My Own American Summer (2011)
by Jordan Lee
“I should probably hide this.” I thought to myself as we parked the van at the border, like we were told. I counted it once more, it was still a thousand. I thought about placing it under Ryan’s pillow that I had been resting my head on. It was warm from the Canadian sun and I was tired from my own American summer. I decided against it, for the obvious reasons of self sanity and itching paranoia. It all fitted sweetly inside my wallet. Thick and green, I felt it creak slightly as it folded closed and slipped quickly into the back pocket of my shorts.
“And why are you traveling with these gentlemen?” she asked. Betrayed as alien by a proud and crimson passport, I looked up. As she spoke I saw decades of television flashing through her words, polite and ever present behind a screen since the day I could remember being old enough to remember. She was The Simpsons and Seinfeld and Spielberg and Springsteen. She bent t’s to d’s and danced to country music, swigging coke through bright white teeth. A bbq’d pig with honey glazed hair, she stared into my lying eyes, she already knew.
“I’m just riding along with them, I’m on holiday.” I said back, with all the confidence my accent could afford, I dropped an ‘h’ for good measure, hoping its exotic clink would float through the space between us both and pop me into favour like it had done everywhere we had been since the moment I had arrived.
After she was done speaking with Bryan she motioned at me to come, and so I did. I left an English man sitting on the cold metal bench with the others and approached her a foreigner, anxious and unsure. They had found my tip box, the one I had spent doodling on with Sean and Carly during a show in Denver, drawing pentagrams and declaring me a visiter for all to see.
For no reason at all I had kept it, except to prove myself a liar, it seems.
I swore stubbornly I was just on holiday, but my name was printed in the tour book I had thought so cool to be included in.
A red coat caught by patriotic blue, I held firm as she read my rights.
Nick slammed his fists and raised his voice. I sat there quiet, knowing. Jono reassured me like always. My two days left to decompress in Detroit dives disappeared and I was left with only the memory of where I had began over a month before, drinking tea and talking of home with Ryan’s old English Grandmother. She was sweet, and right then I longed for her familiar inflections.
She was across a line I couldn’t pass over.
I watched my name being written with a purple pen emblazoned with the lord’s prayer and then my fingers were pressed in ink.
What would Jesus do?
The man who took my photograph seemed nice, I think he knew.
“What do I do now?” I asked.
She highlighted my distance from home with a cold and crushing “That’s not my problem now.” The words rang inside me as we drove to the Canadian side to get a two day visa, enough time for me to sleep and fly home defeated.
I wanted to cry as Bryan put his hand on my shoulder.
“Would you like directions to a bar?” asked the Canadian woman as she handed me my papers. I wanted to cry again. She seemed like an angel to me, the exact opposite of before, her words felt warm around my heart and like a child I replied with a timid “yes please.” I wanted her to hug me or hold me or touch me in any way. She was my mother and I needed her to kiss my head.
In the parking lot of Tim Horton’s Nick called Kenny to rearrange my flights as Jono did his very best to tell me it was okay, that I’d be okay.
I knew I would and that I wouldn’t too.
Ryan called Anto to come pick me up, we had dropped him home not 3 hours before, I felt awful. I knew he would be angry. He was my dad, pissed off and disappointed, put out again because of me.
As the van drove away I watched through the window. Would I ever see my friends again? Jono and Ryan waved and in return I held my hand up defeated.
I had never felt so alone as I did then, everybody knew. The girl who gave me the coffee, the man and woman in the corner, they knew I was alone, that I had been left to fend for myself in a strange land.
I was the smallest thing that ever lived.
I had come here to die, or at least I could have, given the option.
I thought of everything I could to ignore it all. Of riding lawn mowers in North Carolina, of beach days in Pensacola, and eating ice Cream in Disney World. I wanted to be back in Chicago with Ryan’s brother drinking and playing pool. I thought of everybody on the tour all gathered on Bayside’s bus in Florida as the President told the world of Bin Laden’s death. I ached to be shooting fireworks with ironic patriotism, to be whooping childish adrenaline into the neon coloured clouds. I pictured me eating chicken and waffles with Hayley, and getting free shoes from Tom DeLonge. Again, I ate taco bell and played baseball in a Walmart parking lot in Philadelphia as I was kissing girls between parked cars in Baltimore. In an instant I felt the splash of an Albuquerque motel pool and the wind of an Arizona highway through my hair as me and Anto sang Brand New songs while he drove, of clear night roads and long life talks with Jono.
I felt it all again.
But most of all I felt alone.
I hoped my friends would come back, but they were a ghost inside me now, trapped in all the memories of every state we blazed through. Careless and young, we would live for ever then, or so we thought. No, we knew would and we nearly did.
I didn’t ever want to go home again. I hurt so much because I didn’t have a choice.
I sat there waiting for Anto to come and tell me off while I read Animal Farm. I had bought it in a Chicago used book store during a wander with Bobby. On a postcard tucked inside stood Jean Seberg. I remembered that she was dead, and then I remembered the bluest eyes I had ever seen and how I would have sold it all to marry them and have them mine, and how five minutes after I had said hello she had said good bye and walked into the texan sun, gone for ever.
We didn’t speak at all for most of the ride back to Anto’s house, he was tired like I was, but he was angry, and I was just sad.
I sat in his room and he showed me all the stupid things he’d ever done, we were the same and I felt better.
His friends were nice, it was needed. We drank and they laughed, and I did my best to not be a foreign man again. I felt the weight of a tiny island inside me, we were the same and completely different all at once.
In the morning Anto left for work, and I was woken by the deep Croatian voice of his dad. He would drive me to the airport. I was a burden but he would never show it, he was a man, strong in old European convictions, responsible and certain with everything life had given him, I felt like a child again for the second time in two days as he gave me pork chops to eat. They were tough under my baby teeth and I could not excuse myself until they were gone. I couldn’t bear to offend his hospitality, to let another man down.
As we drove along an ever stretching highway he told me stories of all the factories in the distance that billowed thick white clouds into the piercing blue sky. Their stark, white exhale hung firmly in place and seemed almost too heavy to be, but slowly they moved further away, and slowly I felt myself amongst them, heading home and landing back into an old routine of warm summer nights in beer soaked English gardens. But I had become too big for that now, I had seen too much. I had grown out of town and returned a different shape, one that bared no real resemblance to the small and selfish place I had left only months before.
I wanted desperately to turn back, to have my words misunderstood by excited Atlantic ears, but I couldn’t, not for a long time. I had left that summer at the top of my list to live in infamy inside of me, to ring around my bones like a whisper of something better and then continue with myself as normal as I could, if I ever could.
My friends would come back this way sooner than I had thought and we would spend long, cold nights in vans and on floors of friends and strangers.
But they would leave again, and several more times after that until they would come and go for the very last time.
And so it seems eventually everything we ever did will be a memory of a memory, repeating for infinity and forever, until we meet again, my friends and I, under less adventurous endeavours, of that I’m sure.
Jordan Lee is writer and was Michigan punk rock band, The Swellers’ UK merch person for years. He hasn’t been back to the United States since this story took place. Buy his debut novel, A Book Of Matches on Amazon.