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Saturday, July 13, 2013

What I once was

October 3, 1980

A cold wind ripples the surface of the brown water, smearing the reflections of otherwise crisp colors.
The air, chilled with the first hint of frost, makes everything vivid above, a sharp blue sky, distinct pine needles on nearby trees, and stiff-edged changing leaves still flapping on the end of branches.
October isn’t always cold, but it is this year as roadside vendors pile bright orange pumpkins in preparation for Halloween – the day for which marks the real change of season from fall to winter, even if the calendar says differently.
People on both sides of the river stock pile firewood, dragged up from the banks where dying trees have fallen, but reluctant to set any blaze until the deepest chill sets in.
It is the scent of burning woods that makes me ache most, filling me with some odd mood, not the Christmas spirit exactly, but almost.
I used to cross the river here at the Outwater Lane bridge to trick-or-treat when too many cheapskates on the Clifton side refused to give candy to kids dressed up as witches and ghosts claiming the whole ritual was against their religions when we all knew they just didn’t want to give any candy to anyone at all.
I always stopped mid-bridge to peer over, hoping to see my reflection in the water below, but never did, needing to know what I looked like in my latest disguise.
I never really liked being a monster, but always something real, from tolp-hatted rich guys to floppy-hatted hoboes, sometimes even a sailor or a spy.
A few kids cross the bridge now, deserters from Paterson or Passaic, whose parents have arranged for them to attend the better schools on the Garfield side, they, too, halted mid-bridge to stare over the side, as if unable to believe who they’ve become and perhaps to wonder if they were revert back to what they were when they re-cross the bridge just as I did way back then.
Gulls hand over their heads, crying into the vivid sky, a few bar wallows weave up from under the bridge’s arches. Somewhere on the far side of the river, church bells toll, rippling the air the way the wind does the water, making me feel small again, making me wonder if I might become what I once was if I cross back over the bridge to the other side.

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