It’s strange to see you here, old friend. Rusted gear-shaft, and oil drum. To come across a wrecked car in the woods like this. I am eighteen. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. In Pennsylvania; I’m in Pennsylvania. The air crispy, the leaves crackling. My breath makes cigarette smoke in the air.
What am I doing out here? Fleeing my father and my stepmother, I think. I can’t quite remember. We live near the woods. I read a lot of books. In books, the woods are nebulous; places either of good or evil, it’s not clear — but what is clear is that in the woods, you will be tested. Midway through life’s journey, Dante found himself in a dark wood, I have read. Everything that I know, I have read. Eighteen; I’m eighteen years old. …I was young, young, a character in Faulkner says, but they never told me; I never knew it, that was I young! The only things that I know come from books.
The snow from last night only remains in the patches of the shade, trying to survive until it is cold enough to snow again. The snow that isn’t in the shade is all melted.
It is good to be here. I like you; old rusted car, old shoe. And I had an old car like you once, an old beater. And, old car — you make the woods look better, not worse. With the weeds growing through your window. You are settling, becoming part of the landscape. You are pretty. But who remembers you, and who will remember me. If my writing is good enough, will someone remember me.
The last fight that I had with my father was about architecture. He’s an architect. We were passing some ugly buildings, some ugly strip-malls, on a drive through New Hampshire:
—Hey, I said, look at these ugly malls; look at those bent ugly guardrails over there.
—Yeah, he said.
—Well, aren’t they beautiful, sort of?
He gave the guardrails a quick glance.
—No, he said.
–…But, I said, doesn’t the passage of time make everything beautiful. Imagine these guardrails. …Imagine this strip-mall in a hundred years. Already we think stuff from the 50s is retro and “cool.” So won’t this strip-mall be retro and beautiful and cool someday.
He raised an eyebrow.
–-I highly doubt it, he said.
–…And doesn’t that, I said, still continuing, battling against hopelessness, doesn’t that mean that if they’re beautiful then, then they’re beautiful now. Maybe the ancient Romans had shitty taste, maybe medieval people did. But now that their buildings are all ruined and collapsing, we’re like, “Oh, how beautiful!”
—What are you talking about, he said. What’s your point?
I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I was talking about, driving at, and I didn’t know what so anguished me about it all. And it wasn’t really a fight, of course. We didn’t even raise our voices. It was just the longest conversation that I had had with my father in my life, up to that point.
I don’t know what made me upset about it, except that I just wanted him to say, Yes. I wanted him to say, Yes, these ugly things are beautiful. And yes, you are beautiful, even though men can’t use words like ‘beautiful,’ and I love you, my son.
I sat back, leaned against the rusting blue of the car. I opened my backpack and took out my ever-present notebook. …When I die, I wrote.
I closed my notebook and breathed imaginary cigarette smoke out of my mouth. I leaned back further against the car. Maybe someday I would be a writer, maybe someone would remember me.