I’ll try to remember to post the first draft soon, which is just a paragraph so I may just leave it as a comment. But here is the updated second draft I composed this afternoon after the first draft from this morning. Note this has some fictional elements.
In my small town, us kids used to hang out near the abandoned railroad tracks and smoke cigarettes and talk about parties we had only heard about from the high school kids. We hung out near the railroad tracks mostly out of convenience as they were near where we lived and we knew the older kids partied not far from there late at night. By hanging out where the high schoolers did, we felt as if we were a part of that circle, that crew, that crowd. We thought we were cool or we desperately wanted to be cool.
Our town was small—less than 300 people–and so we had nothing to do but get into trouble or pretend we were getting into trouble. If you want a picture of our town, it looked something like this: two churches, one small grocery store, a post office, a bank, an elementary school, one bar situated on the only hill in town, and an old folks’ home right across from the town park. The town had one main drag that pretty much touched all these landmarks. On one end of the town was the elementary school and on the other end was the old folks home and so in some ways the town was laid out in a progression of life, though the cemetary was the thing caught in the middle. And, of course, being so small, even as a child you knew everyone in the town and even remembered some of the dead caught in between the progression from school to nursing home.
But even with the park, which we as children ran to sometimes, the main area of interest was those railroad tracks where we would meet up. I remember exchanging mixed tapes with my friends out at those old railroad tracks. I remember talking about the music we liked, what was on MTV, and gossiping about the other kids at school. I remember sometimes we would call the numbers on the soda bottles just to have someone new to talk to or getting the passing semi’s to honk by punching our fists high into the air. We thought we were going to be trouble when we walked right into the bar one day and used quarters to buy cheap sex toys from the bathroom vending machine.
We weren’t as much trouble as we pretended to be, though, so when one of our friends actually robbed the small town grocery, there fell a new, strange silence over the rest of that summer. I remember spending less time down by the railroad tracks. I remember how none of us knew what to say to the boy who had robbed the store, though he liked to pretend nothing had ever happened. There was only one time he brought it up and he told me how other people had helped him, but they never got into trouble because they were not seen as trouble. Those other boys were from better, more well-to-do families where both parents had good jobs and they always attended church on sundays and they came to school in nice clothes and always looked clean. So when he tried to explain he wasn’t alone, and who else was with, he was either not believed or ignored and of course those boys from the families who fit together more like a puzzle denied any involvement.
The boy who robbed the store moved away in August of that summer. I had a crush on him, so I remember feeling sad and trying to think up ways to go visit him. I knew where he was going. It was a town not far away, about a 40 minute drive, and near what we called lakes country and so I knew most of my friends would be headed out that way anyway. It would be easy to get a ride. What I didn’t know was that in a year my family would be in a similar transition and I would be moving not 40 minutes away, but three hours away, and into another state and into another school and another group of friends.
As an adult, I don’t often think about my experiences in that town. Those days seem so lost to time, like a horizon you just cannot ever reach, as much as you try to see into that distance. Yet, I know those summer days, people, and experiences left a profound resonance with me that I sometimes remember when I see young, troubled students in my own classes or when I go back to where I grew up in those summers and see the young children out there, no longer playing by the now overgrown and abandoned railroad, but in a nice, updated town park. I see them laugh with each other and lean against the trees like they are cool and waiting for someone to step into their life like this is a movie and they have suddenly entered the next scene.
I remember our friend who robbed the store had to return all the goods or pay back for what he had stolen so there would be no charges and his family moved away later that summer.