Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Year of the Cat

Only alluding for forty years seems like an increasingly poor strategy.

In tenth grade, when we were fourteen or fifteen, Charlie died. I was the most stoic of the bunch -- and the one who never let it go.  

Initially my mother picked me up after swim team, in "November dinnertime darkness" was how I put it. Among many things that break my heart, she said, heading up Garman hill, something like, "Charlie and his dad didn't come back." (From a fishing trip in Michigan.)  And I didn't respond well.

Through some confusion, Firestone High School let a substitute teacher announce to an English class that C was dead, and then Carolyn found me in study hall and we were by definition hysterical, racing into the teachers' parking lot crying and laughing.

There was no attempt at school counseling, and sad to say useless parents. "You just seemed to want to be left alone."

Yes, I did. I wanted you as far away from everything that mattered to me as... really, there couldn't have been anything more grave, and I wanted your hands off. You had left me alone since four or five, you'd never inquired about my cuts and bruises, you'd never done anything that parents do except love me. And I was easy. 

About Charlie: Handsome, great hair. Mom says she always thought that he was too pretty, which is funny, because I think that people thought that of me. He looked like all of us, which was slender with a big sweep of 70s brown hair and some freckles and... brown eyes? I don't remember thinking any of us were so good looking; just that all of us were better looking.

Charlie misspoke, said "I don't matter" one time, mixing up I don't care and it doesn't matter. That'll break your heart. But he also wasn't particularly nice. He picked favorites, caused rifts, reacted badly to any kind of literary overture. But always went for guys like me and Steve and Pat who were literary.

So much of what you do from 6th to 10th grade is listen to music, and Charlie learned guitar. Today I hate a good 50% of what we listened to (I can't bear Elton John or Kiss or Queen or a bunch of guitar bands I've forgotten the name of.) I resent it. I think about being downstairs in the den by Charlie's bedroom, in the Reymann's modern house... A house made of cedar, I think, with cut-your-hands rough stucco walls inside, and many levels off a siloed staircase, all on a hillside just beneath the railroad tracks, overlooking Lafayette. Belleau Wood. I could be making these words up. 

My parents were vaguely appalled by Charlie's house. (Anytime they disapproved of something it was vaguely, silently for the most part, and yet we always knew.) They thought that cars were dumb and that Akronites were ridiculously snobbish about a not particularly fancy town. They saw no reason to join a country club, not being golfers, and rightly judged the tennis courts at Montrose to be far superior to those at Fairlawn Swim and Tennis. Dad found a place to sail and Mom joined League of Women Voters. Dad took anyone who wanted to ski every single weekend.

I was fond of Charlie's house, weird as it was. There was a loft in the silo above his parents'  room that I particularly liked, where we listened to A Wizard, A True Star over and over. At  Charlie's  house, as at my house, there were rarely parents around. Were they all out dancing? At a secret parents club?

There are a bunch of songs that I associate with Charlie. One, Baby I Love Your Way, is unlistenable to me. (When they played it in Reality Bites I almost left the theater.) All of Frampton Comes Alive is off limits. Todd Rundgren, as mentioned. Daniel by Elton John -- the only tolerable Elton John song and it makes me think of Charlie and Steve Wise, who is another story.

And The Year of the Cat. It was a big radio hit but for some reason I think Charlie's sister Liz introduced it to us. It made me think about how DRAMATIC life could be, which is appealing at fourteen. Well, always appealing, until you figure out that the drama in your life is just going to always fucking hurt.

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