Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Four Decades Later, Finding What I Lost on Long Island

My sister and our Weimaraner, circa 1973
I’m not exactly sure when I forgave my parents for moving to East Meadow, Long Island. The year was 1971; antiwar protests raged across America, but all I knew, at the age of nine, was I missed my friends from Brooklyn. Then our dog went missing. One day Rusty, a beagle — the one friend I was allowed to bring from Brooklyn – nudged open the front door with his nose and ran away, never to return. Presumably, I thought, back to Brooklyn.
Or maybe, if he was lucky, he’d find the meadow I couldn’t find in East Meadow—a meadow located east of nowhere in particular. Looking around, all I saw were detached houses flanking a maze of empty side streets. My sole consolation for getting yanked from my urban life – where you could pick up a football game just by stepping outside – had been the thought of bounding across a grassy field filled with snakes and salamanders. But that wasn’t happening.
One evening a neighbor, who’d heard of our loss, brought a stray dog to our house. He was a sleek silvery Weimaraner with a threatening bark that had been hanging out in alleys, scaring the neighborhood kids. My mother had a thing for strays, put him in the backyard, and asked me if I wanted to take on the responsibility. That night, I gazed into the dog’s clear blue eyes. I named Silver under a moon that color, figuring what the heck.
Muscular and noble, Silver won me friends. He was like the Arnold Schwarzenegger of dogs. One day a neighbor, Andy, rode up on his bicycle and seemed impressed by Silver’s muscles as I walked him around the block. We took Silver and Andy’s dog, a German Shepherd, to a large sump near my house, letting them romp unleashed.
One time after a snowstorm Andy and I tied a rope from Silver’s collar to my Flexible Flyer sled at the snowy bottom of the sump. I sat on the sled and grasped Silver’s leash while Andy called the dog from afar. The dog tugged fiercely, got the sled gliding fast. I braced myself against the cold wind, the world blurring past, laughing uncontrollably.
Though I was mostly oblivious to current events in 1971— Charles Manson sentenced to death, three million people killed in what was then East Pakistan – I began to ask myself: where was the world I thought I knew? How would I make my way in this strange new place? Like the rest of America, I was searching for something. I gradually discovered an answer. A hidden side to East Meadow. Neither concrete nor country, but rather somewhere satisfyingly in between. Because I had two feet, a banana-seat bicycle, and a maze of streets to get lost in — the perfect neighborhood for reckless riding. By the time I graduated to a Nishiki ten-speed, tires spitting dirt, my diploma was written all over me: one well-chipped front tooth, a scarred chin that had seen more stitches than I had bike spokes, and several pretzeled bicycle rims.
At some point, I forgave my parents for moving to East Meadow. It was partly the dogs, partly the bikes, partly the fact that parents brought home my newborn sister Shari, giving me a little friend to babysit and bond with. Possibilities opened up along East Meadow’s less traveled roads. Summers, I kept lazy pace with her tottering steps as we walked the mile down the hot tar of Powers Avenue to Veterans Memorial Park on Prospect Avenue. There, in the suspiciously warm shallows of the kiddie pool, I became co-captain of her Fisher-Price houseboat, connecting with her through play.
Pedaling the streets with fellow bicyclists, we ventured into forbidden places. Through a hole cut in a fence, we’d enter the strip of woods insulating the expansive split levels of East Meadow’s western border from Meadowbrook Parkway.  We’d corral our bicycles by a near-dead brook. The water weakly murmured, but in our imaginations we thought we heard rushing rapids in the whoosh of parkway cars.
When my friends and I got our drivers’ licenses, the era of bicycle riding came to an end, signaling an end to a carefree era, of pointing our handlebars toward no place in particular. In 1979, I graduated from East Meadow High School and went away to SUNY-Binghamton. After that I returned to visit, yet drifted from the places and people that connected me to Long Island.
But while I’ve lived in several places since—Brooklyn, Vermont, and upstate New York—none gives me pause like East Meadow. I wouldn’t call what I feel nostalgia, because I often felt lonely growing up there. Yet I’m tugged back to the feeling of discovery. Back then, I tried everything. Even today, I try to relive that feeling of discovery, using East Meadow as a benchmark.
Mornings, I drive to a forest near my upstate New York house and wander the paths with my two small dogs, unleashed, like my thoughts. We go off path and crunch through undisturbed snow. Here, the low sun cuts through the bare trees, splashing paint balls across the trunks. Squirrels scurry up tall pines. Mourning doves coo. Along this path, as before, dawn arrives cold and sweet.
David Kalish is the author of the novel, The Opposite of Everythingwhich will be published in March. His author events this spring are in Saratoga, Brooklyn, and Long Island. Click here for more information.

No comments: