I live pretty close to where I grew up. When I was a kid my family was upper middle class, but due to a lot of financial issues by the time I was in fifth grade shit fell apart. We used to live in a two-story house on Edgewood which was fucking beautiful. I've fantasized about buying it back as an adult and living there. But we moved to Vallette two blocks away, and it's maybe the shittiest townhouse in Elmhurst. I'm lower middle class swirling down the drain to lower class. I don't mean that as an insult to anyone, but that's just the way it is.
But I remember things. My parents were never married, so I am technically a bastard. (And as a person, I am also a bastard, so everything works out. Sorry.) I've never experienced what is considered to be the regular family life, which is maybe why I embrace the unusual. I've been unusual since birth.
My earliest memories are of mom trying to find a father figure for me. Or maybe my dad trying to find a mother figure for me. It doesn't matter. Both failed spectacularly. (I'm happy with my second step-mom, although currents were rough for about ten years.) I didn't care about those things because I didn't know I was supposed to. As far as I knew everyone had moms and dads that lived apart, and that kids lived with their moms except for certain weekends when their dads watched after them.
I'm out of bounds. I didn't always know that, but I think I'm in a good position to examine the so-called "regular" experience. I remember Mulder once saying, "How do you define normal?" That is my personal philosophy. There is no normal, no matter what TV tells you.
But! There are some things I remember from childhood. Looking back my earliest memory is of my mother and me. I was about three or four, and we did what we always did back then: we walked around the neighborhood.
I walk the same neighborhood as an adult for exercise. But it looks vastly different. I've mentioned it before, but I'll say it again. Elmhurst is dedicated to tearing down houses when they reach their 50th birthday in favor of more modern houses.
I won't mention the address, as there are a lot of awful people who might be paying attention, but Mom and I would head down the block to a neighbor who had a beautiful garden. It was open for everyone to see. I ran my hands along the flowers, awed that such stunning things could exist. My tiny hands on something the earth had produced. Something like me. Natural.
I walk by there now and the garden is not only gone, but the new owner has erected a fence to hide everything in that yard. I saw the garden destroyed. Now I can only wonder what happens back there. Goodbye to my youth.
Two blocks down there was a guy who cultivated an apple tree. Every time Mom and I stopped by he would give me an apple fresh from the tree, and I'd wolf it down. That may surprise many of my friends today. I hate fruits and vegetables. I much prefer cheeseburgers and hot dogs. But lest ye forget, apples are the only fruits I can tolerate today. I think this neighbor is the ONLY reason I do that.
(The only veggie I tolerate is corn, and that's probably because my grandparents made a game of putting butter and salt on cobs so I'd eat it.)
Fast forward to now. The apple tree was dragged out of the ground by its roots for reasons I can never understand. When I walk past that yard I see empty space. Nothing but grass. I don't know why. Maybe the current owner hates trees or apples or both. Goodbye to my youth.
And then there was the maple tree in the front yard that I used to take great joy in climbing. It's still there, and it's bigger than I ever thought. There have been several occasions when I felt I should climb it, but I'm an adult now. I would probably be arrested for it.
The thing about the apples. I don't say this a lot. I didn't even know it until a friend of mine observed it back in college. I got the worst beating of my life from my stepfather over a cheeseburger. Today I consider myself a cheeseburger expert.
I loved McDonald's cheeseburgers when I was a kid. I thought that was the pinnacle of good taste. And then my stepfather stopped me from eating fast food and cooked a cheeseburger for me. It was a bad cheeseburger, so I told him I hated it. I wanted a McDonald's cheeseburger over this shit.
He punched me like I was an adult. He threw my head into a wall. He yanked down my pants so hard that I still have the marks from it on my waist. And he beat the shit out of me.
If you want to know about great cheeseburgers, ask me. I have intimate knowledge about the best of the best. The greatest real cheeseburger is at the Country House in Clarendon Hills, IL. The best charburger is at Sparky's in Oak Brook. The best fast food burger belongs to McDonald's, provided you ask for extra everything.
Those apples were really fucking good.
To quote Jimmie's Chicken Shack and Marcy Playground, "My life was easier at five."
I miss those days. Goodbye to my youth.