I remember the time when we lived in the big barn in the woods. We slept up in the hayloft with a small black and white television that constantly played old Abbot and Costello movies. We all went to the bathroom in a giant bucket when we needed to, and I remember the cold morning I urinated on a drowned lunar moth – its wings spread across the liquid human waste in a sad parody of flight. I felt sorry for it, even though I was simultaneously scared of its size.
Many of my mornings there were spent in a dirty van that smelled of carved wood, of burned wood, of cigarettes and cigars and cheap beer. The metal floor was covered in sawdust. I was young, but not too young to listen to the grown men talk about the Eagles as one of their songs crackled over the van’s speakers. It was usually cold, snowy. I fetched them things and they showed me how to engrave designs into slabs of wood. They thought of me as a mascot, as a student in woodworking.
In warmer weather, I freely tasted blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries – all wild. My siblings and I sat in rusty old cars covered in weeds and bee’s nests. We scared each other in the dark. We watched Deerhunter on an old VCR in the main house while we ate beans and hot dogs.
A neighbor around my age from up the road often took walks with me, and we did what young boys of the time often did. We shot frogs in the pond with pellet guns. We swam in brooks and streams teeming with fish. We sometimes played video games, but more often than not we instead used our own imaginations. He lived in an old house that always seemed dark with parents who seemed not to love him. I didn’t particularly like going there, so instead we explored.
There was a hurricane, once. I ran outside to grab the sheets from the line – my mother shouting to me over the sound of the wind to hurry. I was scared. I’d never seen a hurricane before. We listened to hail on the tin roof and I wondered if we’d die. The next day, a large tree outside had been split in half – yet a small glass lay untouched near its trunk, filled with rainwater.
I remember when I decided to run away from home, setting out on my own into the wild backroads, not knowing where to go. I had told my mother my intentions, and she’d smiled and said “Good. See how far you get.” I was driven back to her jeers by ravenous horseflies and aggressive dogs without leashes. I cried for a long time at the reality of my existence.
What’s strange, though, is how much I remember the night sky. It was my solace and comfort. While the adults listened to rock music and partied the night away around a bonfire, drinking their strawberry daiquiris – forgetting their own lives – I looked to Orion’s Belt, to the Big Dipper. My nostrils filled with the smell of the woods, my ears with the sound of the forest, my eyes with the sight of far-off worlds and vast expanses of cosmos.