by Steve Gaines

July 3, 1954

On my 18th Birthday
A Memorial to an Ill-Spent Youth

It was so long ago
and I seldom bring it back these days
surprised to look at that age of adventure
from this distant couch
unable to recapture that careless attitude…
reluctant to admit the inability I suppose…
but here goes anyway

it was another hot July
nothing less than a tradition in Nebraska
another distant reminder of my birth…
one hundred and sixteen degrees…
still a record even as I write this…
in nineteen ninety-five!

but I digress…

there were three of us…
on that long ago night…
young men beginning a convoluted search
a self defined rite of passage
anticipation redolent on the humid night…
expecting the impossible
dressed in all the wrong questions
in that Summer of nineteen fifty-four
living off the heat of our first freedom
out in the world on our way
in a rush away from nowhere
ill defined in all the mistakes of our youth
coming of age in a curious vacuum
and benignly uncommitted
to any well defined course of action
leafing aimlessly down the days
adrift in those flavorless echoes…
disconnected from anything as simple as ambition
silently constructed on nothing of the future
falling free in that soundless innocence
waiting not so gracefully for adulthood
curiously alive and accepting impatience
as a credo
sadly unaware of the great skill we all possessed
to simply let things happen…

it was my birthday night
and we were out on the prowl…
women hunting…
on a mission…
looking for action…
combed and scrubbed
setting out at long last toward manhood
crashing a Friday night dance at the KC hall
in a random little Nebraska village
boys from the big city cruising the rural opportunity
dressed in our sophistication and big city smells
sweeping onto the scene
prepared to accept any reasonable offer of country charm…

no one noticed…
our entrance unremarkable in its fanfare…
no great expressions of admiration…
no crush of lustful teenagers descending ala Elvis

deflated in the precipitous silence
we ignored the slight…
casual pretense turning to disappointment

so new at the game…
playing at manhood ill-prepared
tilting at the possibilities of conquest
incapable in our great hopes
of the masculine stances of our conspicuous dreams
and other Hollywood lessons…

when the music stopped we scuffed at the shadows
casually pretending we weren’t really serious
quickly sampled the tastes left in the summer smoke…
hard floors and giggling corners
sadly incapable of confidence
gave up the chase too soon
and left the hall in a blur of mock impatience

it had been a typical exercise
in post-adolescent futility
ill-timed and over anticipated…
not so ready for the great conquest
we had invented in our fondest boasts
three young men at odds with their new rumblings
all victims of a brand new libido set astir…
powerless in the reality

like a set of bells never ringing in their swing…

that was how my nineteenth year began!

today… forty years plus down that Freudian road
it seems a quaint time…
filled with so little of significance
where we had scratched at nothing of the least pain
and worked at only the easy and pointless comforts
discovered nothing in diametrics or differences
but settled only for results not reasons…
and the results were few!