September 28, 2012
The house where I spent most of my childhood, from the time I was four, was built on a hill. We lived on the upper end of one side of a cul-de-sac. At the top of the hill there were vacant lots and low-rent condominiums that my imagination could make anything from a dungeon to an alien spaceship. The hill overlooked a broad low-lying area, and in every direction, at varying distances, the land rose up. From my bedroom window or the backyard I could look around and feel like I was on the inside edge of a very large bowl. Sometimes, especially in the fall, there would be foggy patches in the low area, or, on rare occasions, fog would fill it entirely.
I think I remember the first time I saw fog, before I even knew what it was. My friend Troy and I were standing on the section of driveway behind my house that formed a sort of level platform. At its edge there was a gentle slope down to the backyard. Troy’s house was at the bottom of the hill, and the edge of the fog just touched it before it stretched outward, obscuring the houses beyond. We were five years old, always up to something, but the whole scene made us still. Off in the far distance, even through the fog, we could see cranes rising up. This must have been part of the development boom that was sweeping through the whole area. The house my parents had picked to move into had been built just a few years earlier, and now, where the rise formed the opposite side of the bowl, there were office buildings and more apartments going up. But we only saw machines, like the skeletons of dinosaurs. Troy said, very quietly, "A cloud fell. They’re trying to put it back up." I don’t know if this was a joke or if he really thought that’s what was happening. When I remember this I remember hearing the faint sound of gears, of chains clanking. Maybe those sounds are my imagination enhancing a memory. Maybe I really heard them. I don’t know. I believed a cloud had fallen and that the machines, filled with men in hard hats, were working to put it back.
A year later, on a trip to Maine, we would drive through fog so thick phantom headlights, the cars coming from the opposite direction invisible, would pass us, but at this moment I couldn’t remember ever seeing fog before. And from there I imagined a whole cloud world, that there were people who lived in the tops of clouds. I imagined it must be paradise up there, always sunny, and that whatever anyone needed could be made from cloud stuff. Homes, buildings, fantastic bridges were all built from piled up cloud. But my imagination conjuring all this just as quickly came to a precipice and couldn’t go any further. I could only wonder. Were cloud people like us? What separated us? Could I ascend to live in the clouds, or were cloud people only born there? What did cloud people think when they looked down on us? I wondered if cloud people even knew we were below them, if they watched us and wondered about us, or if they were only aware that there was a world beneath them when they fell.