January 23, 2007

Circle

Yesterday my sister Andrea and I visited the circle. The circle is where we grew up; it’s a cul-de-sac. We were driving to Target to return Andrea’s vacuum cleaner when she suggested a side trip.

We parked in front of Bruce Goldberg’s house. Bruce doesn’t live there anymore – none of the Goldbergs do – and yet I still think it as Bruce Goldberg’s house.

Once, long ago, Bruce’s sister Rhonda, who was fat, sat on Andrea, who was tiny. I don’t remember why Rhonda did this, but someone told me about it while it was happening and I came running. Andrea and Rhonda were on Bruce Goldberg’s lawn surrounded by a crowd of kids, several of whom who were yelling and pointing.

I would like to report that I made Rhonda stop sitting on my sister, but instead I stood there laughing. It was Bruce who pulled her off.

Also, it was Bruce Goldberg’s father who told me my first dirty joke. It happened in Bruce Goldberg’s kitchen. Bruce’s father was at the kitchen counter, drinking a beer, and simply started telling Bruce and me a joke. From the very beginning it was unlike any joke I’d ever heard. And then to top it off, the punch line included the word fuck – an amazing word for an adult to say to me, in a joke or otherwise.

Bruce became a doctor, but I don’t know what became of Rhonda. Andrea says that Bruce’s mother died of cancer. I don’t remember her at all, which strikes me as shameful. How many times did I see her walk in or out of Bruce Goldberg’s house? A thousand? I can’t even remember the color of her hair.

Andrea and I made a circuit of the street, reminiscing about the former occupants of each house. It’s always strange to return; everything is so much smaller than I remember. I tell myself to expect it to be smaller, and yet each time I’m surprised at how small it is. For some reason I can’t reduce my expectations enough to match an ever-diminishing reality.

Also, the houses keep moving closer together. In memory there’s enough room between them to fit another house, but those spaces are nearly gone now. It’s as though the circle is slowly contracting.

And the people are gone as well. That’s what strangest of all – that the circle is inhabited by usurpers who don’t even realize they’re usurpers. As we headed back to the car, Andrea and I watched a bald man walk into Bruce Goldberg’s house. Bruce and his family left that house more than twenty-five years ago and yet it still disturbed me to watch this stranger simply open the door and walk inside. I half-expected to hear the muffled voice of Bruce Goldberg’s father screaming at the man to get the fuck out of his house.