Roy A. Barnes
Why is my life so pathetic? Donovan Lovell thought to himself over and over again during an unexpected business trip which had brought him back to an old haunt. It was situated in the Middle of Nowhere, Wyoming. Spare time after lunch afforded him the opportunity to re-visit the town’s nine block stretch called Lincoln Avenue. Donovan had his reasons for heading there. It was the place of his youth - the only place he really felt at home, a cocoon from the realities of growing up. Now his life seemed nothing but harsh realities.
He drove to his old address in a mid-sized, non-descript rental car. Its radio blared out a classic tune from Debby Boone. As Donovan’s senses took in the crooning of You Light Up My Life by Pat Boone’s daughter, he remembered his first love who lived in his old neighborhood. The song about someone giving another hope to continue on with life was a big hit during their adolescent romance.
A few minutes later, he stepped out after parking the sedan just beyond the front of a small corner grocery store, Marringer’s Market. Wes Marringer - Big Man On Campus, Star Quarterback, and Homecoming King, was fastening a sign onto the window that read, “LEAN HAMBURGER $1.99/LB”. Donovan could recognize that face anywhere, even though it had fattened over the last fifteen years since he last saw it (just like the rest of his body). Donovan nodded, Wes smiled back like any good ambassador of one’s business would to a potential customer. As far as Donovan knew, he didn’t even exist to the B.M.O.C. during their school days in Jake’s Valley. Two very different men with common threads to a past found themselves today looking through the same window. Lincoln Avenue was the street where both of them, as young men, had spent the best years of their lives. Donovan longed to feel alive again, and hoped a journey to the past would be the right prescription.
He strolled down Lincoln Avenue. The springtime air was clear and crisp. Soon, he found himself before a home numbered 568. He stopped to study the place that housed his late childhood and teenage years. Donovan had grown up here, but more importantly, grown inward at 568. The Colonial Revival appeared to have fresh coats of white paint and green trim, but otherwise, the exterior looked relatively the same as when he called this place home for those six coming-of-age years. The façade of the garage emanated a real shoddiness to it, as when Donovan attempted countless jump shots towards the attached backboard and hoop, which were no longer present.
Donovan’s senses captured the fragrance of an untrimmed mulberry bush that slightly jutted out onto the sidewalk from the property. This particular scent transported the 40- something’s mind and emotions back to another time when an uncharted, yet promising destiny awaited him. It was when the opportunity to be a part of the unfolding of life itself, with all its alluring grandeur, still existed.
He was the smartest boy in Lincoln Avenue Middle School, appreciated and openly lauded by Mrs. Madison, his seventh grade English teacher. The belle of that 4th period class fancied Donovan, who stared at him often from across the two islands of desks that separated the soon-to-be puppy lovers during that glorious autumn in Jake’s Valley before a harsh winter would attack the town. Even daydreaming about the era’s coldest days, blanketed with layers of snow, provided a feeling of warmth for him in this vacuum of backwards time travel.
As an adult, Donovan just wasn’t cutting it with his contemporaries, and suffered through one unfulfilling job after another. He was enjoying this journey back to his chapter of adolescence, devoid of bitter experiences for the time being.
Minutes later, a rumbling Harley raced by, returning Donovan to his current state of reality. At once, he noticed a robin touching down on one of the top tentacles of the mulberry bush. Its eyes turned to gaze at him.
As if entreating the creature of flight for an answer he couldn’t find anywhere else, Donovan muttered, "Why can’t I have those days back?"
The robin didn’t answer. It took wing to quickly dart off into the cloudless sky.
Donovan stood motionless. The resolution he’d hoped to find had eluded him. LEAN HAMBURGER $1.99/LB, he thought, which led him to ultimately picture ol’ Wes Marringer in the spotlight of the Friday night lights throwing deep into the end zone. Donovan then recalled the warm, but wordless exchange they’d shared earlier in the afternoon. Maybe Lincoln Avenue was no more or no less than any other residential street in any other town. Could the value of Lincoln Avenue lay not in what it once held, not in the memory that Donovan had of it? Was Lincoln Avenue’s present state all that mattered now: that Wes was getting along (though not as gloriously), that robins still flew, and that mulberry bushes still bloomed to the seasonal clock? If so, Donovan Lovell could move on, too.
As Donovan walked back to the rental car, tears stung his cheeks. He could never fully leave the past to Lincoln Avenue, but he also came to the realization that he didn’t have to.
A child raced by on his Schwin as Donovan wiped the tears away with his left sleeve. The wheel spokes had playing cards in them, which generated a constant cracking sound. A terrier barked on in the distance. Heading in Donovan’s direction on the sidewalk was a young family. His eyes met theirs momentarily. Another nod of the head, with more warm smiles exchanged.
As Donovan started the engine, a sense of thanksgiving filled his being. He would be departing Lincoln Avenue with a newfound sense of purpose due to those nine residential blocks in that no-name town of Jake’s Valley, Wyoming, where hope springs eternal.
Roy A. Barnes writes from Cheyenne, WY. Besides Breath & Shadow, his poetry, prose, and other works have been published in books like Freckles to Wrinkles, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and also in online and print publications like Poesia, joyful!, and The Willamette Writer. He has Asperger's Syndrome.