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Mike Aragona - Freelance Writer / Editor

The Last Word


Ghost of Memories — (August 9, 1998) I walked with Ghosts tonight...

Shadows, Spirits, Visions, Dreams of a Life left behind...

Whatever you want to call them makes no difference. But let's begin at the beginning.

I'm currently living upstairs my folks' (the house I grew up in) and tonight, as I stood on the balcony and peered over the streets and treetops, I realized something. I haven't gone for a walk in the neighborhood since I moved back into it. The feeling or time was right since I needed to make a connection with my life and what better way than to get re-acquainted with a previous life (ie; my teenage life).

As I began my journey into the past, I was a strict observer of routine. I marched up the same streets in the same manner I did lo those many years gone by. And I watched. And I remembered. And the Ghosts which haunt my memories decided to join me.

I gave a cursory glance to the corner store and looked across it, remembering the many hours I'd spent at the basement store which no longer exists. I remember getting my comic books and hockey cards from there. I remember Alfred playing with me in my first game of pool...

Walking up the street, I saw a lot of "new" faces, and lots of air conditioners. I don't remember air conditioners being so prevalent before. I passed an apartment complex and I was back in elementary, hanging outside the apartment my friend Bobby lived in. He and I and his best friend Gordon would hang out together every day after school. Bobby and I traded comic books constantly. Until he moved. It's sad having a friend you saw and hung out with every day and then not having anyone.

Hitting the next street, I thought of Lucy who used to live at the corner. She had a crush on me in Junior High but I guess I kind of ruined it for her since I wasn't ready for steady girlfriends and her infatuation frightened me... Next to her, was the house of Andre. Another friend from junior high who got me back into being fanatic about comic books. He's the guy who took me downtown to Montreal's first comic specialty store (Nova). Last I saw him, he had moved to Toronto to study to be a doctor...

I kept walking and saw a lot of familiar faces. The faces of parents of kids I went to school with. I didn't remember who, exactly, but I remember them always being there. And then I started wondering... Angie, where are you? What's happened in your life since graduation? ... Hugo, nick-named "The Man of 1000 faces" because of the toy, are you still the tough little kid I remember?

I reached another corner and remembered another corner store no longer in existence. Somehow, all the basement stores I used to hang out at have disappeared. I spent a lot of quarters at the one in question. I used to get my video game fix there while waiting for the swimming pool to open at the park.

The park. How much of my life was spent there? The spirits were waiting in full force for me. I can't walk into that park without remembering all the softball games I went to watch there. And as I passed the diamond and headed towards the swings, other memories intruded. I remember hanging by the benches there and night-dreaming with friends. I remember spinning around and around on one of those kiddie rides and watching the stars above me. I remember hanging outside the stairs of the indoor pool with Danny, talking about girls and music, and girls. I remember touch football on Sundays, played between the two baseball fields. I remember hanging outside the public bathroom area with other buddies nightly and just killing time. I remember being inside the public bathroom one afternoon with Paula who needed some TLC after having learnt of some unfortunate truths about her then-boyfriend. I remember Eddie running me through some paces on an early Saturday morning so I could join his "gang". I think back on Eddie and wonder what he's been doing. I ran into him again in junior high but he was a totally different person. Seemed to have fallen into the Burnt scene. And all I could think of was that he was a big fan of Charlie Brown comic books. I hope he's doing well. It's sad to think a kid who grew up reading Charlie Brown could turn out anything but good... even though that's not always true...

And then I remembered palling around with Henry and how we used to love watching The Pink Panther (especially because of Henry Mancini's musical score). I remembered coming home from school to watch The Archies and then biking back to the park to chat about it with Henry...

I spent a lot of time on my bike. I remember watching a softball series and palling around with a team, making fun of Mongoose, the umpire of that series.

I walk by the horshoe-throws, the benchs, the bocce fields, and remember the nights spent watching old Italian men play and share stories. I walk deep into the stone tables area and wonder how that place could still exist. Full of tree-shade and dark every night. I remember fooling around in those trees as well as being in the 5th grade and having a picnic there with the class. I remember giving my 5th grade teacher some Superman comic books to give to her son and feeling really good about having done that. And I remember being much older than that and having Mona show me her wares on that selfsame grass...

I look across and see a couple of old folks' homes... and I remember when all that existed in that spot were trees and grass. And I remember hanging out between those trees and making out with Nathalie. I remember how good it felt to be with her... just as I remember how when I finally "asked her out" for real, by the bocce lanes, under the trees, she turned me down. And I remember how I only found out the reasons to that about 10 years later when she admitted she thought I really didn't want to go out with her and had been pressured to ask her out. Girls are funny like that.

I walked to the baseball stands and sat down. The stories were weighing down on me quite heavily. I watched the planes fly overhead and looked around me. At every blink the scenes before me changed from daytime to nighttime, from friend to friend, from "moment" to "moment". I looked out towards the quarry and the trees staring back at me looked almost plastic. As if, for a second, I was a little plastic man in the scenery of an electronic train set and everything around me was illuminated with flourescent light.

I looked at the empty baseball field and emotions overwhelmed me. I saw softball games unfold before my eyes at a rate faster than I could keep up. I looked around and saw myself sitting on my green 10-speed. I saw kids playing in the tennis courts. I could "hear" the Italian men arguing about a toss. I could feel the sun on my face and taste the dryness of my mouth.

And I cried.

I cried for the past, remembering the joys of all those moments. And I cried for the present, wondering why I don't have moments like those any more. I think about my teenage years and all I can feel and remember are times like I've just mentioned. Times of me sharing in things with so many different people. Those are the things I remember. And when I wonder about the things I'll BE remembering in the future about my "now" I have trouble finding the "me" moments. My life back then was about me enjoying life with other people. My life these days seems to be about me doing things FOR other people. And it's not always a pleasant thing.

There was always time for the park. It's where I "hung out" with my friends. Somehow, "adult" friends don't really do that. With them it's bars and restaurants. Out for a coffee, or out for a drink. Going from a busy go-go-go workplace to a busy drink-smoke-dance-drink restplace. Rest? How? Where's the calm? Where's the peace? Where's the clean, smoke-free air? Where's the grass and the trees?

I just don't get it. And that saddens me. I think about my teenage bliss and wonder how it came to this...

I decided I shouldn't stick around the park any more. The mosquitos were doing a hell of a job convincing me to leave, but they weren't the ones who convinced me. I just knew I should move. So, I dusted myself off, washed my face at the water fountain, and continued along my track.

I walked past the bar across the park and wondered how Bobby was doing. This was another Bobby, the son of a past owner. He always treated me well and would sell me slices of pizza for half price as I usually shared them with him. I wondered how Bobby was...

I crossed the street and looked upwards, towards where Nathalie used to live. She's been married for over a year now and lives in a different district but old habits die hard. A light was on in the apartment she used to live in, and it got me thinking about how I finally got back in touch with her about 6 years ago and stayed in touch up until she got married. She went through some tough times and I remember sharing a lot of stories with her. It was fun being with someone who meant so much to me and who was a part of my past. In fact, whenever I watch Disney's Aladdin movies, I always think of her as Jasmine...

I kept going and passed my elementary school (which has now been turned into a Continuing Ed center). I remember playing in the schoolyard, jumping schoolbags and one time slipping on the ice after a 10-schoolbag jump and hurting my back... I remember being in first grade and my neighbor from where I lived when I was 4/5 started there as well! What a rush! I remember being such a good reader that during english reading, I would be sent to the higher grade to read with them. (That's the kind of bonuses you get from growing up reading comic books!) And then I remembered my first day at the school, and how my mom walked me there in the morning and how, after lunch, I simply walked back home, shocking my mom.

And I remembered the day my friend was killed, literally in front of me, when a brown Taxi came careening down the street, striking him down. I remember staring at the pool of blood in the street and the medics trying to clean up the bits of human flesh which just a half hour ago had been my friend...

I remembered my 5th grade teacher threatening to sue me because I had given all the kids in the class her home number. I remembered fighting with Theo in the schoolyard and getting brought into the Principle's office where he threatened the both of us with "The Strap" and how we both fell into a fit of giggles after the event and remained friends from then on until we lost touch in Junior High... I remembered going to a party at a girl's house and strutting around the schoolyard with the other boys who were going. (I've always been an Outsider, but seemed to always have "connections" to the Insiders who would always invite me places). I remember Nadia teaching me how to French Kiss at one of her parties... And I remember listening to Rod Stewart singing "Do You Think I'm Sexy" while eating lunch in the cafeteria.

The schoolyard seemed much too crowded by this time. I was starting to feel clausterphobic and moved on, passing the corner store where I used to get my comics at every week. I walked by the French elementary school and it became packed with the memories of the outdoor dances that were held there. I crossed the last street and glanced across the boulevard, remembering the little pet store that existed behind the bus stop. My friends and I would spend countless hours every week in that store! Our hearts literally broke when they closed down...

I passed by Rossy and remembered when it used to be a Five and Dime store. I glanced at the pharmacy and remembered the long nights spent sitting in front of it, watching the cars zoom on the boulevard, thinking of Daniella and about the major crush I had on her. We would sometimes pretend we were dating but I never for a second thought she liked me. Gee, it was just like Nathalie and me but only reversed! Silly me...

I crossed through the very narrow lane separating the store from the schoolyard and remembered all the times I played tennis with those school walls... the times we played baseball in the yard...

The lane emptied out onto the 12th avenue, bringing me face-to-face with St. Lucie Church. I walked by slowly, remembering the many, many, nights spent sitting on its steps. ...there's just something about a church late at night... And suddenly I'm 16 again and going to the parties held every Friday night underneath the church... never dancing, just hanging, and one night getting my nose broken while slam-dancing. It was a dance, but we never danced. Yeah, it sounds weird. The only time that rule was broken was at every Christmas dance when the last song would be played. "So This is Christmas" by John Lennon. It was our way of saying good-bye to another year...

I blink and turn away, looking at the sky. And I'm seventeen again, contemplating suicide and the life beyond. I remember the night that I decided to stick it out and study what life was supposed to be about. Kind of a major turning point in my life seeing as how it was almost like it started then as opposed to ending...

I pass the local bar and remember how many nights were spent hanging around there. Playing pool, playing video games, just chilling with the gang... and I wonder where the gang is at... and I remember how the bar used to be a pizza parlour years before that... and I remember how a friend of mine was infatuated with the daughter of the owner and how we used to meet up with her and her friends every night... I keep walking and pass 3 more basement apartments which used to be basement stores. One a grocery store, one a depanneur, and another one something similar to what dollar stores are today...

I've had enough. I head towards and through the lane separating the 13th and 14th avenue. As I walk through it, I spot the private little alcove hidden by the trees and I remember Chantale, technically my first girlfriend. I remember the Sunday I asked her out and how she turned me down because she had a boyfriend (which was news to me since we'd been spending so much time together). And I remembered how the day after, she broke up with said boyfriend and was "mine" as soon as school finished. And I remembered the nights spent huddled in that lane, sharing warmth.

I sigh and keep walking home...

I start to get glimpses of other friends and times and places, urging me to go visit them for a while. But, I decide that there will be plenty of chances for the many other ghosts and memories, keeping time at the other ends of my neighborhood, to speak their piece...

And, in my mind, I see them sitting behind the pizza parlour, sharing a slice, and waiting for their turn to invade my memories...


(The Last Word (c) Mike Aragona. All rights reserved. No reproduction or retransmission of this article is granted without written permission of Mike Aragona)

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