I was driving the other day. The August sun was pounding on the car. Everything felt heavy. Things were moving slow and the traffic noise was incredibly intrusive, like it was from some other world. How dare this awful noise break into my world, into my inner world, into the place where I think I know who I am. The noise reminded me that I had so much to do. So many obligations – family stuff, money stuff, work stuff, life stuff.
And then Elton John came on the radio. It was Rocket Man, but it could have been Philadelphia Freedom or Someone Saved My Life Tonight. They all work the same for me. Elton always takes me back to the late ’70s, when I was a boy turning into a man and my life was fast and muscular and uncomplicated and pushing the edges of innocence. My hair was thick. It hung raggedly over my collar and you couldn’t see my ears. When I would sweat the ends would clump together in pointy little spikes.
I remember that world so well. Rooms were dark with paneling and thick with shag carpet. The appliances were harvest gold or avocado green. Plastic was heavy and shiny and durable. Faux-leather bags were lined with felt so that they were stiff and stood upright. Their zippers were fat and designed to last 100 years. There was a lot of new technology, but it was still in wooden cabinets with meters behind glass that measured things you didn’t understand. The switches and buttons clunked into place with a solid feel that you knew meant quality. Solid State.
Curvy was cool back then. Curves in your hair and in your bell bottoms. Fat, curving shoes with thick heels. We threw frisbees in giant, arcing curves, and when we danced in the school gym we tried to make our bodies nothing but curves and waves. Curving, parallel lines you drew on your paper when you weren’t paying attention in class. You drew the curves all the way to the edge of the page, and you never knew why you drew them. School films would get hung and the expanding curve of a bubble would melt the celluloid. The teacher would come running to fix it with little panicked steps, and you would turn and talk to your friends in your world while she tried to fix hers. Curves were bubbling and breaking. Music was changing and the hippies were fading and taking corporate jobs. The ’80s were coming, and none of us knew what that was going to mean.
And every summer was the summer of love. A girl would walk by in her designer jeans and Farrah hair, and my head would tilt a little to the side while I watched her. I wondered if there was some secret to knowing her because she seemed to be a beautiful creature from some other kind of world. Sometimes I would say the right thing and her face would light up with a smile, or maybe she would even laugh with a bubbling sound that made my heart seize in my chest. Oh God, when I fell in love I was gone. Out of my mind, pining, adoring, cherishing, dreaming. And when my heart was broken the sorrow hit me like a fist in the chest. I would go to my room and howl like a gut-shot dog. A kiss was everything to me in those days. Walking her to the door and trying to find the courage to kiss her, and it was like being on top of the world. A soft, romantic kiss outside the door before her father turned the porch lights off and on.
Broken hearts and sorrow. Passion and joy and exhilaration. Love was one glance away and death had no place in our world. Faces drift by. Girls I loved and boys who stood by me back in the day when we stood together against the world. The song fades. Traffic noise. Heat. Remembering things done and things left undone. Don’t go away Elton. Don’t leave me here. The memories hurt so good. Hurt me again, please. I’m not ready to be old and burdened and slow and out of shape and balding. I’m not ready to have my desires and feelings muffled by such a heavy cloak of responsibility.
The old Gordon is gone. He had his day, but now he is sinking below the horizon like the Big Dipper dropping so Cassiopeia can rise and point us to the North Star. I can see him just before he goes into the darkness. He’s flipping a football around in his hands, and it’s so natural the way he does that. The last thing I see is his wavy hair and boyish smile that is so pure because it is so innocently selfish.
He will go into the darkness, of course. Every season of life has its turn. But every season also leaves its mark. The mark young Gordon left on me is desire. It is a painful desire, yet I love it. My mind returns to it the way your tongue probes a sore place in your mouth.
That desire is for one last soft kiss at the door before her father turns out the light.