Warm summer evening. The wind knows abandon, craze, keeping time with the tired tips of blades of grass. We're driving down the only road this town has, this relic of a town that once was. Dilapidated structures fall deeper into history as the ashen landscape skips past the glass of the window pane. I'm thankful it's there, that transparent barrier between me and the corpse of a town that no one remembers. Glass armours, protection.
No one remembers.
We're children, and this is our great adventure. When you're 17 and hungry to eat the globe, swallow it whole. Driving around the galaxy of America, in a beat up truck, finding.. finding. This is the story of the day we found nothing. Nothing but smoke and memory colliding in the air, mocking our smallness.
M is speeding and I don't care. There's no one to hurt, to run over, here. Trees become a blur as we drive along, the vision out the window is a broken skyline. In my head I see the shining corridors of NY city, places we've been these last two weeks. Finding.. finding. And then I stop and look out the window. The coal of the sun burns a red hole into the sky. "The sun burnt this town, babe. Can you imagine a time when kids rode bikes down this road and shopping marts littered the scenery? This place must've had it all. Happiness and color and feeling. And then the sun burnt it. " He's thinking out loud. We're both making a map in our mind, inking the dot of this town an opaque shade of grey.
He slows down, drives along. I wait for a cat to pass us by, languid and calm or Tuesday morning drunks to throw stones at the car. I wait for movement and some sign of life. I wait for someone to tell me what happened.. where everyone is. You know that recurring dream where you're a ballet dancer and the world dies, over and over, around you? Controlled demolitions. You sit in a chair, tying your shoes while the planet slips off its axis . You sit in the passenger seat of an old beat up truck, tying your shoes, while the planet slips off its axis.
And then we whizz past it, the tombstone. Centralia, population:11. M turns up the volume. "Dig me up from under what is covering.." We trail past a pulverized house, and a woman is standing outside, smiling. We're comrades, this woman and us. Humans in arms, against nature and the deeply sickening dose of loneliness. Against the sense of loss you feel, when driving through a ghost town where 11 people live. A town that has burnt for the last 60 years and continues to do so. Centralia. So apt, the name. The center of the world, the core, the vast black hole that God drilled right through us.
And slowly, desolately, we drive on. Leaving the soot road behind. I'll switch places with him soon, and we'll get to another big city. Alcohol and cigarettes and mindless abandon. Wait till the memory of this poltergeist fades into a mass of hedonism. We're children, and this is our great adventure.
That half hour in Centralia is the only thing I remember about that summer. Education, life lessons. The death of the center of the world taught us everything. Every human face I now look into, is the face of a childhood friend I've never met. As I gather this strip of nostalgia into my palm, M peeps in from the crack in the wall and calls me for dinner. And at 25, as I start to lose faith in humanity and attach less and less value to life, play around with existentialism and post-modernism, the story of Centralia that warm summer night, all those years ago keeps me believing.
Because there's time and we're still here and so are they, all 11 of them. Finding.. finding.