A Beautiful Girls Epiphany
Recently, I noticed a poster for a movie soon to be released here in Minneapolis, which induced me to recollect my upbringing, at least for roughly seven of my formative years, in my semi-adopted childhood town of Warwick, NY. Creatively appealing to lost-soul twenty-somethings like myself, the promo for the film, Beautiful Girls, implores, “Sometimes you have to go home, to find what you’ve lost, to remember the friends you have, and to discover where you are going.”
Instantly mesmerized, for I fell smack dab into the midst of the target market for this film, I readily concurred with the poignantly truthful notion expressed in the ad, for I could relate wholeheartedly to the movie’s story line. This year, the summer of ’96, I experienced exactly what the Hollywoodesque message is trying to convey because, in a way, I had returned home. Not “home” by all typically understood definitions of the word, but home, somewhat symbolically.
The last time I had actually lived in Warwick was the day of high school graduation in June of 1987. The morning after walking the stage, which was set up on the front lawn of W.V.H.S., I moved away, driving halfway across the nation to the Midwest, with my sister and her husband, for they’d offered to put me up for a bit until I found my way a little more in the too-big world at the time, not yet sure about what route I was taking after high school.
This summer, I had flown into The City (and only those from the area realize that ‘The City’ is, indeed, New York City) and soon ventured into a nearby suburb to attend a wedding of a former girlfriend who was residing there. However, during my whirlwind stay, I at least had the opportunity to detour to Warwick for a mere half a day.
Shockingly, I was amazed at how it had changed.
Now, in reality, maybe the changes between 1987 and 1996 had not been that profound nor dramatic, for perhaps it was I who had grown the most. Maybe it was simply a matter of my perspective having been tweaked.
Once one’s perspective changes, it is difficult to re-tweak it to understand your former understandings of a place, even of yourself. Equal challenges exist in understanding your own erstwhile surroundings and your former experiences—or shall we say “the experiences of your former self”?
Surely, there had been physical transformations of Warwick during that span, for all towns, both progressive and parochial, go through evolutions over time—and, simply put, life is always about progress and growth even if there are cyclical downfalls from time to time.
It became obvious that, on my fast-paced, few-hour return, the most noteworthy changes had occurred within me, and, by extension, within all of us who’d grown up in Warwick and had chosen to move away, some distant, some close—in order to find something more (or to at least attempt to find it).
My folks and sister had also moved away in three separate directions by the end of 1987 (with extended family across the USA, otherwise), so there was no longer a reason-in-residence to be there this summer. Regardless, something drew me back there.
Now, when I was a teenager, I could, at times, barely stand living in such an ostensibly provincial place, and in the late 70s and early-to-mid 80s, it was a relatively provincial place.
Our creativity always tested, Warwickian friends and I constantly aimed to find the least-mundane activities to occupy our time.
After having lived in Minneapolis for nearly six years total, a city with a wonderful, lively performing arts scene, fantastic live music venues, and a variety of professional sports teams, etc., it is hard to imagine now how I’d/we’d ever survived the seemingly imprisoning environs of a one-Burger-King town back in the day.
However, like those before us for generations, and those who’ve followed, we did survive—and we were somehow better off for it because of Warwick.
I can vividly recall the second or third year of high school—for it happened on countless occasions, a group of us sitting in someone’s car, parked in the dark, at the end of a neighborhood out near Bellvale or down off of whatever shadowy lane at the edge of town, debating what we would do for the night. The video arcade on Main Street had grown wearisome after a few months of its initial novelty, Frank’s Pizza couldn’t sustain a consistent satisfaction for overly hormonal teens who simply wanted more action somehow, and there were no community rec centers at the time to keep us busy.
Typically, especially during the pre-girlfriend years of the mid-80s, for some of us, we usually couldn’t generate any form of worthwhile entertainment to pass the time, except for the occasional getting-into-some-sort-of-trouble kind. Thus, more often than not, we would call it an early evening, all the while dolefully lamenting about how we couldn’t wait until we’d grown up and moved away from the “God-forsaken place”.
Though I thoroughly have relished the variety that life in Minneapolis has since provided, I oft find myself desirous of living in such a place, like Warwick, again. There’s something quite tantalizing about the prospect of one day returning to my hometown, or even a town like it, regardless of the boredom and humdrum existence we teenagers of Warwick once, collectively, felt (no, it wasn’t a horrible monotony on a daily basis, but for many of us, we needed to get out, in time—and I am well aware that many kids didn’t feel the same, and they’ve been there ever since).
Isn’t it peculiar how it happens that the banality of one’s teen years, within the confines of such a rural place, evolves into a settled, satisfying peacefulness in one’s older years, if given the chance to return to that place after years away?
On my visit this summer, I rushed from each significant site from my past to the next, ready to absorb and recollect on the go.
Naturally, I ventured past my elementary, middle, and high schools, even making it out to Pine Island to see where I’d first resided after moving from Washington State in ‘78 or ‘79. And I even drove around the parking lot at King’s Elementary since I had spent a few weeks there as a temporary student, until we had found a home to rent out in Pine Island for the duration of my elementary school years.
It is a quirky human tendency to be so riveted by the recollections of our school days when we head home after so many years, and no return “home” would be complete without revisiting the places from our pasts where we develop the most, at least for many a child: school.
Additionally, I toured through another requisite site, my old neighborhood up on Mt. Peter, Hillside Avenue. An overwhelmingly peculiar sensation rushed through me, as did the names of many childhood neighbors, as I recalled the route I had followed as a paperboy. To my surprise, many of the names on the mailboxes were the same. The Mayers were still there, as were the Fomins, Quackenbushes, and Mallons.
In some ways, things had not changed. The houses and their residents within were simply ten years older. New coats of paint and a few renovations were noticeable, but those changes barely hid the fact that all was essentially the same, at least on the outside.
Most chilling about the excursion around Hillside Avenue was that we children from my generation had simply been replaced, just as we had replaced the previous gang of neighborhood kids, and so on and so on, a pattern repeated over time in every suburban cul-de-sac, rural town dead-end lane, or big city back alleyway around the world. Incessantly, that cycle is repeated, without us. Without anyone from each previous cycle ever participating in the next.
If one could trace back the history of Hillside Avenue, all the way until it was just a field off to the side of Route 17A, to the time when one house had started off the domino-like development of the area, and then somehow magically visit each generation that had come and gone since, he or she could prove the point that the existence of each group of childhood playmates is so eerily ephemeral.
Yet when you’re heaving a baseball to your best pal, tossing a newspaper against someone’s window, or holding hands with your first crush after escaping from your bedroom window for a few hours of innocent—and not-so-innocent, fun, you aren’t cognizant of the it’s-a-fact-of-life fleetingness of it all.
Looking at the big picture, my neighborhood pals and I (and the group of Bellvale friends I’d spent more time with) were just a blip on the imaginary radar screen that monitors such activities.
In one blip, we were gone. We were off the radar, if you will, replaced by the next blip.
In essence, that brief visit allowed me an understanding that I didn’t gain in college nor in any self-help book I’d read beforehand: What’s really, truly essential is “the moment”. It isn’t about the past, for you can’t live there, it isn’t possible. The future matters not, either, because it is merely to be replaced by the next moment, or the moment may not even be there the next moment. It is the moment, at the moment. That’s it.
Driving slowly on my quick tour through the horseshoe-shaped neighborhood, I passed by a group of kids playing kickball in the middle of the road, forcing them to call out, “Car coming!”, sending them scurrying to the left and to the right. Of course they stared through the windows at me, wondering who the hell I was. I fooled myself by envisaging if anyone knew that I used to be pretty darn good at the sport they were enjoying for the moment.
Rational understanding about the world clearly allows me to know it would be impossible for such historical relevance to be maintained—for I’ve never heard of public recordkeeping of such neighborhood nostalgia, but somewhere deep in our inner psyche, we foolishly hope we’d be “known” somehow to those who’ve replaced us.
By the looks on their faces, I knew they knew me not.
Of course they didn’t.
Caught up in the moment of memories, I additionally pondered if they knew where all the others had gone, what we had all done with our lives in the ten years since my generation reigned supreme on that street or down the hill in Bellvale.
Nearly ten years physically removed, I was completely expunged from the reality of those Hillside Avenue kids. I’d been replaced, forgotten, and really, had become just an unknown. Of course, some of the parents would have recollected my being their paperboy, or if one of my generation had been visiting that day, I would have been a “known” for that moment again, but the point is, if a mere ten years later I had become an unknown in that plane of existence that was once ours, in that locale that mattered so much as a child, it surely proves that it is only in “the moment” that we live the most—and in some ways, that’s all that matters.
On any given day, at any given moment, at any given location, anywhere in the fucking world, it is just that moment that matters. Five, ten, twenty years later, that moment is gone, forgotten. Replaced. And even though I used to pride myself in being able to send a kickball over the heads of infielders and outfielders, alike, that, too, matters not. It was just at the moment that the greatest value of that moment existed. The past is meaningless to what matters now, for it truly matters not at this exact moment, any moment, anymore.
After scrambling the kids in different directions, interrupting their game, I soon parked across the street from my old house and then wandered over to gaze into a memory that had long escaped me.
In the front yard of that house back in the mid-80s, I had once practiced some silly break dance move, where one flips oneself over, landing on the ground, but in a manner that shouldn’t hurt yet looks like it must.
Because there was a slope heading down from my house to the street, it was easier to get bodily momentum going to do the flip, and the sloping hill added a few extra degrees to land the trick properly. I’d had no need whatsoever of that memory, theretofore, but it had come back because I’d entered that physical space again, momentarily. Odd how that works in the human head sometimes, how remembrances are triggered only by entering a specific physical space, hearing a song, picking up a certain scent.
I returned to the car and cried. Not for a particular person whom I missed, not for any unachieved goals nor failures in life since, but it seemed that I cried because of those moments. They’d mattered so much, or at least my more matured sense of self told me they should mattered have back in the day, yet they were gone, for good, at least gone from the “real world”—and memories are not the real world, are they?
Perhaps dozens of other similar reminisces bombarded my senses for the next handful of minutes which completed my visit to Hillside, just as countless more rushed back to me while touring other parts of Warwick that half day.
As the Beautiful Girls advertisement entices you to believe, such journeys home are needed to find out what you’ve lost. Those its-the-moment-that-matters-most moments are gone. Permanently. Although such a revelation saddens me, I’ll cherish the discoveries made that day, on my return to Warwick, for I’ve learned that the moment is everything. Even if they’re now gone.