Wednesday, June 11, 2008

City Boy

The old doctor squinted at me as I examined his sun beaten face for traces of the boy I'd known.

"I hated it."

The foolishness of this errand flooded my brain as the hot blood made it pound. Not since I arrived at school in second grade wearing the clown's outfit I was supposed to wear in the play later that day have I been so mortified. I wanted to run. Escape without another word, but his gaze had me fixed. I knew I had to take it.

"What?"

"Everything." He paused, turned and spit. The brown juice lingered a moment in the dry yellow clay, then vanished as the earth absorbed the precious liquid and left the remains for the ants.

Even the dirt is the same, I thought. How much else is unchanged? I looked past my old friend for a moment to take in the house. The same house. Is that possible?

"I hated my old man. I hated this house. I hated this dirt."

"Me too?"

"Nah. I don't remember much 'bout you, tell the truth."

Now that hurt. I have long ago ceased to hide my emotions as they cross my face, so lean it is that there is no room for deception, so if he was looking, he'd have seen that.

He wasn't looking. I wasn't prepared for this. The blow is always harder than you anticipate and always easier to recover from than you believe at the time. I caught my breath. I could feel the heat. Same goddam heat. It made the moment that much more awkward. Fueled by the heat and the doctor's bluntness, the false hopes that brought me here were incinerated. Yet, I could not move.

"But you remember, right? All those weekends?"

"Some of 'em. I know you got hurt a lot. You were a city boy. Look like you still are." If he had a smile, that was it.

I laughed. Truly, I was, or had been, in his eyes, a city boy. But Abilene in 1962 was still like living on the frontier. Whether we actually lived in the country or in town, ours was place in a time when we were only a generation or two removed from the original settlers of the land. It seemed to me that only the strips of asphalt that had been cut crudely into the dry West Texas landscape were evidence that this wasn't a hundred years earlier.

After all, we had only to duck under a 'bob-wire' fence and head out into the mesquite and cactus to tread upon land that may not have ever seen a human footprint. There are city boys who've never seen prickly pear cactus or a mesquite tree, but today I was again on the other side of the divide. It had been so long, I'd forgotten it even existed, yet in instant, it all came back to me.

I have, embracing the false fantasy of my youth, simply imagined that I was once a country boy. It seems that convincing myself of the fictions of the past is far easier than fulfilling what fantasies of the future still remain.

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