I silently begged, pleaded with Molly to talk to me. Anything, I won’t tell! I’d gently hold her warm mutt head in my hands, bend her dog face to mine, lock eyes, hers brown and soulful, and implore her: say something, anything. Let me know that what I know is true. Say something. In the craziest moments, we came close. So I felt. Close to talking. What would she say? What language would she use to mend the cleavage between animals? This I must know. Say something, anything, I won’t tell! What I really didn’t know—beyond if she could, or would she, or what she’d say, what complaints or agreements or backyard or rec room secrets she’d whimper—was where I’d go if I heard her right, what world I’d tumble into, what world I’d leave behind, if Molly said.
In spring, the crab apple tree in the front yard grew heavy with bitter, marble-like fruits and Gothic with awful caterpillar nests, silk clouds of milky white suspended in the trees, loathsome tents bursting with a thousand caterpillars; we’d light them on fire every year. Before the nests would arrive, before my mom would sigh, I’d climb the tree, loving the time alone and the argument with gravity that kept me tethered to the house and the family that I wanted distance from, even as I was building imaginative houses in the tree, knowing and naming the crooked hallways, slim desks and windows in twists of limbs and thatches of crowded leaves, here a cramped staircase of winding limbs, there a bay window, a clearing of branches onto the lawn and the maple tree on the other side of the yard where I built another house in my head, propped against a dresser of thick, brown limbs, sitting, trying to doze—guarded against the fear of falling—in a rocking chair made of sympathetic branches, a kind of L bent enough to say chair, and hold me. This was my home’s doppelganger, my tree’s parallel house, a blueprint of floor and wall and roof that I drew in my head, every day up there in the trees against the fading sunlight, a dream as substantial as the structure I dreamt in.
There’s no greater emblem for suburban futility than a Frisbee on the roof. You’re playing with a friend, enjoying the sun and the breeze, when an errant toss and a wind gust conspire against the afternoon: Frisbee’s on the roof, man. Step back to the furthest edge of the yard and crane your neck and peer at it, if you can see it, and you know that the day’s possibilities have been foreshortened not only by the mishap but by your youth, your size, the fascistic insistence of parents, older people, necessary people. The sun seems to be disappearing too quickly. You have to wait for your dad to get the ladder. You’re too small or scared to get it yourself. You wait. You’ll have to wait. But isn’t there always a cooler kid—or maybe it’s your friend who’s cool, suddenly—who’ll get the ladder, laughing wide-eyed as he wrestles it out of the garage or the backyard, it’s impossibly heavy, and your chest tingles at the promise of anarchy; or he climbs a tree and lunges dangerously for the roof, and inside you’re excited for the outcome, this nerve against adults, oh man the possibilities! Or you simply wait. Where’s the memoir written by that cool kid with the nerve to step into Grownupland? I want to read that account, see how it’s been tempered, or reduced, or elevated, or exaggerated by the passage of time and the scars borne of dutiful citizenship in Adultville. Where’s that kid now?