No, I cannot go back there. It is June, and so, there will be no Christmas lights, or bows on the carousel. And it is late, so, it will be too crowded for me to hear the piano that reverberates on the white tile. That is what I think of: mornings before camp, when I would wander in circles until the coffee was for sale and there were only the mall-walkers and the gates coming up on the stores. Or else, closing late nights at the cinema and keeping secrets about who I saw on dates, knowing the places to park and taking breaks in the tornado shelter to avoid the shoppers, the baby Goths with their glue-stick bangs and neon braces. It was the hidden places, the time we chased the mouse through the back alley. It was the days that nobody came because it was storming and I could see the clouds through the skylights, charting movie times and wondering if the glass would come crashing.
And then, it was the secrets kept for me: the top shelf where I hid the books I would read and not buy, the four brands of purple hair dye I tried before it stuck, the girl whose hand and then body and then sweater I so carefully held when the winter crowds were so dense that nobody was looking, the day I left work early for fear of an atomic bomb.
And then, it was the place as the secret itself; the movies that boy and I would meet a few minutes too late for so that nobody would see us go in together, the parking lot we would sit in touching and crying for hours before driving home separately in the same direction. Yes, that boy, that one, who I defended back when he was still my best friend, who stopped listening to the word ‘no’ one day last year, who forced his hand down my jeans before seeing my shaking and demanding I leave. That boy, who lived within walking distance, who I am certain I will still see on all the benches and in all the corners, and then, what will I do if he says something to me? And then, what will I do if he doesn’t?
I cannot go back there.
Ashley says she saw three girls we graduated with working as waitresses. That place is a black hole, she tells me, everyone always said that but it really is, and we cannot keep talking about the people we knew in high school and how sad we still are. Thank god we are not those people, we say, who lost our souls on that one road and then stayed there. It is not what I knew then, and it can no longer be for me what it was to everybody else: the place they went to on Friday nights before they could even drive, where they got their first jobs and their first piercings, and yes, this is what it means to have a hometown, even one that is three hundred thousand people strong; it is to go to the old places and to be angry about how things aren’t what they used to be, even though they hadn’t been that since that very first time. No, I cannot walk around all those tired and dead people whom I was better than. I cannot walk past the carousel and think of the times I wished I could be dead, too.
Allison Darcy, writer and student of Jewish Studies, has been published in Colonnades Literary & Art Journal and was the winner of the 2014 Frederick Hartmann Poetry Contest as judged by Paisley Rekdal. She tweets at @_allisondarcy.