there. The woods seemed to watch as well, those millions of eyes on me belonged to the chaperoning trees. I got up and walked to the edge of the river to leave Madchen alone with her decision. I watched the Sacandaga and waited impatiently for a cold hand to reach out and caress my back.
Leave a Reply