Nostalgia is almost always a sly form of disdain.
I can confidently state this -- with such blunt assurance -- because I am unspeakably old. Disgustingly old. Creeping fairly confidently up to a hundred, and at this age, one is filled up with memories, the present moment, unweighted, and the memories in the end do nothing but win. 'No contest', as folks much younger than me used to say back in the day. I'm not pronouncing that the past is better; I'm not even implying that I would rather be back there, permanently. (I'm not a lunatic.) I'm simply asserting that there is no force like the past, that ever resurgent, perpetually toxic tonic of lore. It will always come back, and will never lie down.
Of course, I'd always had distinctly declamatory thoughts like this, even as a young man, perhaps even as a boy, so it's no surrpise that I was thinking about something similarly melodramatic and portentuous the day that Henry came back into our lives with all the casual ease and bravado of a thirsty traveling cowboy shoving his way through the swinging doors of an old-time saloon. (Or at least the movie version of such a speakeasy.)
If this were a story, you would not believe the next detail, nor would I expect you to, but since there's nothing fanciful going on here (at least not on the conscious level; I am, bear with me, almost one hundred, after all, and the mind does tend to fold in on itself when you hover that close to a number so vast), you can rest assured that what happened is true, or at least as true as I can make it. He returned, is what I'm saying. He returned, to the same bar where I had seen him last a dozen years in the past. He returned, and I was in the same spot, drinking quite the same drink. He returned.
Just before he shuffled his way over to my table, I had been thinking about an image from my past, (still in my thirities, yet obsessed with what I had once been), brooding on its broad dimensions, on a hazy picture of light, one that seemed to consist of disparate, fizzling sensations that built up in my chest and seemed to starburst themselves through the rest of my body, from torso to toes. It's odd to imagine an image as such being mostly bright light and shattered nerve-endings, but as the decades have dwindled, that seems about right. We feel before we see, and we remember what we sense, and in that moment a pure flash of childhood decided to make itself bright.
There was a darkness, enclosed and binding. My finger felt around the thin wedge of a hole. The inside of a hole. The boundaries of the hole. There was just enough space to squeeze one of my nails straight on in to the left. I somehow understood (no more than two, possibly three at the most) that if I lingered too long, something bad might ignite. I knew (then) that sensing was much more than seeing, and I understood (in the bar) that this could very well have been the first memory of my life.
A sense, almost erotic, of a current leaching itself out of the hole on its way to my heart. Briskly blue and diverging. I tried to poke my finger closer, further, into that hole, until my finger was knuckle-deep, and then the feeling, that static sqawl of electricty that orgasmed into pure joy, was offset by a shriek, an aural assault, and I realized that my mother was pulling my digit out of the white wall's socket, and it wasn't the electric buzz by itself that ignited my screams, but my mother's wail of panic, her purehearted moan.
Suddenly, I was no longer 'feeling' or 'sensing', but allowing my sight to seize hold, everything visible, my blind instincts abandoned, and I belatedly saw it as just a wall, a bad hole in the wall, and the smack of her palm on my cheek shook my gums like green jelly dessert, and it was thinking this thought, this after-three-beers blend of wistful and tragic spare pyschic parts, as I wondered if that childhood moment was the exact one when the pain shifted from the sting of my face to the imminent sludge of my foot, soon to be useless and void, when Henry Meadows slumped across the table from me with a sigh, the simple act of his presence popping my reverie, my mental splatter its wake, like a pimple that's burst after extended build-up.