Dear Woman Who Lived Up On The Hill Near The Lighthouse

apology Dear woman who lived up on the hill near the lighthouse,

Sorry for stealing the head of that Greek statue from your lawn.

You might not even have noticed it was missing. There was lots of stuff on your lawn. That’s what brought us there that night, actually, to your street, the name of which I forget, if I ever knew it, in Highlands, New Jersey. There’s a “Witches Lane” up around there somewhere, according to Google Maps, but that would be too perfect for this story, so that’s probably not it. Anyway, yes, we-me and a car full of similarly intoxicated teenagers-we came to see your lawn, so different as it was from most lawns in our area. You’d made it into a display, a found-art project, a sculpture garden of carefully arranged junk. Old toys, mostly. Dolls, teddy bears, fire-trucks, action figures, all sorts of things, all weathered and sun-bleached, set on couches and pedestals. Legend had it that you’d had a child who had died years back, a son, and that every year on his birthday you added another toy to the collection. This could not have been completely accurate, because there must have been more than seventy pieces there-it looked like the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s-and I don’t think your house was even that old. But I don’t know, maybe you added numerous items every year. Whatever the case, it looked creepy. And that story made it creepier. It was dark and secluded and so a fun place to park and smoke pot and stare at the all the unblinking dolls eyes til we got the heebie-jeebies and sped away.

This was in 1987, I think. Junior year of high school. My friend James and I had spent the early part of the evening at the Front Street Trattoria in Red Bank. There was no bar in the restaurant; it didn’t have a liquor license. But we had worked there washing dishes the summer before, and the waitstaff let us drink with our dinner if we brought our own beer. We felt very grown up. We didn’t act that way, though; pyramids of empties on the table-the privilege didn’t last very long.

Everything was going great that night, though. We were chuffed and loaded when our friends Jen and Jen came to pick us up. There may have been another Jen in the car, too. (You’re aware, I’m sure, of the popularity of the name Jen among girls born in the early 1970s.) And maybe another person, too. I don’t remember too well. But there were a lot of us squeezed into the back seat when we set off without any particular destination.

We ended up at your house, of course, idling in front of your yard, passing a bowl around and trying to spook each other out. It was probably eleven o’clock or so when, in a burst of bad decision making obviously fueled by some insecure need to prove myself fearless and free-spirited, I opened the door, dashed out, grabbed the nearest artifact I could put my hands on, scrambled back in and shouted “Go!” Everyone was laughing and screaming as we peeled out. I felt heroic. Or anti-heroic. I felt just the way I wanted to feel.

Once we’d driven down the hill and got on the main road, street lights gave me a look at what was on my lap. It was the head of a Greek statue. A male head. That gray, plaster-cement stuff. I remember the smooth, hollow eyes and the molded curls in the hair. Like the head of an adventurer who’d met Medusa’s gaze. The car got quieter, and whoever was driving, Jen I think, let it be known that she was not so happy to have stolen property in the car. Someone else started talking about how the thing was probably cursed. Suddenly, it didn’t feel so good to be holding this head. Stoned as I was, I didn’t like the idea of a curse. What if it blinked, or started talking? What if I woke up later that night, and it was propped next to my pillow? What if blood started to drip from the eyes? So as we drove over the bridge into Seabright, I rolled down the window, and leaned out as far as I could and heaved the thing over the side. Thank God there wasn’t some late-night crabber down there, rowing himself to Bahr’s Landing by flashlight-this apology would be addressed to someone else, and it would likely have been written from a very different place.

But this is an apology to you. I don’t have a good excuse. I was an idiot kid who too often did idiot kid things. I really hope the story wasn’t true, and that you were just an eccentric artist like the guy who built the big junk sculpture in the community garden on 6th Street and Ave. B. Eddie Boros was his name, he died a few years ago. I lived in a building adjacent to the garden when I first moved to the city. I would look out at the sculpture and think of your yard and feel a twinge of guilt. If the story was true, if you had lost a child, however many years before, and if (please have this not be the case) you noticed the missing statue head and that brought you even the slightest bit of further sadness, well, something like this whimsical little anecdote doesn’t even begin to cover how really very, very sorry I am.