Smoking Cigarettes and Going Home Again

I really just love this picture. It reminds me of home. Photo by John Clise

By John Clise

Remember the days of smoking cigarettes all night, listening to Bob Seger on a worn out turn table with a shot needle that made the record sound like a walkie talkie speaker. No one cared. Talking and laughing the nights away. We thought we were finding some great new wisdom no one had ever known before.

We were so full of shit, cheap beer and youthful diversions we couldn’t see the beauty of it all. God damn, I miss those days. There was no tomorrow to worry about. Yesterday was forgotten as quickly as it happened.

Things like a broken-down car on the way to a concert wasn’t an imposition, it was an adventure. A chance to play guitar on the side of the road. No cell phones back then meant depending on the kindness of others, foot power to the nearest gas station that hopefully had a telephone. It wasn’t a strain to be delayed. We were making memories for a lifetime, and we didn’t realize it at the time.

I came across a picture of us sitting on the hood of Jim’s Mercury broken down on the way to a concert. I can’t exactly remember who we were going to see. I remember, though, we didn’t make it to the show.

The car overheated, and blew up. Some old farmer came along and picked us up. He snapped the pic of us all on the hood of the car before he packed us up in his old Chevy pick-up, and took us to his home to use the phone. It was the only phone around.

There we all were, together, once again. The golden days of youth. There was Jim, Christine, Max, me, Andrea, and Benny. I waxed nostalgic, perhaps even cried a bit. Those sweet days we thought would never end. Or we never thought about them ending.

I thought about us then. I thought about us now. How we all drifted apart as often happens.

Jim wandered out to LA to be a rock star. He became a sought-after session musician playing with all the great singers and bands that came along. He toured with a few. I saw him a few years back. He was still the smug jackass he was back then. He never bragged about his work though. He liked LA. There was always something to do there anytime of any day.

We lost Christine to breast cancer before she was out of her 20s. She’ married a guy from France, and seemed to be happy and content. Weird those things happen.

It all got to be too much for Maxey. He took his own life just before our 20-year class reunion. The preacher of the class didn’t know Max in school or in adult life, but eulogized him anyway. It was awful. More like terrible. Really flat out embarrassing. I’m sure it would have made Max laugh.

Though we left the same day, Andrea and I went in opposite directions much to the surprise of everyone in town. We got out of that shitbox town as quickly as possible. Both flipping it the bird as I drove her to the airport about two hours away. She was going to see the world as a flight attendant. She did. I just drove west, then east, the south, then north, working odd jobs here and there for a few dollars. I saw the world on my own terms.

Later on, I settled into the life of an antique store owner back on the east coast.

Benny joined the Army. Serving today. Somewhere, as a Lieutenant Colonial. Military life just seemed to suit him.

I hadn’t gone back to the old home town many times over the years. I came back for Christine and Max. And a Christmas or two.

Mom called to tell me she and dad were selling the old homestead, and that I needed to come home and help get the house ready. And, apparently, deal with long buried feelings. Mom is tricky that way. She seems all honest and helpful… she tricked me.

She called Andrea, too. Though she left that part out when she talked to me.

I was in my attic bedroom looking through a box of old stuff, eating a bologna sandwich, drinking chocolate milk when a familiar face appeared at the door. It was Andrea. She was smiling like always.  I moved over so she could her old spot next to me as we had done so many time so many years ago.

We didn’t say anything for a while. I just passed her half my sandwich, and showed her the picture. She took a bite, and smiled.

After a while we drifted off to sleep. I slept like I hadn’t slept in years. We woke up wrapped in each other’s arms. Opening my eyes looking directly into her big blue beautiful almond shaped eyes a rush of feelings washed over me. I was, indeed, still in love with her.

I must have looked equal parts overwhelmed and terrified.

She just smiled and said “I know. Me, too.”

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