The life to come

Posted on Jan 29, 2013 in Columns
The life to come

The rain marched across the curling brown grass, splattering dust around the makeshift bases we had constructed. The distant asphalt parking lot steamed as the cool water struck the hot pavement, momentary wisps of thin gas lingering like whispered delight.

Our baseball game interrupted, we retreated to the shelter of the sedan that brought us, four boys who couldn’t wait for summer and who now realized they really didn’t have much to do. We sat quietly at first, rain spattering the windshield, distorting our view of the world.

We had graduated from high school that spring, the halls of Elgin High no longer large enough to contain our ambition. Propelled by the thirst for excitement and a vague, unidentifiable angst, we would soon leave for college and the lives our destinies dictated. High school seemed so distant, so jejune, so confining.

The leavening prospect of unchallenged freedom profoundly elated and secretly frightened us. Eager to engage in an enterprise requiring cunning and daring, we nurtured clear ideas of the stunning achievements we would author. We would be fiercely independent, true to our principles, unbowed by the crushing pressure to conform. We were unassimilated into the faceless society that enveloped those around us, as of yet unaware that even those with the greatest clarity of purpose are eventually subsumed by the oceanic tide of prosaic life.

The wind slapped the droplets against the car and rocked it gently, majestic oak branches swaying reluctantly in the tall and timeless
tree overhead. One of us spoke, reminding the others of the dwindling days of summer, as though so much yet needed to be accomplished. The others nodded, pensive, reluctant to betray nostalgia for the life we were so eager to leave behind.

We were headed in different directions, to places that seemed too far away to be understood and digested, to study things of which we could not now conceive. All of us ultimately changed direction at least once in the ensuing years. At least one of us was never able to use the education he received and spent his adult life doing work that largely did not require the college education he was about to pursue. The other two, with whom I
shared the insecurity of awkward youth, I never saw again after that summer. They stayed far away and made different lives for themselves than the ones we had imagined.

I was never able to ask them if they relentlessly, unwaveringly pursued the life we were sure of achieving that day in the rain-soaked car; or did they simply settle, discovering the comforting safety of the center and forsaking the remote fringes where the sweet fruit hangs maddeningly out of reach?

We could not have known on that July day 43 years ago that we were¬†sharing our last moments as boys, the final intimacy that only high school friends can share. We trusted each other like we would never trust again. We believed we would always stay in touch, always share these private moments, always pursue dreams that exceeded our grasp, if only in the lee of each other’s company.

The rain slowed and ceased as abruptly as it began. The clouds parted and the sun poked through, warming the grass and drying the small puddles that formed on the bases. We had a reprieve. The day would be salvaged. Baseball would be played and for a few more days at least, the life we then knew and the one just out of sight would remain in delicate balance, a parallel existence, unsoiled but fleeting. We would always love the world no matter what it did to us. We did not yet have any regrets.

We would return home over the years, only to realize that what we missed was not the city, but our childhood, and moments just like these.

I want to speak to those four boys and tell them that the world is not a kind place and that the dreams they harbor on this day are as substantive as the wisps of steam from the rain-splattered asphalt. I want to tell them that their lives will turn out so much differently than they could now conceive.

But who am I to take that away from them?


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