Creative Nonfiction: When Can I Turn 5 Again?
*This piece originally appeared in the Loyola University 2009 Forum- an on-campus literary magazine for Loyola University Maryland* This piece spoke to us because it deals with coming of age and time. It was written by Mr. Andrew Zaleski.
Andrew Zaleski is a student at Loyola University Maryland graduating in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in English. An aspiring writer and journalist, he has published work in several venues, including such magazines as College, Urbanite, and The Big Issue: South Africa, as well as in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles. He is editor in chief of the Loyola University Greyhound and the E-newsletter editor for College magazine. To contact, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Can I Turn 5 Again?
Not once did I ever think I could obsess this much over lint. As a child, my fears held a certain weight—a machismo, if you will—to them. Spiders and snakes made me wriggle and squirm almost as well as snakes themselves. Ghosts and the bogeyman prompted many instances of checking and re-checking closets and empty spaces underneath beds, often to the chuckle of my parents. Above all, the imminent threat of a mother’s scream should I break a lamp while playing ball inside the living room hung a cloud over my head, one even darker than the night skies I ran through during games of flashlight tag with my friends. Childhood was the heyday, so to speak, for fearing everything but fear itself.
On this particular day, though, I feared lint. It’s funny how life seems to unexpectedly dilute itself as you grow older. I grew up always assuming that life would become steadily more exciting as I gained years, experiences, privileges, and responsibilities. Instead, as I was slowly beginning to realize, life evolved in a series of headaches and heartbreaks, each of them vying for the advantage and jockeying for the most influence. Those microscopic white poof balls were my headache today. They clung ferociously to my black pants and my black tailored jacket, refusing to surrender to my dual assault of masking tape and lint roller, regardless of how many times I regrouped and attacked. I didn’t need to deal with this, I thought—I was somber enough.
A bright August sunlight peeked through the multi-colored windowpanes. Rays of blue, green, and yellow interlaced on the surface of a black piano in the corner. Pretty, I guess. Coyle was in the background playing a melody on guitar. Tyler was slumped back in a chair messing with his phone, or something. Outside, there were birds chirping. Trees swayed with the wind. People were arriving in their cars; old men, old women, girls and boys, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters had all come to celebrate. It made me nostalgic for my high school prom, seeing the women dressed in purple, blue, and white gowns and the men shifting uncomfortably in their trousers and ties.
I pressed on. I forced Tyler to get up—he had to be lint-rolled too. Coyle was next. Then Tim, Ethan, Brandon. Their black suits were lint magnets. We need to look good today, and if we don’t, then it’s all my fault. I kept telling myself that. Damn lint. It was a nice distraction.
Dan walked in. He was wearing nearly all white: white jacket, white bowtie, white trousers, white shoes. The vest was gold—he had to match us. No one really said anything. That is, no one really said anything of substance. We cracked jokes. Something about a pirate and a hooker…or something.
“Shit, man—your shoes.”
Scuffed. I headed to the men’s room at the end of the hall and practically robbed the paper towel dispenser. Just a big clump of brown paper, soaked in hot water and soap. I came back and went to work on Dan’s shoes.
“Gotta get these marks out.”
I got most of the visible stuff. No one should be able to see those scuffs anyway, he’ll be so far up toward the front. Dan got lint-rolled as well. I didn’t trust the whiteness of his tuxedo. I knew those balls of lint were somewhere, and if I didn’t kill them now, they would surface right in the middle of the ceremony. That wouldn’t be good for pictures.
We headed to the back of the church, and I found my place in the procession. I’m rather short, but the girl I’m walking up with is shorter than I am. I’ll probably look hunched. Checked my pocket again—the rings were there. I heard Coyle’s guitar, and the bodies in front of me started moving. I was breathing heavily. It was dark in the hallway; I couldn’t see my shoes, and I wondered whether I’d start walking and then trip if my left foot came down accidentally on my right. Thankfully, she took the lead, and I found myself thrust into a sea of bright light. Dan was the sun—there was an aura in the church that seemed to emanate directly from him. This wasn’t so bad.
I got up to the front of the church and sandwiched myself between Dan and Tyler. Then I felt the eyes. All those pairs of eyes. Sort of like in third grade, when Sister Jean would lock her hawk eyes on me for passing notes in the back of the class. Except this time my face didn’t fill up with that tomato-red color. I was pale—innocent and pale. Behind me was a railing, an altar, and a boring gray wall. I couldn’t escape. Rows…upon rows…upon rows…of eyes.
At some point during all this my mom started to cry. I forced myself to keep my eyes glued to the floor, but my body was aching to turn in her direction. I caught my mom’s glance, her face a twisted, debilitating mixture of smiles and tears. A lump situated itself in the middle of my throat. Did Tyler just sniff? You’ve gotta be kidding me—I’m going to cry in front of an entire church full of people…
Suddenly I was 16 all over again. Blisters on my middle fingers oozed blood. My stage clothes were soaked in sweat—my white button-down, my black, silk DKNY tie, my tuxedo pants. All of my pores were drowning in a mixture of oils, sweat, and saliva. I loved it. We were only three songs into our set, too. Shit, we’re playing a good show…
“…And now—yep, yep there it is—Dan’s pants are off.”
“Take it all in, boys; take it all in.” Dan was joking around. It was the usual. Other people we knew were getting high or making poor, alcohol-induced decisions with ugly girls. But we spent Friday nights making my basement tremor with a mix of bass and over-amplification. Then Tyler would complain about some girl, I’d get shafted out of the decent junk food, and Dan would settle his sweaty, pants-less body into the good spot on the wrap-around couch. Of course, that was supposed to be my sleeping spot. That ass. Whatever—there was something special about these Friday nights. They were rowdy, misguided—blameless, even…
I’m 17 now, and she dumped me again. I called up Dan. We spent five minutes tearing her apart: she’s dumb; she’s a waste of time; she’s just a stupid girl pulling her nonsense games again. You don’t need that, man. I bet you in a couple months she’ll come crawling back. She never did, but it was nice to hear him say it…
“Andrew? Andrew! The rings?”
I fished around in my jacket pocket and snatched a hefty silver ring. That was his. Hers was this puny little gold band. I laughed—guess that’s what happens when you get married at 19. That was wry.
I remember choking back tears in the groom room later that night. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I’m the best man, I’m the oldest. I convinced myself to “be strong,” or some variation of that meaningless, empty bullshit you’d tell a widow at her husband’s funeral. Tyler cried for the two of us anyway: big, lumpy tears welled up in his pouty blue eyes and trickled down his cheeks. I wanted to do that so bad. But I just couldn’t.
We were saying goodbye—well, at least, we were trying to say goodbye. My best friend of 5 years, and now he’s married and moving 2,000 miles away. To Idaho, no less. What the hell is in Idaho? It ate a hole in me. If my insides were a house, then I was having the biggest termite infestation in history. This was worse than heartache. I hated her for that; I hated him for that…
I was 17 again. Dan’s telling me about this girl who really wants to date him, but he can’t stand her. She calls him a lot, and she always talks to him in school. Heh, poor guy.
“Haha, man, watch you end up marrying her!”
“Yeah, dude, that’d be crazy.”
Home was an hour away. I drove with all the windows down that night—I wanted to be cold. When I finally got there, I didn’t bother taking my tuxedo pants off. I didn’t take anything off, actually. I just collapsed on my wrap-around couch, white button-down, tie, and all. It was impossible for me to get up now…
“You wanna get the gear outta the car?”
“No way, man. Just leave it ‘til the morning.”
I was half asleep, slumped on top of a pillow and covered by an old blanket that barely covered my feet. Tyler was talking to this girl on his phone.
“That kid’s a whore.”
I made this half-laugh, half-snore like sound. Dan threw a pillow at him. Then, like usual, Dan’s pants came off.
That kid is way too comfortable in his boxers.
“You always need to get half naked after a show?” My eyes were still closed.
Dan gave me the finger: “See you in the morning.”
I think I might’ve said something back, but I can’t remember—I was already asleep.