On Friday, the crowd stopped by the most vulnerable place. A library. An orchard. A school.
The people in the crowd raided bakeries because they’d never baked bread. Shot at rotten houses because they’d never had to live in filth. Every experience they didn’t get, they annihilated for the humans to come.
Then the caravan trudged onward. The nurses on duty cursed as they removed broken glass from bleeding bodies.
They had marched for the same number of days as the age of their oldest walker. 83.
I traveled with the crowd for 9 Fridays. On the 10th, the crowd schemed to raid every treehouse in a suburb where white picket fences got hosed with an unlimited supply of potable water. Where roads extended into dead ends and every pothole was the cause for an evening’s complaint.
I grew up in a place like that. Then I left for a college more isolated than my town. All while I dreamed to see more.
When the crowd swept through the candy aisle, I joined. My father said, “Don’t go.”
I said nothing when I slammed through his door. Behind me, my mother cried.
Some memorable members of the crowd were: Henry, who squeezed his legs close at the table to pick dirt from under his toenails. Bella, who showed off a shirt dotted with brown blood and yellow grease. Bob and Nellie, who smothered each other in wet and rough kisses in the aftermath of every Friday.
Bettina had gone to Princeton back when her hair still grew evenly around her head. Patches wore a Wellesley tee, though we suspected it was left by the balanced Beth.
Beth only stayed for 5 Fridays. Henry burned her wellgroomed hair on the eve of the 6th.
The people in the crowd, like me, had been lost in a world where they could dream too much. They worried about never going out of state. Having to quit Mountain Dew. Working for a world they’d been brought up to use. Seeing time wane to complete the adventures they planned during puberty.
The formal life was work without a 100% reward guarantee. But how rewarding and easy it was to crash!
The crowd recruited at gas stations where knackered travelers kicked broken coffee machines on the way to sunny beaches. The moment the machines mattered most, we sucked them in.
We plucked people waiting in the longest lines for the perfect Christmas gifts. We gave them a discount on life’s flaws. Come with us. Stand in front of the line.
We got frustrated adolescents, as long as they were of age, when their phones grew slower with age. We threw them out if they complained.
Bill, our oldest, who lashed out at girls in tight jeans, said he’d had many dreams when young. None involved work, house-building, or child-rearing.
“I got sucked into that crowd too soon,” Bill said, “In this one, I am free.”
We respected Bill. We let Bill get the best hits.
Here is what the crowd did. We marched for 4 days. Let everything loose on the 5th. Then celebrated on the 6th. And on the 7th, we stopped and observed something we could not touch. Something mysterious. Beautiful.
A sunset on the plane. Waves rolling from afar. Winds upsetting foliage 40 feet above us. Speckles of dust escaping down the road.
We revered what we could not destroy.
I left on the Sunday the crowd looked for fireflies on the edge of a forest. The people yelled and pointed. They loved the insects’ glamorous sparkle.
When I said, “I’m done,” the crowd left me with a bat, a can of lukewarm beer, and a pack of Twinkies. The last two stolen from a ravaged gas station.
9 Fridays back, I had a home with a pleasant fireplace. I had a dorm room with well-fed cockroaches.
I’d left for a trail of broken glass and strangers’ shattered dreams. Now I was walking towards the past again.
I moved by night like a blind wildcat. Sometimes I used my credit card for sustenance. Sometimes, stole. Illegal was delicious.
I shied away from dimly lit motels where men like Bill would not approve of my tight jeans. They drove idly by and yelled incomprehensible compliments, insults, and requests. They gestured like wild baboons.
I had a bat but not a crowd. I laughed into the men’s faces only in my nightmares.
5 Fridays back, students at the school we attacked were having a fight in the courtyard. I wanted to tell them, Stop, please. No more carnage here. But the teacher who’d disapproved of me 5 Fridays ago yelled first.
6 Fridays back, I got hungry. By the library we trashed, volunteers handed out frozen sticks of juice. They wore church caps and pretty smiles. Served decaffeinated coffee with aspartame and creamer.
I took two servings of popsicles and coffee. Twice. The volunteers didn’t even blink when I approached the second time.
They asked me if I knew Jesus, who loves me. I said, I just left another crowd. And they handed me a tiny free Bible. I disposed of the book in the library’s recycling bin along with soggy paper cups.
7 Fridays back lay a ravaged orchard. We left nothing memorable there.
8 Fridays back, I got the shivers of approaching home. “Surprise, Dad,” I said in my nightmares. “Surprise, Mom.” I woke up.
I got dizzy 8 Sundays back, at sunset. I spun under the open sky dome, saw turquoise, periwinkle, and scarlet. I saw stripes and spots and vastness.
On Monday, I wondered where home was. I was getting personal options again. Decisions harder than choosing which side of the crowd to claim.
10 Fridays ahead, the crowd marched up the rope ladder to a tiny wooden home. Less than one Friday behind, I could build a tree house of my own.
At night, I spun under the sky again. Somewhere, pudgy pigeons feasted on my abandoned Twinkie crumbs. Wild cats shone their eyes in the dark. The wind whooshed over treetops for all the Sundays to come.
At dawn, I marched into the mysterious alone.