Do you ever find yourself caught in a scene of your childhood? I know I do. Those flashes of memory that you wish would vanish, but the cut is too deep. Some people choose to block these memories off. Then there are some that dip into them. Primed to go for a warm swim, until they hit the water and find it to be ice cold.
The sharpest memories of mine focus the reflective lens on my younger brother Cooper.
In the year or two after he was born, our family was told that he wouldn’t quite be the same as all the other kids. That he, uh, how would you say it… fell on the spectrum. The spectrum, such a poetic way to convey the news that he will not live a normal life. That he would take up the habit of leaving the house without a moment’s notice. Not alerting a soul, because, well, he can’t speak. Except for regurgitating excerpts from Pixar animations.
This occurred frequently during my years of middle and high school. Being the most physically active, I was repeatedly called to action. In pursuit of my mini twin, the brother I was supposed to teach everything to. My shadow. My ghost. Or just a young boy who loved deeply.
The sounding of the alarm was a shriek from my mother. A shriek that ignited a state of panic around the house between my two sisters and I. Often my dad was at work. Or maybe my mind most recalls the times he was not there. Those were the times it felt like my burden, turning the corner onto 72nd street full stride, wishing I had someone to pass the baton to. Not knowing that soon those memories would become immortalized as this house would not live to tell the tales of memory past. In the minds of those close they became ghost stories.
Picking up speed my muscles have loosened, and I can feel the stress of the situation evaporating into fear. There are so many places he could venture to. What would one say to a boy who doesn’t speak back? Do they laugh? Do they produce that confused look? Indicating something is different here and I am uncomfortable look. Every time a car speeds past I wonder about his instincts. Does he know what a speeding vehicle could do to his tiny frame? Do the drivers know that his sense of time and space are inhibited? Please drive slow. Days like this were frequent, days that left me frozen. Unable or unwilling to confess my true emotions, because they are rooted from a soil of misunderstanding. To vocalize would be an attempt at rationalizing and to rationalize would imply that someone can stand this reality.
Can you understand that feeling? The feeling when you stumble on that first article of clothing. Lying there on the pavement. Now the anxiety, stress, and fear is welcomed by a new friend of embarrassment, coupled with sirens down the street. Of course they had to come, and it makes sense that they did. But in my mind this is my responsibility. I have to handle this. I wish my instinct was to say we, but I think we are all too numb for that. Then I see a familiar face.
A boy just wanted to play with the rocks. Half a block down from our house. In fact, Mrs. Miller welcomed it. She knew he was there, and she knew we would find him. Why wouldn’t a young boy want to run?
I sat there and watch him with my adolescent mind filled with anger and rage. To go through this once was one thing, but time after time it begins to wear on you. Then eventually I left.
Now I’m with the ghost of Jack riding through the Sierras. Watching the sun kiss the perfectly sculpted ridges. Moving further south into the Mojave desert, and there’s a great silence among us. Everyone in the car seemed to be silent for other reasons, but mine was pure and of great thanks. Those long days with my brother had taught me to fight through the chaos and create silence. But now here I was in the great wide open lands of the west. Far enough away from those memories I talked about earlier. Or so one would think. The minute you think you’ve left something behind, you are mistaken.
With a few adventures under my belt I was leaving California and heading for New Orleans. The first sequence of connected travel that would mimic the scenery of Jack’s On The Road. After zig zagging all over the golden state I was grateful for this new adventure, and in search of a new read. Still on the Kerouac kick, I chose Visions of Gerard.
A tale of the early years of his life in Lowell, Massachusetts. Jack was 4, his sister “Nin” was 6, and his brother Gerard was 9. From the perspective of Jack and others, Gerard was a pure soul, destined for great things. His deep care for wounded animals and his fellow classmates caused the nuns at school to refer to him as a saint in the making.
This praise of Gerard became a painful sting when he was diagnosed with rheumatic fever. His eventual death influences Kerouac to inspect the reality that his brother is now a part of history, and that he must be remembered in a respectful way. Being one of his late novels, it is interesting to me how towards the end of his life he chose to explore such pure and innocent topics for his literature.
When I finished this book, I sat on my air mattress in New Orleans and had Visions of Cooper. They caused me to dig back on those memories, and I began to find a vision that suited my beliefs. That Cooper is a holy buddha saint in the same way that Kerouac described his fallen Gerard. Sitting on Mrs. Miller’s driveway paying attention to every minute detail of his rocks. Treating them with great care. In those settings he is always at his calmest. Whether rocks, a river, or the tide of Lake Michigan. Those thoughts brought a smile to my face on that humid day. Just my thoughts and a book, written by a man who I am glad to know.