Memory Mechanics

February 23, 2009
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Another early memory I have is of a dog. I lived in Detroit until I was seventeen and often skipped school to go roaming with my friends or by myself. Hell, my parents never cared about school and my teachers, as far as I knew, didn't give a damn either. There were days when I had nothing better to do than to lay on my ass and watch the neighbors. So there were days, when I saw things. Not big things, small things. But things they were, and dishonest at that, and if not dishonest'pathetic, or violent, or even scary. This is how I grew up: watching everything.
Detroit was like an immense industrial wasteland in the winter'and in the summer, it was a humid zoo. One winter day, the sun was muffled by a linen sheet cloud, and the bitter cold cut through my skin. I was thirteen and fearless, and decided to skip school and get some soup instead. I was raving hungry and cold. Heading down the usual path, I passed the weathered, beaten buildings long abandoned by slum lords. I found myself frozen in my steps in the backyard of the 'old man's' house. It was an abandoned-looking old thing, with haggard, moss covered roof eaves, an immense, rickety old porch, and a wealth of strange, oddly shaped mechanical bits and pieces rusting away in his front yard. I had passed this way on endless days for so many years, but never paid a moment's attention. As it happened that day, however, I was just standing there and being my dumb dreamer self; staring at the mighty metal junk and other such trinket collectables'all just rusting away in the snow. I was thinking about the way of the rusting machineries'all the cogs and the wheels and how they all looked so strange and illogical, laying there in a bed of ice and dirt.

In that moment as I stopped to look at the old coot's back yard, I felt a wave of anxiety fall over me. You know how those come'real quick and silent, and deadly cold; the hairs on your arms standing up. I swear every hair on my head was standing stock-still'and it was then I noticed him. There was a face in the window of the house, pale as a skull, and frightening as one too. It looked at me and stared, and I saw it was, of course, the old man, who I had only ever seen tending his garden in the summer or sitting stone still on the porch in the spring. He never laughed as far as I could tell, and that made his lonely figure even more ominous in my sight. I began to remember that people did things when you weren't around. Maybe good things, maybe bad. Most of the time though, I tended to think that what was going on was bad. I had come to these conjectures of my own accord--even by age eleven, from my own family experience and the use of my two healthy, highly perceptive eyes. So there were days, when I saw things. Not big things. Small things. I saw the old man in the window and I was pretty sure that he was staring at me. My blood was flowing and the sight of his beady black eyes burning into my skin was enough to drive me over the tattered picket fence. I was terrified and suddenly the world was very large, and I, very small. Jesus, I felt like scramming. A fear came up in me; coiled around my stomach and struck in my throat; like a shark successful in his attack. My muscles tensed. I felt like running. Yet'for some odd reason'something held me back. I really don't have the faintest clue what. Maybe it was the romantic idea of bravery I'd seen portrayed in so many Saturday Matinee westerns. John Wayne, sure. Still, it wasn't as if the fear went away. My teeth chattered, and not just from the cold. I told myself that I had gone temporarily insane as I began to walk towards that old man, towards his house. As I got closer, I discovered that the fear began to fade. It was replaced by a blind faith of sorts. Yeah. That's the best way I can describe it. A faith that I was walking where I didn't want to go, and in doing so, I was going somewhere I could manage. I would not run. I crossed the glimmering front lawn full of its unnatural, grey objects and found my way finally to the porch. By the time I was standing there amongst the frozen dead flower beds and whistling pine tree branches, I felt calm. I knew how the world flowed.

The old man came outside. He was very thin, and had no hair except for a pair of thin grey eyebrows, and a fading white mustache. His face looked as if it had been cracked'like a sheet of ice. Creases sat etched in his cheeks and brow, and the skin under his eyes sagged slightly. There was a sad look to him, but also a sense of something far beyond that. It was as if he had gone past the point of sadness a long time ago, and all that remained was a ghostly face in a dead house. We stared at each other for a long time, a very long time. He then sat down in the rocker, and pulled his blanket about him. I sat down too, crisscrossing my legs and planting myself on the edge of the ancient porch. We did not speak. He simply sat and stared out into the grey morning as if searching for something, and I, simply watched him.

In time, I noticed a dog had come to stand in the doorway. He was a Great Dane, and looked very past his years as well. Like his master, his portrait was showered with grey, and his mane streaked with white. He stared at me for a bit, and then slowly walked over to where I sat, and lay down. After a time, I felt it safe to pet the dog, and I did. To this day, I remember the feeling of his fur, soft as silk, and fragile as a ghost. It gives me goose bumps.

I never talked with the old man. And when I went back the following winter, his house was empty, and he and his dog were nowhere to be found. The foundation felt like a tomb. The rest of the furniture was gone as well; all except for his rocker, which remained'still and eerie as a cross driven into the earth. In the front yard, glistening in the fogged morning sun, I found again, the rusting metal objects. That day, I remember'I picked up a cog and put it in my pocket. I had meant to keep it, but I guess I lost it along the way.

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