I’m driving down Lawrence one afternoon and I make a wrong turn. I’m looking for the next intersection but I stop. There’s a big oak tree in a yard capable of shading the houses on either side of it. I know one of those houses….Reggie. I remember it all now, he has the house just to the left of the big tree. I haven’t talked to Reggie in a very long time.
The big shrubs are in front still, covering most of the front room windows. It looks deceptively narrow, in front but it goes a good way back. All the way in the back there’s a nicely sized yard with a couple of basketball hoops and a concrete court, or at least there was. We used to line up old bottles of Green River along the windowsill and fire at them with bb guns. We had to be careful about aiming the bb guns at each other because they looked like pistols. The cops from the ritzier part of the neighborhood occasionally drove down the alley and they didn’t take any crap from us. So, we fired always at the bottles, always at an angle to avoid hitting the windows and always when the other person was well out of range. It was this same yard where in the 7th grade we decided to put a tent in the grassy part one night and camp. (This after trying to set it up in the living room. It wouldn’t open all the way because the top kept hitting the wall soffits.)
The living room gave on to a canyon-like hallway that ran the length of the house. If you took a right you’d be in the kitchen, always lit by fluorescent light and smelling vaguely of bacon made earlier that morning. I never spent a night in the house when I didn’t wake up to the smell of Reggie’s dad cooking us bacon and eggs. The bacon was always super greasy, and it would crunch in your mouth as your eyes adjusted to the sunlight coming in through the skylight in the family room.
The family room is usually where we crashed. They had a tv in there that sat ono top of a rolling shelf. It was a high shelf and you had to lean your head back to watch. There was a piano the corner of the room that hadn’t been tuned in a long time. Some of the keys didn’t work. Sometimes I’d be trying to play one of the two songs I knew, and I’d come to a certain High A and nothing would happen, a hallow thunk where the note in my head should have been. This was the room where I learned about the adult world. This was where Reggie and I spent a night steadily working through a pile of Blockbuster DVD’s: Bruce Almighty, South Park, American Pie. When I wanted to watch Pulp Fiction and I knew my parents wouldn’t let me, I went to Reggie’s house and we watched it because his parents didn’t give a shit. It was an exhilarating experience and I worshipped that t.v. It felt good also because I felt my parents were a bit full of shit when they on one hand said I was smart and mature, but then tried to tell me what movies I could watch.
When we watched Fiction, Reggie would grab the remote and skip certain scenes because he felt they were slow. He felt John Travolta’s relationship with Uma Thurman was boring and really only cared about the part where she snorts heroin on accident and starts bleeding uncontrollably from her nose. I was a bit angry at him for doing that, but I thought he might decide against watching it completely if I said anything, so I kept my mouth shut.
The far back room was Reggie’s and across from that was our clubhouse. It was a small room with a mattress in it that wasn’t being used. We used to have a tape recorder we’d screw around with in there sometimes and do silly voices. Sometimes I took the recorder into the pink bathroom just off of Reggie’s room and I’d fart in the small mic or urinate in the toilet while the tape rolled. I liked the way sounds echoed in there. Then I’d go play it for Reggie who’d either laugh or give me a look of mock disgust. I don’t think he was ever really serious about anything, except perhaps proving his masculinity.
Reggie had a weird yet infectious sense of humor that crept up on me. I didn’t see it and then all of a sudden he’d start laughing and I’d look over and realize it wasn’t something you should really be laughing at: an elderly person falling asleep and not being able to control it, the way a kid fell down the stairs. It was always something horrible but once Reggie was laughing I was coming along for the ride. He had this energy that was difficult to explain. I’d feel bad that I’d laughed later on. One time the guy took a really nasty crap in the pink bathroom and left it there for hours just to have his dad find it.
Reggie’s house was where I learned about the world outside my house. It was a place where I escaped, though it wasn’t always voluntary. I always felt uncomfortable at first, like I was ceding control over something very basic and important. I wasn’t in my house; my parents were nowhere close by. His loudmouth cousin Rhiannon might be there. Rhiannon was basically a tomboy and her usual activities involved smoking shitty weed and fucking with us younger guys in order to make a point of how tough and superior she was. She always wore baggy pants and a large t-shirt, usually of a solid white color or a Chicago sports team logo. She worked a part time job and the rest of the time watched garbage television alone in her room. I really hated her.
I generally didn’t like coming over to Reggie’s if she was there, but I put up with it because it was one of the few places I felt free. His parents weren’t attentive to us and I’d be unsupervised for a while, scrutinized; not controlled the way I was at home. At home I always had this feeling that things were made from a kind of phony, break-away material with astro-turf under it, always safe and guided, always protected from any possibility of harm…..or any possibility of fun. When I went to Reggie’s there was at least some sense of danger. You probably wouldn’t burn the house down….but the possibility existed.
As we got older, I noticed that a lot of basic things either didn’t matter to him or he simply didn’t have the capacity to understand them. He would show me real films of someone dying and laugh at the way it happened. He would say awful, critical shit about people at school that he didn’t know. Still, I tried to run with him for awhile. There’s nothing redeeming I can say about this time in my life other than that I was young and stupid.
One night I got together with Reggie and his friends and we went out: a hoard of kids staggering lazily out of the house like a slow tornado, our big shoes clomping down the long hallway like rolling thunder, a brief exchange between Reggie and his parents as we stood anxiously behind him and then out into the night. We got our bikes and ride them across town to the seven eleven to buy slurpees, each of us playing with the exhilarating thought that a cop might see us out after curfew and give chase.
After that, we went back to Reggie’s room and dug out the stash of porn magazines we’d stolen from his dad. We’d compare which girls were hotter, made us harder: turning pages like madmen and sipping icy drinks that had turned to liquid in the humid night. So many old bags of chips.
Reggie’s room eventually was filled with a king-sized bed and a large tv. He somehow got a couch to fit in there and I spent a few nights flopped across it with a blanket on. I liked nights like that: young guys spread all over the house like lions in a den. I slept nights in that room which would one day be filled with countless plumes of Reggie’s lonely pot smoke. I peed in the pink bathroom that was probably where the more serious drugs waited for Reggie, maybe spread in a straight line along a sink counter or poured discreetly into an Orangina bottle…but of course by that time I didn’t know him anymore.
I came over one afternoon during the summer when school was out. I hadn’t been there an hour when he started fighting with his dad. It was a loud fight. All of the memories of my own Dad shouting at my mom and me came roaring back all to visceral and I wanted to get out of there. My body wanted to climb out of its skin. I asked his mom Ann if she would drive me home. She said okay and we went outside. We were just getting in the car and Reggie ran up to it and sat on the hood. He wouldn’t move. His mom yelled at him to get off the car. I sat in the passenger seat watching all of this happen, unable to say a word. When Reggie finally agreed to get off the car his mom drove me home. As we pulled away I saw Reggie standing in the yard staring at me, his brows furrowed as if perplexed by the recent chain of events. If I had to trace the downward spiral of our relationship from any point, it’d be that one. High school wasn’t long after and by that point we were estranged.
I sit in my idling car at the front of the house where there might have been a driveway had it not been so damn massive. I sit here at the scene of my last real interaction with this person who has slipped so completely from my adult life, who’s evaporated like a puff in the air, a phantom. I wonder where he is for a few moments. I wonder how he’s doing. I wonder if he’ll come lumbering slowly from the side door and out into the yard to say hello to me or maybe just toss me a water balloon in jest. I wonder….
Then, I put the car back in drive and continue down the street where a minute or so later I find my way back to the road.