My contribution to Valentine's Day. I wrote this a few years back. Time can move very quickly - especially when you don't really want it to.
Oh, What A Time It Was!
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; They're all that's left you
I have been thinking lately of a time in my life - a time tied to an age – both personal and generational. Twenty-seven years ago – Christ, was it really twenty-seven? The memories don’t seem that old – they exist separately - fresh, alive; not sepia-tinged or faded like the childhood I still strive to forget. No – I can still smell the coffee, feel the raffia bindings on the fan shaped chair fray between my fingers and catch at my hair. I wore it loose and long – then as now; thick, soft, chestnut red. Oh, I was vain about my hair. That’s why I always chose that particular chair.
The Upstart Crow & Company - espresso, books, chess – the sound of violins, or a soft guitar. Laughter, cigarette smoke, the sweeter scent of marijuana - we all gathered there; buzzed on caffeine, tongues released by the cannabis, obsessed with and by each others imagination. I quoted Wordsworth and Tennyson. There were spiritual discussions. Several of the group were pagan, others Christian; one worshipped Mithras. I was fascinated by Mithras. Oh, we were a fey lot – but then so was everyone. The place created its own mystique. The Upstart Crow drew artist and intellectual, anarchist and philosopher. It was glorious! Sometimes I would challenge a stranger to chess. I knew a trick, you see – checkmate in four moves – but it only worked with the neophyte, or easily distracted.
There is a bravery in youth, not hubris, mind you…..invincibility perhaps? Your future spreads out before you like a carpet of stars – nothing set in stone - not yet. It is so easy to believe; well, in anything, really. You have no concept of time at that age – ten, twenty, thirty years – seems like forever. They are not long, the days of wine and roses: out of a misty dream our path emerges for a while, then closes within a dream. You know - I think I miss the place more than my youth. No. Not so much the place as the idea. Sense and intellect; watching my world through lowered lashes - limbs supple and relaxed, ready to embrace the heat generated by quick minds. My thoughts have always fled before me like sheet lightning – speeding up to the conclusion, splintering off in reflexive directions. I have always been able to function three-dimensionally, you see.
I came back there, years later, expecting – hell, I don’t know. It was my summer of coming home again; an attempt to re-capture those perfect moments when life was all about passion and color. So I went to my touchstone, filled with a sense of place, wanting The Upstart Crow to have survived intact. It hadn’t. There were no welcoming lights, no strains of music wafting through the air with the cappuccino. The scent of marijuana lingered, but it seemed harsh without any accompanying ambiance. I sparked one up anyway – standing next to a man I loved, but knew I couldn’t stay with. He probably knew it too, but we lied to each other anyway. Different realities, different lifetimes. He lived within a world I skirted the edges of. But that day, that instant, tucked under his arm, my hand in his back pocket - I felt so safe. He smelled of the sea and warm leather.
We stood just inside the door, looking at all the books. More than just the titles had changed. The coffee shop had dwindled into a rather dingy little room – dotted with worn couches, its floor and walls sticky from spills. No one was there, not even behind the counter. There were people buying books, though – oh my yes! Torn stockings, ripped denim and purple spiked hair – skinny chests adorned with multiple piercings highlighting black swastika tattoos. The pot I had smoked finally took hold, lending a surreal quality to the scene. I was Alice, gone down the rabbit hole, lost somewhere inside the red queens twisted imagination. Kevin sighed, “You know, it used to be women wanted to fuck Robert Plant. Now all they want is to get beat up by Billy Idol.”
I looked up at him, and began to laugh. Right out loud. Pointing as I did so. The Crow’s current denizens turned and looked at me like I was some kind of loon. Some of them seemed quite pissed. “Shhhh!!!” Kevin hushed, propelling me forward, pushing me out the door. By this time I was in full cry, laughing from the soul, tears running down my face, unable to stop even had I wanted to. “What – girl, are you crazy? Some of those guys had knives. Fucking big ones. I could handle one or two, but not the whole damn place!” Suddenly we were at the car. I turned around and looked back. No one had followed. It was safe. My old remembrances, however, had faded. I hoped it was the marijuana, but I knew better. It would never be the same. Never. That singular time of innocence and hope was now part of my past, more The Way We Were than Jethro Tull.
I put my head on Kevin’s shoulder, folding my arms under his shirt. His skin was so warm. I closed my eyes, and for a moment I heard those violins carried on the soft breeze rattling through the pepper trees. “Come on, Babe – time to go.” I nodded, opening my eyes and looking back one more time at The Upstart Crow. I knew I would never come back. In the car I lit up another joint, inhaling deeply. Foreigner – Woman in Black. I looked over at Kevin and smiled, touching his thigh. We drove past my youth, and all those memories. I resisted the urge to turn around. One month later I was back in Japan, facing a very different future with a very different man.
Still, on clear, crisp full-moon nights like this, my mind wanders back to books, coffee and raffia bound rattan chairs. Those memories lay thick, swarming around me, blotting out other, less pleasant times. I find myself thinking back more often these days. Maybe its age. My Father, in his 90’s, used to remember every detail of his youth, while forgetting his yesterdays. For hours he would hold me rapt – detailing his world travels as a cabin boy, what it was like working as a musician during the jazz age and listening to Louie Armstrong play in Harlem after hours. Such a rich, full life. Me? I don’t know yet. This is still my middle. But I do remember – and I always will: espresso and Sartre, chess and Mithras, The Upstart Crow & Company.