May 4, 2006

Ghosts

We ate popsicles in the sunshine. I remember innocent days like the vision of a ghost. Atlanta was hot and humid in the summers and there was a constant swirl of imaginary oasis on the wide highways. The grass turned brown in April and the red clay dried hard under our toes. In autumn, we rode bikes along the Chattahoochee and imagined Indians on horseback, slaves in cotton fields.

I only remember it in fragments, small pieces like a broken mirror. The murky pond in our backyard and the loud croaking of bullfrogs. My windows shut tight to the dark, swaying trees. Chicken pox. Cinderella birthday parties. Dogwoods and tall pines. The magnolia tree that housed my imaginary fortress. The hamster that died on the wheel.

I remember Mom cried when we sold the station wagon. I asked Daddy why she was crying. We were buying a mini van, much nicer than the old wagon. He told me that it was their first car, that they had lots of memories in that car. They bought the station wagon in New Jersey, when they were first married. I bet she rode in it to the hospital when their first baby was born, the baby that didn’t make it. His name was Alexander and he died after two days. I didn’t know it then; didn’t know about my big brother, didn’t know I wasn’t the first.

But the mini van came and went. We got another one. And another. And then we moved back to New Jersey. I was fourteen then and eager to leave. Mom cried again and when we got home, up north, in Jersey, she cried more. She spent a year crying in our rental house, the mini van parked in the driveway.

It was eight years before I went back to Atlanta. It smells of pine needles and magnolia. The roads wind about tall trees and the homes tower high, looking out towards the hills, towards Stone Mountain, the past.

There is slave blood on the streets in Atlanta. It runs down the hills into the Chattahoochee and turns the soil deep orange-red. I always knew there were ghosts in the hot summer air. The air here is thick. I want to go home.