All About honkyjoe
As We Wilt
She stares at me in effort.
She sings to me in silence.
A Mournful song,
Something a mother might sing to her sleeping child.
Never serious, but comforting.
We as connected souls are now gone.
The soft silence still dispels the silence of my heart.
Years, lost, found – all quietly tearing apart.
All brought back now to silence.
Her eyes have been glazed for weeks.
But I have not noticed until now.
Nor has she noticed mine,
For time has veered the road,
And we cannot see each other as we once had.
We cannot dance as small children in our hearts,
As we once had.
Things lose their value after time,
And the value of time has been lost,
As your eyes pour into mine.
The Gauntlet and the Final Midnight Sun
The hospitable sun sat back on its pillow of clouds watching over the horizon as we soared off our bike jumps down the long, straight, white birch, and fir lined gravel road, into the recesses of wherever our young minds wanted to go. It was the end of August – the best month of the year – and I had just turned ten years old. I felt older than the universe, I felt obliged; after all, I was one of only two kids who had reached double digits in the neighborhood and I thought that entitled me to something; maybe pitcher next time we played baseball.
Even though it was nearing nine p.m. we had hardly scratched the surface of our usual summer ventures – planned out in a very girly way; on paper, with a time schedule. The soda cans jammed between the frame and back tire of our bikes rumbled like a metal cloud as twenty pre-teen Hell's Angels barreled down the hill to my house. When we got there, bikes were ditched like frag grenades: boy's jumping off at speed over thirty miles an hour into the cushion of uncut grass that was my front lawn. My heart was paralyzed, their hearts were electrified. The gauntlet was a necessary rite of passage that all parents hated: a five foot wide, taut, sturdy hammock, tied ten feet above ground level around the two largest white birch trees. The flimsy ladder that I needed to get onto the hammock quivered along with every pulse of my legs. I was scared, very scared, but I was ten years old dammit, and I had to prove that I was a warrior. My dad would tell me that I would get smarter as I got older: ten years old meant I was becoming some sort of a man. My voice was shrill, muscles undeveloped, no knowledge of girls at all, and whatever adventure I had stuck in me would probably dissipate by the time I turn twenty; when they say manhood really 'begins'. I never thought once about my dad's words on or around the heinous contraption.
I defined things my own way, the way that my piers would define me.
We had never strung the Hammock this high before and I could have very well been on top of the Empire State Building. I was King Kong, and these joyous, yet malicious, faces were going to do what it took to bring me down.
"Hey Jake," yelled my best friend Lue from my dad's cluttered shop, "Go get six more stools if you can; we need at least ten of us if we want to flip him." I did not need to hear those words; not right now. Not on my deathbed.
"Ha, no biggie – probably about ready to pee his pants right now. Wait, you said six right?"
"K, I'll be back in a sec."
My younger brother bounced off into the house. He was always the daredevil of the family; ever since we were toddlers he had always been pushing his limits. He must be real excited to see big old softy Joe get in the gauntlet, I thought; but I'll show him. He had strapped in on the hammock at least five times, but never this high. That simple fact made me proud and as indestructible as the mighty Zeus. I took a silent vow to hang on tighter than I ever had, to wrap up in the hammock and slap gravity in the face. And If I did manage to fall, I wouldn't cry, I wouldn't whine, but I would stand firm on my feet ignoring whatever pain that pulsed through my body. I would get back on and say "swing harder."
I might've dozed off – it was actually pretty darn comfy – or maybe I was just staring up at the green canopy above me ignoring every voice and chuckle from below, but I didn't come fully too until I heard Jake burst from the house, presumably with six stacked kids chair in his hands.
"I got chairs," he bellowed, "I got chairs."
Every kid clustered around, struggling to grab a chair. Lue wanted to flip me because I was his best friend, Jake wanted to flip me to retain his daredevil appeal, Garrett wanted to flip me because I broke his bike spoke two summers ago; Konrad, because I always beat him so bad at Demolition Derby on Playstation. And after a few minutes of positioning and poising, eleven of the twenty kids present had chairs by the trees and their hands on the netting.
"Alright," I wheezed, "let's do this."
I sank back into concentration and alertness.
At first the agitation of the hammock was minuscule, giving me time to pull the flapping sides over my chest and obscure myself like a cocoon. Then the rocking grew steadier and I began to feel the subtle effects of increasing g-forces.
"Keep going. Faster!" somebody yelled. I couldn't make out who it was.
I was breathing harder – harder – harder. My grip was strained. My fingers curled tighter into the edge of the cloth with every passing second and I felt my first urge to let go and have it all be done with. Hang on, hang on tighter I told myself: and I did. Five minutes probably passed and I was still on. My brother, Lue, Garrett; the whole gang, I could hear them; panting, struggling to continue. I was almost parallel to the trees; almost ninety degrees.
"Come on ladies," I yawped from my cradle. "Cantcha go any higher?"
I noticed their response seconds later. I refused to let go, they refused to stop swinging me. It was these dangerous combinations of ideas that propelled the gauntlet higher than it ever had gone – higher than ninety degrees. The grunts from below grew louder and so did my resolve.
"Come on, come on," I continued to shout. "Higher, higher."
I was still wrapped up in my cocoon; legs clamped over the side of the fabric, chest and shoulder supported by it, used to the feeling of flying – no longer scared by it. My eyes were sore from the clenching of my face but I opened them wide and realized I was almost upside down. It was the purest feeling in the world.
Then thru the whispers of the wind, and the noise of the bodies below me, I heard a thin bizarre chug in my driveway. I saw it on the upswing and remembered: the gigantic u-haul truck we had rented: our flight at two a.m. My body gave way, and my hands forgot their occupation. My cocoon burst open, but no brilliant butterfly shot out, only a disgraced boy. I fell slower than I ever had fallen before; time let me savor my last fall from the hammock. I slammed into the ground spread eagle with no residual joy in my soul, only a pain deep within my chest. I couldn't breathe; I tried again – a scratchy wheeze. I laid on my back for a moment, looking up past the tree branches and into the sky; jet streams criss-crossed the unusually azul expanse like Eddie Van Halen's guitar and then a wave of sentiment crashed down upon me.
"Hey man," Lue bent over me. I was glad his face was red, it meant he was tired. "You okay? Ha, you did pretty good you know; I'm impressed."
"Thanks," I wheezed, standing up and wiping the dirt off my pants. I studied my surroundings for a moment, looking at everyone. They seemed happy – content – tired beyond belief. I felt the same free feeling on the ground as I had in the air. What did I need to prove? In the end we would all just go home – sack out – and forget all about the day and its doings.
"Wanna help me get my bike on the car?" I asked Lue as he trailed me over to the garage.
My parents had allowed me and Jake to keep our bikes out until the very last second. Skulking boys with massive chips on their shoulders was just what my parents needed on the six hour flight down. He helped me strap it down and gave me a farewell hug.
The final loading of our belongings made everyone present remember and Jake and I shifted around and said our goodbyes – the most heartfelt goodbye's a ten and nine year old could produce. Though it was normal for kids in the neighborhood to be out past midnight in the summer, many were beginning to get called in by their parents, and as our convoy of two cars and one van illuminated our front lawn, only Lue and a few others still remained.
I pressed my hand to the window and waved goodbye. My parents had insisted on keeping the hammock at the house and it still swayed minutely between the tall white birch trees – waving goodbye I suppose.
When we got to the airport I started to cry but found minimal solace in my new Game Boy Color. I put it down. Waiting was the worse so I tried to remember everything fun I had done in and around the neighborhood and the city. There was so much I would forget if I started to remember, and I fell asleep in my mom's lap because I just didn't want to think. I awoke to the sound of people boarding the plane. A long tunnel told me I would never see this place again, I couldn't go – never would. But my dad bent down and whispered.
"I know your sad son, but if you go ahead of us, you'll snag a window seat and you might get to see the house one last time."
I ran down the aisles of the 747 holding back tears and snagged the seat before my lagging family. My house was close to the airport and I knew that I might be able to catch a glimpse of it one last time.
The plane taxied and then screamed off the tarmac. My nose was against the window, fogging it up with every breath. I waited in agony as the plane circled the city but as we passed back over; I saw DeLong Lake, and found my street to the South. I counted down the houses; one, two, three – mine was the fifth from the end.
I expected to see an empty shell that I once called home, but what I saw was a tiny white carpet floating and spinning and twirling above the ground. Five little people stood by it, and another brave soul was enveloped in its thrill. Part of me felt annoyed that they continued without me, that the hammock should have died when the Gillespie's left. But I laughed, and a deep feeling of happiness continued to fill me every second I watched the tiny rag spin.
I kept my eyes fixed on my now old street for as long as possible, until the sun finally went to sleep behind the distant form of Mt. McKinley. I smiled, knowing that when I got to California, the sun would be up again while everyone else lay snuggled in bed. To this day I still wonder how long the hammock in my front yard stayed active in ceremony. Did it remain the gauntlet, or maybe graduate into something else? I guess that all I can hope for is that new gangs of bandits continued to take over Southwest Anchorage; and hopefully, the gauntlet has continued to break and mend hearts, since my final midnight sun.
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