23 November 2010

On This Date: The Road Ahead

It was the day after Thanksgiving:  this date, the 23rd. I was fifteen years old. I recall it distinctly for a couple of reasons.  For one, the previous day was also the tenth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination.  It seemed that everyone on the radio and TV talked about it.

But I have a far more personal reason to remember such an otherwise mundane day and date.  We--my mother, father and brothers--had taken the ride (My father drove) from the Jersey Shore to the far end of Long Island.  

The day started chilly and dreary.  But by the time we were about halfway through Staten Island, rain had begun.  The drops had turned into needles of cold wetness by the time we reached the graves of my grandfathers in the veterans' cemetery.  

Even though the sunset officially came about an hour later--not that anyone could see it--the sky had already grown almost as dark as some of the pavement the car's tires swished and planed on.  Or so it seemed.  Not long after we shuffled into the Ford station wagon (the kind with the imitation wood-grain panels on the sides),  my two youngest brothers were asleep in the back.  Soon, my other brother would nod off next to me and, by the time we were in Brooklyn, my mother would doze off, her head still straight up, next to my father.  Besides him, I was the only one still awake.  And, because we had taken the trip so many times before, my father probably could have gotten us home even if he'd fallen asleep.

All I could do was look at the windshield wipers that couldn't flick away the rain nearly fast enough and out the window to my left, where reflections of head- and street-lights bobbed and floated in the raindrops that never seemed to touch. In the cars that rode by, passed and flagged behind us, walleyed drivers drove tires that swished on pavement as kids fought, played or dozed and wives talked, knitted or fell asleep.

At the far end of Brooklyn--in or near Brighton Beach, if I recall correctly--Dad steered the station wagon into the neon flood of a parking lot of some restaurant.  Actually, it was more of a hot dog stand, like Nathan's, except that the hot dogs were even bigger.  None of us could remember the last time we went there, but Mom managed to keep everyone else from whining about having to make this trip when she promised my brothers that we'd stop for those hot dogs.  At one time, they would have worked as a bribe on me, too.  But by that day, I was past bribery, not because I'd become more virtuous, but rather because I didn't care, or at least believed I didn't, and was stupid enough to think that somehow made me more of an adult.

The truth was, I only wanted to seem like an adult, just so everyone would leave me alone.  Just a few weeks earlier, I'd begun my junior year in high school and everyone wanted to know what college I wanted to attend and what career I'd prepare myself for when I was there.  That is, except for the adults who'd decided which college and which career I should go into.

I knew of a couple of careers and a few schools I definitely didn't want.  But I really didn't care about the rest of it:  Whatever I did, adulthood would mean only another life I didn't want and a career in something that would matter to everyone but me.  

Behind us was the cemetery.  Ahead, there was only hard rain and a pitch-black sky.  And, in the moment, there were just foot-long hot dogs.