johnston

Baptism
by Joseph Johnston

The death of my dreaming renaissance during the great migration east was summarized in a puny, beeping box called Wesclox and it was time to get up for my first day of high school in a city I’d only arrived in the day before.

My parents were 1,200 miles west trying to sell our house, and I was holed up in my uncle’s old bedroom back east at Grandma and Grandpa’s. I snoozed the alarm and turned on a bedside lamp in the bicentennial decor common when my uncle slept there. The patriotic lampshade illuminated a bookcase, and I grabbed what would be my scripture for the following three months until my family joined me in this unfamiliar land. The book was Charles Schulz’s Happiness is a Warm Puppy and at that moment no one in history had written a more peaceful tome.

I couldn’t eat breakfast. My stomach was closed. It was on Mountain Time, two hours prior, and used to summertime sleeping-in besides. Grandpa dropped me off at school and told me to ask for the registrar.

I was unregistered. Anywhere. No one knew where I was. No one knew who I was. Nobody in the world was accounting for me.

I walked right on by the high school and headed for the woods beyond the ballfield. I heard cicadas for the first time and thought it was the sound of electricity traversing the high-tension power lines above. There were no aspen trees but plenty of maple. The yards had green grass instead of yucca arrangements. No mountains but a sea of corn. And a lake. Not a reservoir; a natural lake.

I’d deal with my locker room fear tomorrow. I missed my family. My house. I didn’t need school. I needed baptism in that lake.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: I don’t have any pics of myself from that move, but this is the cover of my uncle’s Peanuts book that provided me such solace during that time. One page in particular, indicating happiness was walking across the grass in your bare feet, remains a kind of mantra.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I was 14, my family moved from Colorado to Michigan in truncated fashion: my little brother and I arrived by air so I could begin high school on the first day, my father followed a week later to begin his new job, and finally after two months my mother and the rest of my siblings arrived and things gradually got back to normal. It was a bizarre time, rife with a disjointed homesickness that was evidenced perfectly when I realized no one in school authority had any idea who I was or where I’d come from or where I was supposed to be.

joe johnston

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Writer and filmmaker Joseph Johnston made his first movie at the age of 11, an industrial espionage thriller that continues to play to excited crowds in his parent’s living room every Christmas. His prose, poetry, and video literature have appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, and Iron Horse Literary Review. He currently resides in Michigan, where is working on a documentary and book about the history of boxing in Detroit.