You know you’re getting older when you start pining for the good old days. Those days of youthful, reckless abandon. When we felt immortal with limitless futures and endless horizons.
Christ said we must be as little children, and God knows I try. Just the other week I fulfilled one of my lifelong ambitions by tying an old pair of sneakers together and throwing them over telephone wires. Now it’s done, another item off my bucket list.
We were the last generation without cell phones. We were the last ones to make the trek by foot or bike to our friend’s house to ask if he could come out and play. We even had special knocks so we’d know who was there before we answered.
Kids today will never know the struggle of scrounging for quarters in parking lots, and searching for a pay phone to call home and say they’ll be late. Now I see them immersed in their screens, standing at the bus stop. That used to be me at the bus stop. That used to be me in Walmart in August, buying my supplies before going away to college. When did high school kids start looking like babies?
I certainly don’t look as young as I used to. A couple of months ago I heard loud music at midnight. I went to investigate and found 200 high schoolers partying it up, bottles of Hennessy at their feet and clouds of marijuana smoke overhead. I thought I could pass myself off as part of the crowd, steal a drink or two before heading back home. Then some dude asked if I was looking for my daughter.
Ouch. Then again, what did I expect? I had my first gray hairs before my first sexual experiences.
I miss the days when I could walk down my old street at midnight and find my friend sitting on the curb in front of his house, smoking a cig or nursing a beer. We would call up another friend, then another, and another… all of them still up at the late hour and down for anything.
We’d hang out until 4AM. It didn’t matter that we had to be up for work at 6AM. We were invincible. Now we’re older, another decade closer to yelling at kids to get off our lawn. We still work the same jobs, but now we have keys. Now we have responsibilities. Now we won’t come out past 10PM.
I miss when we did things spur of the moment. Now everything is planned. Hanging out requires consulting schedules and making appointments. House parties when the parents are away are a thing of the past.
I remember Tim’s dad pulling into his driveway with his motorcycle and leather jacket. Donny’s mom yelling at him, “You go through girlfriends like they’re fucking water!” Victor’s parents laughing and swing dancing at the block party. My friend’s parents were vibrant and full of life.
Now they stoop a little, move a little slower. Others have had heart attacks or were diagnosed with diseases. My own father has cancer. None of our grandparents are left, they’re all long gone now. Our parents – our last line of defense before facing our own mortality – are endangered.
Outside my front door are two more pairs of sneakers tied together. On my bulletin board is a list of places to go and things to do. And sometimes I’ll wheel my bike out of the garage at midnight and race up and down the streets, eventually finding myself in my old neighborhood.
I’ll stop outside my old house, gazing at the window of the room I used to sleep in. Like Doug Spaulding who came back home to kill Ralph Underhill, I’ll call my younger self out to play. Then I’ll pedal away, my tires humming along the pavement and the wind whistling through my ears as I tear up and down the hills, savoring how wonderful it is to be alive.
I may not be able to return to the days of my younger self, but at least I can still travel with him in my heart.