Maybe it was the editor, I don't know. All writers have an identifying syntax, or voice, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so much. Some voices announce themselves at the opening sentence; or at the very least, the first paragraph. The voices of Stephen King and Peter Straub are equally unmistakable. Read two books by each and you'll recognize them forever; like 'em or not. I am a fan of both. Mr. King tells a whopping story and claims, in no way, to be churning out literature. Straub's stories have a slow build; you don't know where he's going but you know that protagonist very well by the time the band's in full swing. He sneaks up on you. King's stories begin with a bang but your relationship with the protagonist is a slow dance. A Pavane, a measured progression often ending with a crescendo where you'd least expect. Somehow these men collaborated well enough that The Talisman is nearly seamless. The voice is not one or the other, but Traveling Jack is the state of grace that binds the story, start to finish. He's on a journey from one coast to the other, slipping in and out of the America we know and a place called the Territories. The Territories, despite their unmistakable differences are, in fact, a clear reflection of who we are. Jack exits his home, leaving his mother behind, from a beach hotel closed for the season. He's twelve; on that cusp between boyhood and whatever might follow. In his progression, temporarily motherless, he reinvents himself.
Or maybe that sort of reinvention is the picking and choosing of the traits that support a broader vision. Maybe, when we leave home with the intent to become another sort of person, we believe we pluck attributes from the ether, inventing ourselves from whole cloth. This is never true, but sometimes we need very badly to believe.
But what of the people we leave behind? What do they remember, what do they love, what is missed the most? More importantly, by what methods do we retain the presence of their core?
My brother, no doubt, Traveling Jack, believes very much that he's recreated himself from whole cloth. Somehow he believes when he drove south at nineteen, he never looked back. I suppose in many ways, he did not. On the other hand, I am well aware of the lifeline he held from Florida and Arizona until the time he returned to the East Coast, and I am well aware of his presence right up until he lit out once more. When he got to Colorado, a door slammed shut. He was forty-three and I was forty-five and the bond between us, specifically, had been severed once and then marginally repaired. At the end of a five year breach, we no longer knew or understood each other. We saw what we remembered and responded from that place. This massive confusion lived just below the water line. We got creamed, both of us, rolled in the surf, coming up bloody, sand burned and confused as shit.
Just now, we can't see each other through the haze of memory and expectation; but I noticed a thing the other day. My father and I have done the same thing with Traveling Jack. We hold onto talismans of who he was in another time. Both of us hold on to the good things, leaving the normal pain of living out of the vignette. My father has held onto every medal and award his boy collected during the part of the journey Jack has labeled 'learning how to learn'. I used to think my dad kept these things as a memento of his own past; Jack being the culmination of a similar journey, one that went just so far and stopped.
I thought that until I noticed the bookends. My dad may not remember, Jack most likely will not, but those things belonged to him for ten years. He left them behind with just about everything else when he drove south. But they retain the boy who owned them. I hold the childhood memories supported by photographic evidence I can look at any time he tells me a thing didn't happen, could not have happened. I hold the photographs, I hold the memories, I break my own heart over the boy I love so much. I tell myself he's dead and gone, I believe him when he says so because it's easier than believing what hurts.
I also know it isn't true. Not any of it.
Jack will always be the boy with the heart of the sun, and I will always be that bit of magic at the tree line. You can't erase a thing like that. You can bury it deep, but you cannot kill it.
Beneath the chaos of our childhoods and the not so lost memories, I know the man and the man knows me.