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New England: A Story Told in Ten Fevers

One writer’s journey to grasp the ephemeral concept of “home”

New England, Part I: Slumphead in the East

Whatever it was that brought you here, it was worth writing home about. Still, you’re more the type to ransom your brain across the breezy meadow of a fresh cocktail napkin than attempt to dilute experience by landscaping the wilderness of thought and packaging it up for friends and family to repeat to each other when you miss yet another holiday. So you consider the sky that went missing from a fantasy novel cover as it bounces off the blue gloss of the lake before you and diminish the closest thing you have to an asset — as creamy, caramel, and coned as it may be — dreading the end of it, as you dread the end of all things.

New England, Part II: Western Blood Leach

A late summer breeze washes over your aging scalp, as you stick your neck out for the only person you would dare to do so for. The sound of nothing comes at you wholeheartedly and you wonder where all these shades of green have been hiding your whole life in America. It’s then that you ponder if the east could have you, acknowledging the vanity of the thought before flipping the question.The truth is, you’ll bury your heart in the west, because even as you traced your roots back to a tiny cottage in the misty, sprawling countryside of Ireland — based off of only two hints like a treasure hunter, including “it’s at the end of a road and it overlooks the lake” from a family Christmas before things fell apart — you, so desperate to climb the family tree and see what the view offered, realized your blood and bones to be unapologetically Californian. Every part of you came from centuries of other stories belonging to other people and it was only on a cab ride back to your hotel in Dublin that you finally admitted, without wistfully fingerpainting the past, that you’d spent a lifetime mistaking your librarian duties as those of a time-traveling historian. But it was a good song on the radio and you felt liberated knowing there was nothing for you anywhere but wherever you were. Sure, California was home, but anything and everything in California is merely a trend. It would be yours until it no longer is. All things are.

New England, Part III: Every Place a Distance

Drunk on potential, and having squandered your inventory in the process, you gun across state lines with a nervous system rattling somewhere between rapt and ransacked. The road rises to meet you like an uppercut, smirking paint in your delirium. You’ve spent this whole season grappling with the decision to move on, push forward, and gain ground. You simply forgot you could do so in a very literal sense because it also slipped your mind that empty roads exist in the first place. California will be hearing about this. In fact, it likely won’t hear the end of it.

New England, Part IV: Toothpick Spirit

On the coast, the sunshine hits you like an epiphany, as you wander around, daydreamed out with fresh lungs and your gambler’s brain finally tumbling snake eyes into the two pits you collectively call upon for sight. Things are clearer now. You breathe in the salty warmth that wafts beneath your nostrils previously cleared out by drugs — every beach, a paradise. The mansions are ghost towns now and you want to know how all the writers ended up poor while the businessmen flourished, feeding smoke as a diet tactic. Alas, you find yourself enamored by America’s industrial wealth until a guided tour drags your intentions into the church of arson. These people were not happy. You know what that tastes like. You know how bitterness stings the gums. You witness a bored part-timer pose as a jingoist and your eyes buck like ships in the throes. It’s fascinating, you admit, but it all seems too lavish and hopeless. It’s not until you hear details of the garden parties that you change your tune and want to join the band. You spend the rest of the day on a nearby bay hotel’s lawn, savoring the rich dessert of a day by finding your spine in one of the hillside’s white chairs while drinking minty cocktails and watching sailboats. This, too, is temporary, but that does not mean it cannot be called home.

New England, Part V: Bedroom Basilica

You take up with a woman for a long weekend and trim the shelves of several bookstores, a surprising number of them dotting the small town avenues. You spend an entire day reading poetry to each other at different bars. The teenage scraps of your heart, hanging on like backyard laundry in a storm, suddenly twitch and you recollect the youthful, debilitating hope that, somewhere across this restless country with its unmanageable population, there would be a town filled with readers and drunkards. You know how you’ll remember this afternoon: a montage from the movies, the couple gleefully showing each other records and laughing at thrift store try-ons, even though cinema always hints at the fate of the lovebirds eventually throwing everything they own across a living room. But you two are card sharks stacking the deck, knowingly anchored to separate coasts and aware that good things can be in short supply. One evening, you stroll into town, a crowd of bashful mountains peeking at young lovers blemished with the pinks and reds that abundantly slip through the trees lining Main Street. The streetlights soon go on duty. They look like sleepy sentinels and your heart coughs up Americana that comes mostly from painters, not ancestors. Still, you wonder if this is what your grandparents felt like after the war and you realize you’re doing it again, refurbishing art of the past to make it utility in the present. You kiss her outside the ticket booth of the only theater for miles; too late for the matinee, too early for your age. You’re taken in by a fine dining establishment that time didn’t forget so much as allowed it to live out its days in peace. The youngest couple in there, you each choose a different color of wine before admitting to the other you’d drink anything. You reappear on the sidewalk, fevered wilds together like old straits, and nest yourselves into the seats of the tiniest movie house, where they serve cans of wine. In the land of drunk readers, you can’t resist and order two. You watch a movie about the 1930s and wonder if you can’t escape the past or you simply aren’t trying.

New England, Part VI: Barfly Fishing

You leave in a rented car, your existence made more temporary the faster you drive. The poetry of absence has been lost, however. You catch yourself driving under the speed limit, a criminal offense back home. Here, it doesn’t matter; you could see a cop a literal mile off, swooping into valleys greener than promised. You smell your shirt and think of her, so you roll down the windows to smell land that has nothing to offer man but space. This must be where they grow the intangible. Upon reaching your rented room in the suburbs, hosted by members of the local orchestra, you feel home yet again. You are sharpening your trade of being from nowhere and everywhere at once, though this is not true and you know that; your puckish spirit only riding shotgun now, no longer a wildcard falling asleep at the color wheel. You catch a ride into town and have lunch in a pub on the wharf that has stayed loyal to both sets of roots — European dock workers and American fishermen — saddling up and asking the bartender your usual questions. He tells you to take the next ship to the nearest island, a commute for some locals. You ask why. His mustache shuffles. You realize there is not always a deeper meaning. You can see the world without inquiring about a benefits plan. You have the opportunity to simply drink and travel, meeting people along the way, tipping well in an exit. You explore the island. It is then and there, swinging over a drop into the glimmering sea below, that you promise to always listen to bartenders; they are the only ones who understand you.

New England, Part VII: True Glow Interloper

The next day, you unearth a part of yourself that you buried long ago, out of worry you were mistaking fiction for truth as an upstart; one of your greatest fears remains falling into the canyon between idealism and realism and not knowing which way is which on your hike out. Your rough draft of America, the initial one that gave you rock ’n’ roll without the protest songs — this was well before you started paying attention in history class — has finally unveiled itself. You don’t write anything all day. Instead, you nap twice at two different beaches, both sparsely populated. Kites fly as giddy as the children below them, everyone parks in the woods, and the tide massages the sandy shore like its only a second date. The sun’s legs are kicked up and lighthouses look like treehouses in the distance. You can’t believe none of the land is private and purposefully get lost in the woods that haven’t yet been gouged by drought, ultimately stumbling upon a beach mansion tucked away like it belongs to an industrialist’s mistress. You realize trespassing is all that’s missing from your day. You sneak across and discover it’s empty. You consider another nap.

New England, Part VIII: A Winking Somnambulist

Brainlessly euphoric, having settled into local life by standing in line for bagels and attending minor league baseball games, you drive farther south than you intend, winding up in a seaside town with an amusement park you can’t believe is real. You expect a ragtag band of misfits to bounce out of each arcade, crowding the leader to see the photo booth snapshot he scooped of him smooching the popular girl — the secret of the summer. You’d be a sir to them now. You buy cotton candy to remedy this. The girl behind the stall is half your age and calls you sir anyway. You play skeeball, the ghost of a youth trapped inside a loosening body, wondering if other kids can see you. You accidentally rack up a pile of tickets, which you fold into a neat stack like a parent to one of little chaos agents that you’d be eternally on the verge of losing. You notice a boy with hands pressed against the glass prize counter, his longing breaths fogging up the space between his current existence and his hopeful one. They learn too young. He reminds you of yourself at that age. This stops you in your tracks and you suddenly wonder if others can see him too. You don’t have the time or patience for elaborate life lessons from a guardian angel these days. You just want to be mesmerized by the world. You hand the boy all your tickets and tell him how you always loved the paratroopers. You stroll onto the beach, carrying your shoes before putting them back on once on the pier. You’ve become disgustingly practical. The pier is outdoors, but it feels like a surreal hallway because of its colorful crowding of stalls. You have a drink at a circus-themed patio bar the size of a dorm room. A jazz band plays standards a few stalls over. You stare at the beach busy with bodies and fail to readily recall what year it is. You start to evaluate what sanity is and if it’s even necessary.

New England, Part IX: The Pretty Lights That Die on Highways

You have become detached from reality and you do not miss it. The world was not yours to begin with and you have developed the ability to dictate your own. It sounds seraphic with a pinwheel cerebrum, but it’s all you’re able to manage in truth. Colors swirl, resembling everything from lighthouse to forest, and your eyes have surely fevered. You have become a powder keg with confetti stirred in and you hear a voice echoing through the narrows of your being that this is not infinite — nothing is eternal — and there will be more eons for you to drag up the celestial pile. Disappearances / Escapes / Sabbaticals / Vacations cannot last and you are doomed if you believe it. Your sojourn has an expiration date. The academic in you has done the math. There’s a logic to the madness, though your colleagues all too often mistake cause and effect for two separate ingredients of a cosmic recipe you all can barely stomach. Of course, you find little reason to hold on. Being sucked into a rainbow void sounds like the highest high, ultimately making actuality the lowest low. Could you even survive the fall from grace? It wears on you to stay grounded and nearly every molecule in the roller rink of your head and heart is eternally ready to check out. What is waiting for you back home besides an old life? The new life, dummy. Stop all this. The worst thing you’ve ever done is consider a single existence. You are better now than you once were; that is how it should always be. You think of her in the kimono and pack your shit.

New England, Part X: All That Hasn’t Gone to Waste

You barrel beneath the night sky, as close to the ground as physics will allow, given that gravity is your vehicle’s main feature. The coastline swaggers like a drunk about to be talked into a cop car, so you head inland, deep enough to see tree branches eat the stars. The narrow stream of moonlight slinking its way between two black wooden jetties above the road gives you the sudden impression you’re driving upside down and underwater. Your head’s flooded and it seems normal to lose direction until headlights pop up like the eyes of a giant waking in a sweat. The city is ahead. Your eyes grow as heavy as your foot, so the windows bow on both sides as you zoom into the wind. This is the same road you curtsied to days ago in the opposite direction. It feels like divorce now. The little skyline that could comes up in the distance, a kingdom of churchgoers. A lone highway curves up to nab and huck you into the heart of the metropolis. On surface roads, you’re slower but wilder — entering the labyrinth to destroy it from all appearances. But that’s not why you’ve come back. You’ve come back for her, but even you know you can’t call this home for long. This isn’t your town and you’re not her man. You’re a brief chapter that comes at the reader like a government report, with all the right words blacked out. You entertain a split-second consideration of tucking and rolling. You are still full of bad ideas. Coming here was not one of them. Punching park, you hit the door and take the stairs one flight at a time, writing the world’s messiest poem across your arms, a stanza on each limb. She hears your ridiculous process of thinking out loud and the timing of her door swinging open is enough to write home about. Back in her arms, where you cannot stay, she agrees to take you to the airport, as the sweat melts the ink all over your wrists, dripping the only remotely coherent thought you had all trip.

“Trembling from afar, nerves like pyres,
trading a push for pulls,
I recall you at cliff’s edge, alone…
…and I tell my captains, my drivers,
and my barfly hopefuls
that kissing you was like coming home.”

Raised by handsome wolves, I mostly write these days. jake.kilroy@gmail.com

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