Posted by: Robin | February 18, 2009

Bumping into History

I just read Tony Hoagland’s poem called “History of Desire” on the February 18, 2009, edition of Writer’s Almanac website. It gave me a fizzy stomach with another of those “ecstasy of perfect recognition” moments Stephen King wrote about. It is about a seventeen-year-old boy, who after talking late at night to his first girlfriend is so hyped up that he sneaks out and spray paints the water tower with their names. Ten years later on a trip home he drives by it.

“This is how history catches up

—by holding still until you
bump into yourself.
What makes you blush, and shove
the pedal of the Mustang

almost through the floor
as if you wanted to spray gravel
across the features of the past,
or accelerate into oblivion?

Are you so out of love that you
can’t move fast enough away?
But if desire is acceleration,
experience is circular as any . . .”

Recently I have been back in touch with some friends from high school. One of them suggested we plan to go to our next high school reunion together. The thought gave me the willies. When I go home once or twice a year and visit my father and grandparents’ graves I must face my own teenage insanity in the form of a hundred-foot water tower that I climbed with a group of friends, but I am saved from mortification by our anonymity. On the other hand, when I went to the three class reunions I now eschew, that was an entirely different story.

You see, I was famous in my day for throwing huge parties that anyone could attend (because initially I was afraid I’d forget to invite someone and their feelings would be hurt [she says rolling her eyes]). I hated these parties. The noise clamored in my head so loudly I couldn’t think straight, and people were hanging from the rafters, smashed shoulder to shoulder. It was a constant vigil for trouble and broken furniture (because of numbers rather than violence).

I did not provide booze, or allow it (except for the final BYO sr. year), or allow anyone to go upstairs except for the bathroom. The snacks all came out of a bag. All that happened was that lots of people came, and everyone had a great time that they couldn’t stop talking about it. It would take my close friends another three months or so to pester me into throwing another with promises of helping. It went on from 10th to 12th grade. They became so legendary that my niece who went to my high school thirty years later was still hearing about them. People come to my brother’s funeral home for funerals and mention these parties like they were Woodstock. It’s a profound mystery to me what made them so fun.

But boy, if I hated those parties then (which only got worse because as word got around the stories, as stories do, morphed the parties into orgies, and my reputation among kids who did not know me or who had never been to one tanked), every time someone at a reunion came up to joyfully reminisce about “my great parties” I’d have gladly hit the pedal to the metal and sprayed them and everyone around with gravel to escape the mortification.

I often ask myself why it infuses me with such shame and regret. I did no harm, except maybe short-term to myself. People smile ten-gallon smiles when they talk to me about the parties. Some of it is pride, and possibly sadness, that I am defined in their memories by those parties instead of by things I value more. But a lot of it is the sheer embarrassment that I was so stupid I did something I hated and that caused so much trouble my senior year just to please other people. I am embarrassed that I was a kid, doing dumb things that kids do.

Hoagland ends the poem with an exhortation: “You should stop today. /In the name of Doris, stop.” And so I stop. And see how ridiculous this reaction is, instead of appreciating that at one point in time I had a lot of friends who wanted to be together having a good time, and they like remembering it, and I was a part of that pleasure. At one point in time I had the capacity for a simpler, more passionate exuberance about life, when everything was new and either amazing or horrific, and I did things because I couldn’t not do them because I felt them so deeply. That girl had to be before I could be. It’s time to embrace her.

Hoagland, Tony. Sweet Ruin. “History of Desire.” The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.



  1. Probably my favorite entry yet.

    • Thanks! That means a lot.

  2. Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

    Making Money $150 An Hour

  3. Absolutely love the imagery in this piece. You should check out a lost poem by Civ Cedering he sent me when I ran a poetry review back in 96.

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