Kansas City is not so much a real place as it is a fond idea to you. You only ever saw the Missouri River on maps. The apple tree in your front yard and the movies you made in your friends’ basements always seemed more real than the city itself, but they were as much of the scene as the casinos downtown and the crackheads by the children’s hospital and the ghost-malls that spent your childhood.
Head south down Mission and turn left where a Jayhawk trunk stands guard, turn right on 91st, round the corner, keep going, look around for something familiar—you used to know these lawns—and stop. Leave your bike on the lawn and climb into the creek, leave yourself blowing away in the smoke of burning oak leaves and friends you can only remember, you’re home.
* * *
It’s 4 am and your mind is in Kansas City in 2004 when you made this Geocities webpage in the living room of that house on 91st Street, and you are not crying. Your page is called modernart.html, because not much has changed in the last decade, but you used to put two spaces in between sentences, so things are looking up. You click on your guestbook—all four entries—and the very first is from your mother, who wrote down her full name and commented “great website.” You love her. She is sleeping upstairs and sometimes forgets, but you will tell her in the morning. Your friend signed your guestbook twice to tell you to visit his new page, so you do, and as his page loads, you start to feel like you should just close your computer and go to sleep.
The background is still a tiled .gif of restless slugs eternally moving their necks between four positions. Beveled, green marble banners still frame yellow Comic Sans, left justified and too close to the text box border. His name is Christian—your friend, not the slug. His favorite sport is football. Broncos are da bomb!! His list of favorite sites still includes a link to your page: “My friend’s” is unassumingly wedged between “Google” and “Cartoonnetwork,” and it’s only been a few years since you last spoke in the courtyard of your middle school. Seven years, actually. A song about pie, which you made ten years ago, is still playing in the background, as if you were still in the library before school started, doing geometry homework and banging on a desk while Sound Recorder silently recorded your divergent lives onto a .wav file.
The slugs are all moving too fast and the song is getting too grating, but you are still trying to pick out Hansen repeating the digits of pi in front of a carousel of mystery novels, and you close your eyes and sing as loudly as you can sing when your parents’ bedroom is directly above you. Your voice begins to break when Loren sings about pie on a stick, or maybe it was Ian. You don’t remember anymore, so you grab ahold of what you do.
You put the song onto cassettes and gave them to your friends, and you wonder where yours is. You still have Loren’s home phone number memorized, but it’s been seven years since you last called it. Once, in sixth grade, you liked a girl and you only ever told one person, whispered her name into a right ear during your last recess. Her name was the title of a three-sheet, stapled volume of poetry you wrote one day after school and the Yahoo! Mail password you would never tell your cousin. When Hansen moved, you both sat at his kitchen table in silence like men, and you realize that you haven’t said anything for a long time.
It’s 5 am and your mind is in Kansas City in 2004, and you are not crying.