Center Moriches Isn’t Mine
There is something spectacular about the summer here. It is almost as if the entire Island has been in hiding since that first cold, damp, January day. Then, suddenly, the sun emerges from behind the clouds as the temperature inches above 60 and we are reborn. The cherry blossoms that line the streets of this little town finally explode with color; Stores perfectly frame our section of Montauk Highway, most of them adorned with the same awning that was put up by my father 30 years ago. A group of teenagers swerve passed on their bikes, each with a fishing pole and a large, Styrofoam cup from the Bagel Deli. I can smell the pizza ovens firing up, preparing for the usual weekday rush; later, parents will be in and out as their child’s soccer cleats click along the sidewalk behind them.
I never thought I would be back here.
It isn’t uncommon, you know. Abandon your home town to follow your dreams just to end up missing it too much to fully let go. I tried. I lived in three small towns in other states only to end up more home sick than I was before. Too many memories reside here, that is what I was so desperately running away from. I left them without a proper goodbye, with all intentions of forgetting. And now I walk the streets just as I did a lifetime ago.
As I approach the firehouse, I see a man dressed head to toe in full equipment. I sat on the bench in front of Brothers Four just staring. He is not doing anything out of the ordinary, there is no alarm sounding, no trucks pulling away. It is just him. He looks around enjoying the scenery when our eyes meet. He tips his helmet forward and waves. I feel a rush of emotion and before I know it, I am sprinting toward the church.
A wedding is ending and I am trapped, waiting for them to make their way out. The front doors to St. John’s open and dozens of people pour out. Each face is familiar to me. All of them smiling and hugging; How beautiful to see people feel what I felt all those years ago. As I wait for the crowd to clear, the wedding party emerges; All of the bridesmaids in maroon velvet. My legs start moving before I can process what is happening. I am running again.
I am almost halfway down Union when my legs begin to give. Why is this happening? Where am I going? It helps that I can navigate this place backwards and blindfolded. I take quick right onto Inwood and spot the gazebo at the end of the road. A sense of calm comes over me. Thank God, I think to myself, I used to love it here. There are cars parked in front of the last house on the left. The road is canopied with massive maple trees and the smell of the creek makes me sane. I wiggle in between the cars and sit on the bench closest to the water.
I glance directly into the yard. There are many people walking around both inside and out, I can see them all through the large panoramic window. They must be having a party. As I imagine what they are celebrating I see two young girls walk out of the house, one is crying. I watch them as if I know what they are going to do before it happens. They look at one another and run full speed through the gate and toward the gazebo. I know if I don’t get out of their way, they are going to barrel right through me. As I head back up the street the blur of their dresses pass by me. I look back just as the girls cannonball off the gazebo and into the oil slicked creek.
Back through town, I pass Seacove and Buckley’s and Clayton Huey and Mcdonald’s. Each little shop, each restaurant, accompanied with a memory all their own. I turn left onto Senix and head toward Surrey Drive. The blue house on the right, after you cross the intersection of Drew Lane, That was mine. My best friends all lived on this block or within a block of it. The sun has started making its descend to the other side of the earth and I notice a large group of kids emerge from their respective driveways, all dressed in black. I pause and watch them for a minute. There is a young girl, about 12, letting everyone know the basic rules. “No backyards, no babysitting, this pole is base, and if you can’t find anyone you are IT again… GOT IT?”. All the hoods nod in agreement. Within seconds the streets are abandon and all you hear is the last black hood by the telephone phone pole counting “5,6,7,8…”.
Nothing says “summer” like a game of manhunt.
As I head back toward Cynthia I take a left and end up by the railroad tracks on Wilcox. My mother always said those railroad tracks were dangerous. I decide to take the truck route instead. I glance to my right and notice the old tin can. It always reminded me of that, a half-buried aluminum can at the beach. I walked into the side parking lot to get a better look. Classic rock was blaring from the back of the building. I slowly approach, trying not to frighten the kittens napping in the dirt. I poke my head in a large garage door on the back end; the entire place smells like cigarettes and fresh rolls of canvas. The scent makes my hair stand on end. From the loft upstairs I can hear a muffled conversation between a man and a women. The voices are all too familiar.
I take off again. Running faster than I had ever run before. Back through town, passing the fireman and the wedding, and the girls in the soaking wet dresses. Leaving behind the tin can and all its scents. I rush passed the Ketchum Inn and turn down Belleview. I am running so fast that I am not sure if my feet are even hitting the ground. I cut a right down Winnie Road and slow down as I approach the white and green house at the end of street on Laura Lee.
There are not many cars there, but I hear a roar of voices from the back yard. I walk down the neighbors side yard. I have no idea what I am doing here. It is night now, so I know they will not see me. There are about eight people on the deck that takes up ¾ of the yard. They are all dressed in costume, smoking cigarettes and laughing…just like I remember. I couldn’t stop staring if I wanted to. It was a glimpse of a life I forgot I was a part of.
After some time of listening to their stories and terrible karaoke, the house goes dark. Suddenly black all at once and there I stood in a backyard of a stranger’s summer house on Laura Lee Drive. When I shimmied my way back to the front of the house, I wanted to get one more look at the house I knew so well. But what I saw, instead, was a house in the process of being lifted, under total construction.
What is going on?
As I make my way back up and down the streets of Center Moriches and head back to my car, I notice that the wedding is over, the fireman is gone. The blue house on the right doesn’t look the same as I left it. Everything is different, including me. The happenings of today were not moments at all. They were my memories.
My grandmother always said you can never go back home. I couldn’t grasp the truth in it all until I walked back down Main Street. This is not my town, anymore. It belongs to a new generation who will attend their aunts wedding at St. John’s Church, or wave at their Uncle who works for the fire department. To the kids whose mom takes them on a bike ride to visit their dad at the old tin can. To the next mourning sisters who, instead of crying at the funeral, decide the best solution to death is jumping into the creek. It belongs to grandfathers with their big house on the bay. It doesn’t belong to me; only to my ghosts. They roam the streets alongside you, yet I am the only one who sees them. I am wading in the waters of then and now with the waves crashing into the present only to draw back to the past.