When I was very young I had seven brothers and sisters and a mother and father and we lived on a big ranch in the middle-southern United States. We farmed and all of my brothers and sisters helped out and so did I, for a time, until I grew rebellious and struck out on my own at the age of fourteen to go live in rural Massachusetts. I found a small one-bedroom house, like a cottage, in a place where the speed limit was fifteen and there was a really great grocery store nearby but I didn’t know how to use it properly because I was so used to eating farmed vegetables and meat and milk and brushing my teeth with clay and all of that nutty stuff that one does when one is raised with seven siblings on an old-fashioned farm by a couple of pilgrim-like middle-aged people. I got a pot and a pan and some carrots the first night and ate them with butter sitting on my bare floor in my empty apartment, and then I took a long shower with water that got so hot but had forgotten towels, obviously, I didn’t own anything, so I had to dry myself off with clothes from my suitcase, most of which were dirty because you don’t ask your parents to do your laundry the day before you run away from them forever. I got odd jobs and made a good friend in Mr. Aberdeen who lived three miles down and took pity on me when I was playing my banjo outside the hardware store the first Sunday after I moved in. Mr. Aberdeen dropped off twenty dollars here and there, which I paid him back after I got my first ghostwriting check, with interest (the interest was pumpkins; I had grown them successfully by my driveway and a few weighed over fifteen pounds). My family couldn’t write me. I didn’t know if they’d even have wanted to. Who was going to brush the old cranky mare who once bit Anna-Louise’s middle finger almost clean off? Who was going to gather eggs when nobody felt like confronting the smell; oh, and maybe that was why little Warren ran away, after all. I was hired at a bait-and-tackle store and eventually worked my way up to assistant manager, I got a vision plan, I listened to Fred Armisen’s punk band and wore jeans and took mushrooms with Mr. Aberdeen in his study, while his wife worked on her dissertation, and he showed me the neighbor’s pool through his telescope. I got bronchitis. I accumulated a television and a futon — the futon was quilted, it was beautiful, I have it still, the rings from ghosts of sweating drinks on its wooden arms — and watched Red Sox games, glowing, there was no other light yet, except the built-in bathroom light which cast cozy shadows into the kitchen. Mr. Aberdeen let me bum his cigarettes, I learned which bars would let me in without any ID and gradually could not remember the smell of the chickens or the crunchy, milky undercooked corn or my sibling’s names or my parent’s names. And there was no price in forgetting them, other than fourteen years of pre-existence and if nobody else mourns their pre-existing years, why should I? The bartender asked where I was from and I told her that I was from here, and it may as well have been the truth: Mr. Aberdeen and his wife my dutiful modern parents, the loose hand with the firm grasp, the snow drifts every February and the occasional trip to Chestnut Hill mall at Christmas time, the lunch at Legal Seafoods, the Santa’s lap and store-bought tree. I had just to say “Chestnut Hill Mall” to know that I had been to Chestnut Hill Mall: the slick escalator and the polished floors, the bright corridors and ambient illumination of Restoration Hardware, which I imagined sold screws and hammers, but which in fact does sell screws and hammers, in a way.
Mr. Aberdeen passed away two months before my twentieth birthday. He choked on a steaming piece of brie en croute served at a bridge party. There weren’t as many mourners as I would have thought. The service left me disturbed. I accepted a ride to the T station after eating the requisite scone and offering my condolences, and rode it back and forth all day until I was stranded in Harvard square while the train was put to sleep for the night. The young people were hanging out by the doors of an Au Bon Pain and the old people were plopped on the stairs by the entrance to the T with guitars or cups or just a sad downcast to them, and I realized how lucky I was to be one of the young instead of one of the old. That was all that divided them, their only preexisting conditions. I could hang out outside the Au Bon Pain or otherwise assume their rightful-placeness, their familiarity with the slice of the world they were inhabiting, and so I did. And where on my ghostwriting resume it said “BA, Harvard University,” that was just me asserting my youthful vim, my young hum, and of course it was simple for me to rattle off the places I had enjoyed drinking during my years in Cambridge and my favorite famous professors and of course you could not forget the notable architecture and that one lady in physics who had the affectation of wearing feather boas to lecture (I had watched her enter the lecture hall, doodling in my spiral notebook from a damp perch under a tree). It was so easy, I wondered why everybody didn’t do it: but then again, perhaps it was just because everybody wasn’t doing it that I was allowed to sneak by. Which is excellent; I have no compunction about this particular lie. There are far worse lies. One could tell one’s spouse “You’re beautiful” and not mean it and that would be an example of something far worse.