Freedom is an old photograph abandoned by context. Our old house was washed out by decades of breathing in the sun, and in one particularly hot Indiana summer, the burnt landscape and writhing horizon kept the world in a box of faded pictures. In this particular photograph, wear has only refined the truth of that moment when I clicked the button and boxed up the old house in a white plastic Polaroid frame.
The house was repossessed years ago, but no one's bought it. I came here on whim, in the wake of age and riding the wave of nostalgia that often comes around thirty. When the bank took the house, we picked up what material things tethered us to the sanity of comfort--the television, phones, some knick-knacks--and disappeared in the night. The next several months were a slow, staccato road trip of motels and the witching hour deals for herb and drink--much like the life in that old house, but without the glowing portrait of our own beds to make everything else all right when we were out haunting the old buildings about town. This photograph doesn't show any of that, though. Not even a shadow cast by any of us over the yard. Just the house wheezing in the summer heat.
It's right, though. I haven't seen any of them in years. We scattered, as bohemians do, off to find something short and hot, and to find it again, perpetually. We were like single-strike matches, you know, always with our heads under the heel. Some of us burned out, others started wildfires, and still others dove into the wood pile and hoped. It was the terrible freedom that curses youth; it's the smell of sweat that gets you high. You want comfort until you feel the wet breath of a girl's palm on your chest. It's the strangeness that delights, and then concerns, and then terrifies.
And so that is all the context, and that is the cage. That is the white plastic Polaroid border, and right there in the middle is the old house, breathing it's last breath. It's standing only on our memories of it, or maybe only mine. I have only a flash in my head of that moment when I took the photograph, and it slips further away every time I think of it.
I see the street and it's sticky web of black repairs. I see the patchwork yard and the dead strips of perfectly rectangular grass where the bleached siding laid bathing loose in the suffocating sun, summer after summer. I see the rocky edge of the yard and the tire tracks. The windows are opaque, coated in the ghosts of the herb that sustained us, breathed in and out, all catch and release. The walls are powdery and hail-pocked. The roof is weary and streaked with years of tiny terrible landslides. They filled the gutter with grit, pouring down the spout like a dry rain stick. The dirt is hard and cracked.
I wonder how many days were lost in hidden memories, looping endlessly on magnetic strips, or gasping for air in a box somewhere in this attic. I feel neglectful, keeping them all here, leaving them to rot, long forgotten. I know they'll never get out. They could scale the box, drop from the attic window, and flutter across the yard, but then what? They'd have to scale the plastic border around the house and they'd find themselves right back in the box. It's recycling decay. It's all just nostalgia. It's the snake eating its tail because it reminds him of himself. I've been sitting here eating my own tail, starving on memories.
We were all like single-strike matches. I light the old boxes up and walk outside, right to where I took the photo. Smoke rolls out into the rooms as the photos catch. The windows are dark and opaque, the land is scorched, and the house is wilted. It feels like a mercy killing. Assisted suicide. The smoke seeps from the drafty heep, the spirit of memories turning up into the dry, sepia sky. I can feel my skin harden from the heat. The house starts to tumble, and you'd think someone would notice. You'd think someone would call the fire department.
An old man stops next to me and remarks on the shame of the recent rash of wildfires, then walks on. A woman about my age walks a curve into the street, just around the yard. A teenager stops to snap a photo on his phone.