Hashtag Throwback Thursday. I am throwing it back in honor of the beginning of the school year. Here I am on the east side of Buffalo, New York. It is the first day of school. I have not yet mastered the art of tying my shoes or buttoning my coat, but that is no matter. The day is monumental in my mind. Up to this point in my life, I was relegated to watching my brothers and sister from the front window as they walked to school. I observed them closely as they ate their breakfast in their little uniforms. When the door closed, I hurried to the couch that ran along the front windows, bent over the back, and pulled the curtain. There they went, beneath the red maple tree to school. School. It was a mystery. In my mind I imagined it a place of properness. Of books and learning. Of transformation. I wanted to know the names of the things in my life to give them definition and bring them into focus and make them clear. I was a serious child. I studied the words in the books my brothers and my sister brought back trying to make sense of them and my brothers saw this and used it to their advantage. Taunting me with words I didn’t know until I cried, which buoyed them and allowed them to continue their torment. Here is a photograph of the beginning of the end of the torment. Here is a photograph of the beginning of the definitions to the words I didn’t know. My mother is in my buttons and hat. She tells me to look at the camera and in that instant summer is washed away on an autumn wind, and with it, the mystery of school, the mystery of the world. I have taken flight. I walk on my stick legs two blocks to the mayhem of the schoolyard. I follow my sister who walks with purpose while my brothers lag behind, kicking at stones. At the corner I hear the shouts and yells from the yard and it becomes an orchestra warming up. We turn to the red brick of the building that seems to hold the blood of generations. I stand in awe and my brother pushes me forward into the undulating mass of school children who stop at a bell and get into line yammering until that too is silenced by a nun and we are ushered in quietly to the learning and becoming.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It is back to school so I want to throw it back twenty-two years ago. 1994. The end of college. I was twenty-two. Everyone who I had been close to had departed for points unknown or home after commencement. they had gone to Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Boston. they had gone to New Jersey, Albany, and Waterbury. They had gone to California and Portland. I stayed in the Bronx working as an abstractor which meant that I prepared a condensed history of the ownership of a particular parcel of real estate. I researched this history which consisted of a summary of the original grant and all of the subsequent conveyances and encumbrances affecting the property on microfiche. Glamorous. I know. In some instances, I had to go back to the original hand-written books to find deeds that had not been microfiched. These were great big dusty books which were lorded over by an ancient woman who wore flowery housedresses and who did not like me immediately, she was distrusting of anyone who might not understand the magnanimity of these books. The histories of pieces of old New York written in hands long since gone. But I did. I opened them gently and ran my hands along their pages. I spent many hours admiring the penmanship they contained. She must have seen this and eventually smiled a toothless smile at me. We became co-conspirators. There was something important about this work to me, this idea of going back to find where we come from. It appealed to the amateur librarian in me. In any case, in those weeks following commencement I had never heard the city so quiet as when I sat in my tiny Bronx apartment with its view of backyard laundry reading Look Homeward, Angel, which only added to my post graduation blues. A crushing sense of loss surrounded me. It wasn't just college that was gone, an enduring moment of my youth, the east side of Buffalo, New York, was slipping away from me and I didn't know it then. Just weeks before I was on a rooftop clinking aluminum beer cans with my best friends. Then Kurt Cobain was dead. Just weeks before I was at a dance with a girl who could have been a movie star. We would etch our names in wet concrete in the east village in the hopes that moment would last. Then Brazil mourned the loss of Ayrton Senna. In one moment I was studying beneath perfect trees as a friend in leather boots and a skirt came yelling my name across the lawn and the next I was alone in the city, my future expansively terrifying ahead of me. Here is a photograph of me on the D train with what would become my confidant and companion in those moments post graduation. You can see the worry in my eyes, but so too the hope. I have my goldfish who I would wish good morning every day before leaving to the microfiche and books, to the going back to the past and seeing the beauty in beginnings. This is a photograph of me in that end which looking back was always a beginning.