United City

United City

There is another side to youth. The probing, exploring, overly self-impressed side. The side that is confident that your future will go exactly to plan. The side that has maroon for school colors.

Maroon is just the color of this side. Like stunning bricks, or accent shutters on white houses set close to the school grounds that always show their pride, no matter the season, and with hot cider or lemonade. Where the easy morning slides with equanimity to the ends of a cold metal bar in the playground, and there’s rarely more or less than 7% scattered cloud cover.

The church organist is not talented, and that makes you feel better about yourself and your future. The ploddings of the organ at midday echo out across United City, blowing through the children, perfectly oval eyes set in a chill wonder at the horizon, and through the two or three teenagers at the corner of the paved road and the dirt trying cigarettes for maybe the second time.

There is something so nice about more of a chill in the air than there ought to be. What you’d like very much is to read Lolita for hours on end under the windswept oak in the backyard, and in United City you can. Every day in United City is that brisk morning when you just couldn’t shake that happy feeling.

You’re 15 and you’re going to be better than them. Naturally. And bigger. This is your humble origin story. This is the place that will roll, finally, off the tips of your fingers at the end of some articulate, accusing stemware. This is the place that will never get to call you its native son, and will be made more interesting for the fact that you were ever there.

Even though you love the charity shop. Two floors of the most unloved and priceless (read: cheap) 40-year-old books and clothes in all of Christendom. You love walking there, you love kicking through the leaves. You love that no one will stop you out of recognition, but that everyone will still be kind. Sometimes you’ll take a different way back to walk past an old church that had been painted a deep chocolate-charcoal brown, in the shadow of a disused but still noble grain mill.

You think you’ll drink up the little things before you move onto big ones.

What you don’t know now is that you’ll never escape the electric feeling of the air of a small town in Michigan in fall. So much larger than the dead-end mining road you grew up on, and so much smaller than city you now live in, you’ll be chased down in the oddest moments by a church bell echoing through some claustrophilic town square on a morning that seems both green-cast and filled with nervous possibility.

The florist who loves selling you old costume jewelry, that is a real human connection, not just some pointer to your future. When you go off to the city, do you think people will take the time to talk to you like this?

The thing you never put together about the most interesting people you knew as a child is that they all came back from the city.

Silly old faggot, you think, what do you know?

Silly old faggot, indeed.

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