Opelika Eighty-Two Tuscaloosa

These vacant shells of once-lived lives are shadows of my past, reflections of years traversed through the heart of Alabama. I know these hills and trees, and clapboard houses falling down. What the creeping passage of time does not consume, the rush of years will. And what the rush of years does not consume, the harsh heat of days will. And what the harsh heat of days does not consume, Kudzu will. Until, the downward flowing years of humanity are shadows, and shadows of shadows: a rusty mailbox with a bent flag, and five black men gathered around the stools of an old service station. Were they twelve, they could be the disciples with Jesus in the middle—or maybe the Pharisees plotting to kill Jesus, or maybe the left-behind crowds who said, “What just happened? Was that not the Son of Jesse?”, or the Roman guards that said, “Truly this was the son of God.”

Trees lean over the two-lane road called Eighty-two: pine and oak, and here and there the changing elm. Most remain untouched by the early days of southern autumn. It is October and I wish it would rain cold down on me. Behind me lies two days in Opelika, and a year. Ahead lies a day in Tuscaloosa—a day and a year, and two. Eighteen years ago, I drove this uncertain path on a day not unlike this—warmer, less cloudy, but equally filled with the expectation of something I could only imagine but longed for nonetheless.

This is me: I am young—as the miles wash away the years of travel—a shower of recollection on the train of memory. Next stop, college! Students played on the quad as I slowly drove down University Blvd. There was a volleyball game; I wished to play. There was Denny Chimes; I wanted to ring out as well—the caller of times present and past, “All is well! All is well!”, and “Peace. Peace.”

And then there was November. I drove home to vote in the 1992 elections and back in a day. Tara, Heather, Brett, Dan, Allen, and Chris waited back in Freidman (and the matching girls dorm). The cold chill of November rain gnawed through jeans and a paint-stained canvas barn jacket. I hated leaving. I hated in-between road.

Then there was the female twin, whose name I forget. Dark headed, and bright eyed. I didn’t really know her. No, but she was the one who laughed one night at a Southbound concert, smiled, and hugged me goodbye for the summer. And, goodbye forever! She died backing out of her driveway. Died, with a hug and a smile as a goodbye…and now even her name is lost.

Memory is like Old Testament prophesies. There is a shortening when looking backward as well as forward. The music always plays double-time. The tangled threads of particular commonality intertwine, confusticate, and then are gone.

I remember…walking from Freidman to a dorm across campus on a Saturday for lunch, to eat—hopefully—with someone I knew.
I remember…pool in the game room off the Ferguson center. Heidi and Camille were there.
I remember…sitting in my room during one home game, listening out the window to the sounds of pre-football ringing crisp on the cool September air.
I remember…the somber boy-knight who stands guard over the large study hall in Amelia.
I remember ...jumping off of the cliffs that first weekend in town, after standing scared for so very long.

I remember. I remember and I forget. Shake the snow-ball. Watch the world spin. Chaos rages all around, while Reindeer—or Santa, or the Eifel Tower—remain frozen in place. In my ball, I stand frozen amidst the swirl of memories. Snatch one out of the air—like a furtive lightening bug—then let it go just as fast, before the light goes out. A flake in the hand is worth nothing compared to the brilliance of the thousand that fly past.

Just before entering Chilton County, a white crumbling lean-too says, “The horn of plenty.” There is plenty enough in the old roads and hidden minds of humanity to make the world weep a billion years and laugh even longer, harder. For what: the past? The past is a fun place to visit. But longing after all is just longing, and the promise of presence is a power not easily overcome. No, I don’t want to be back here—alone, insecure, struggling, afraid, more sad than cheered, and regularly melancholic.

Yes, the past is a great place to visit, but I would never choose to live there.

Well—at least not often.

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