On Earth Day 1990 I awoke to my best friend telling me that my grandmother had just died. The day before my cat had died and my boyfriend had cheated on me with a green haired girl who was always at every punk show.
But Earth Day that year was a big deal. It was the 20th anniversary of the holiday, and although the day wasn’t really on the radar in the 20 years since 1970, the 80s were over and I suppose people were thinking that it was as good a time as any to stop snorting cocaine and go green again. So I went to Central Park with my anarchist youth collective as I had planned, there was no point sitting around in Brooklyn crying when I could be in the park with my friends. Crying.
One of our first orders of business once on the Upper East Side was to go cardboard box surfing. That is, you flatten out a cardboard box on the sidewalk, run towards it as fast as you can, jump on it and see how far you can slide. Depending on the sidewalk and the slipperiness of the box it was usually only a few feet, maybe 10 if you were really little and really lucky.
A woman with an expensive baby stroller and big sunglasses shouted at us, “You are doing this on Earth Day?” Of course, these boxes were destined for the garbage dump, any amount of surfing on them wasn’t going to make the environmental situation any worse. In fact, kudos to us for finding fun with garbage instead of sitting home, playing video games and using electricity.
Once in the park, a comfortable distance from where the B-52s were playing, we lay in the grass and did whatever teenagers do on the grass. I rolled over onto my back, away from my friends and looked up to the sky through my purple tinted sunglasses (can anyone but a teenager appreciate the world through colored lenses?). I thought about my grandma and my cat. Since that time, my first instinct whenever a loved one dies is to look up at the sky and wonder “Where the fuck did you go?”
The last time I had spoken to my grandma she had asked me to bring her mirror and make-up to the hospital. I thought of how she wasn’t just able to say that she wanted to see me one last time. I felt guilty because I never did bring her make-up and mirror and how I should have known that what she really meant was that she loved me, even if I did paint my face white and dye my hair purple. I thought about how I don’t want to grow old that way – afraid to tell people I love them.
Garbage was accumulating all around us, and it wasn’t ours. Hoards of people were making their way through the park, dropping McDonald’s wrappers and Budweiser empties and whatever else they didn’t want to deal with. I picked up a McDonald’s Earthday napkin and read the missive on it. It talked about how McDonald’s was committed to the environment and how the napkin was whatever percentage recycled material.
Did you ever make a promise to yourself that you will never forget? I can remember a few. For some reason when I was walking up my elementary school stairs in second grade I stopped, looked at the building and thought, “Never forget this day.” And I haven’t, it was March 9th. I have no idea why I wanted to remember it, other than that I was catching on to the fleetingness of life. But on Earth Day, April 22nd 1990, in the grass in Central Park, I thought it again and this time I do remember what I was thinking.
Don’t believe the lies that napkins tell you, don’t grow old and afraid of love, don’t ever stop looking up at the sky and wondering.
I had some sense at the time how hard these things would be, but 17 years later- exactly 2 times the age I was then- I’m trying to get back on track. I don’t want to disappoint that 17 year old because I feel like she’s the wisest person I know. Also, she might kick my ass if I don’t follow through.