My friend Kelly likes to get stoned and mumble ancient Chinese proverbs. “Everything in moderation, even moderation.” I trust Kelly because of ambiguous first names. Moderation is not what delivered any of us to Apple Street.
The day my life started over, I showed up at 1907 Apple Street with little more than something to prove. Proof filled the hole that remained from the battle raging inside. The afternoon was brisk. Where I come from, brisk was something that afternoons were not. It became late in the day and peeking out of an uncomfortable car window, I could see the sky was confused and the sun was a disturbing shade of yellow. Or orange. Or that weird color that comes in between when it’s burning so hot and bright that the only thing left for it to do is surrender. Just like the place where my childhood happened, the air was wet and red with heat and I walked into a smoky room that reeked of men who had not showered. I chose a broken chair because it was better than the alternatives. I asked God for acceptance, courage, and wisdom as I had done many times before. I tried to close my eyes but my eyelids were like children on trampolines. “What is this place?” I thought, as my pupils told me things my ears and hands could not. I knew there was distress in the room, only I didn’t who it belonged to. Gazing out towards the disturbed horizon, the sun pierced the sky looking for its way out. I scanned the tragic habitat looking for mine.
A hippie opened his mouth and words and crooked teeth are what came out. I felt like I’d known this man my entire life, and later, when he pulled me near for a hug that felt like 1000 downers, I realized he was a version of me that I hope I’ll never become. He told stories of Florida beaches and asked about buildings I knew had been bulldozed by the time I reached puberty. I lied and told him that things hadn’t changed a bit.
A man who was not polite asked politely if I had an extra cigarette, and I knew he had asked this question many times before. I told the man with the oxygen tank that I had given up the habit when I decided I wanted to live more than I wanted to die.
The people at Apple Street, they tell me I don’t look like I’m from here. So I ask them, “what does from here look like?” Moderation is not what got any of us here. I look around the room and wonder …. “what does from here look like?”
A man with whiskers stands in the corner to address the group but forgets what he wanted to say. I get the feeling he never knew to begin with. He swats at an insect that may or may not have been hovering around his rugged face and then sits back down. His iheartNY baseball cap is is too small and I stop myself from asking if he’s ever been to the Big Apple. He wears a jacket that’s crusty and old, and I wonder what kind of stories it would tell if only it had the ability. “Is this what from here look like?”
A woman is hunched over in a way that looks like she’s never sat in a chair before. With sunken eyes, she speaks so softly that I cant discern if she’s speaking to the group who isn’t paying attention, or to the woman next to her who’s fallen asleep in what was born a love seat but has ceased to fulfill it’s destiny.
I’ve been told that to avoid a mess, we must listen to the message and not the messenger.
As I drove away from 1907 Apple Street, I caught a glimpse of a man in my rear view mirror and began to accept what “from here” lookes like. Except – I’m not from here.