All together now
It was a question of change. But it was also a question of, not a question of, but a feeling of longing, of the residue of attachment. Of wanting more. Of wondering if something more could be possible. What if it were? What if she knocked on my door later today? What if she knocked on it tangled up in a blue shawl with blue eyes under darkened from red, but with the red color glaring through the dark masking it, hair. I know I want her to. I know that I have wanted her to turn up around every corner I’ve turned, every corner I’ve passed by, for so long. Charlie would never do that. She always moved forward. I seemed to always move backward. If not in my mind at least. What came next in my life always surprised me. Suddenly I was always doing it.
I rolled out of bed. My feet hit the floor but nothing else did what it was supposed to do. I didn’t really even sit up. Now I was just hunched over. My headache surprised me. It was pungent and powerful. And nauseating. I bet she changed. Man, I tell you everyone changes. If I could open my eyes and look in the mirror I’d see nothing but change. Not that I could tell you how I look right now. I have no idea. I can remember what I look like in certain photographs. Those are all old. Long hair in some of them. Short hair in some of them. I could tell you that based on the different photos. The different times of life. Maybe I had darkened skin, maybe I was pasty. Sometimes I smiled for real, because I forced a fake laugh and sometimes I smiled with sad boredom behind it. I could always tell in the photo. I don’t think most people looking at the photos noticed. I don’t think they looked long enough. I barely looked long enough. I could probably describe those three aspects about myself based on various photos. But right now. I don’t think I’ve seen much sun and I don’t think it’s seen much of me. God knows I’m not smiling. I’m not even about to open my eyes. I don’t even know why I am trying to sit up this early.
I didn’t need to finish it just because it was almost done. I wish I hadn’t. I know now I didn’t need anymore.
Not work. It is Monday. I don’t work today. I didn’t shut the curtains. I can see the sun penetrating my brain, cooking it through translucent eyelids. That is why I’m alive and wondering about Charlie. Colored hair. Moving forward. Not standing on my doorstep. Not knocking. She wouldn’t be knocking. If she knew it were my place, which she wouldn’t, because she would never take the time to track me down, she would just walk in. No questions asked. She’d know she was welcome. Avenue or no. Sidestreet as it was.
I feel horrible. I think I will never open my eyes again. Who needs them. Seeing is old news. A waste. Of time.
They didn’t believe in us. I didn’t believe in us. She wasn’t believing much of anything. She needed a change of scenery. They wanted her to never find a change of scenery. They wanted her to always be their scenery. I did too. Everything was wrong. Nothing was right. All wrong. Nothing right. What I was didn’t matter a thing. Who I was even less. I was lucky to be named here and there. It was their loss and the world’s gain. Not mine. Not a surprise to me. It wasn’t oil and water so much as just not even seeing. It was a looking past. A blindness to. They would say things. They didn’t mean them. Passing judgements on clothes passed limp lips that stared. Darts sans target festooned with rhythm. It was nice but, well, where was it to be got? Mmmmm. Rare indeed. Knowing looks all around except at the center. Somehow they knew about every single possession that was owned by me, my father, and my mother. Both of them knew this information so well that they didn’t need to know it. Charlie didn’t agree. She didn’t disagree. Another option might have been just as welcome. Again, it was a matter of scenery. Always a part of it v. some new. Staying v. going. A simple tug-of-war. Momma’s dress and every single one of our possessions was just caught in the middle. The amount of all of our ownings. Wasn’t relevant. It wasn’t the question at hand. It never was. No one cares about things like that. Especially not her folks. It is going to be rough. You too know that, right? Yessss Dad…. Sir. Ok. Yes. We know. Can anyone in the world imagine two people, saying, Hmmm, you know pops? You are right. Not only do we agree that it is going to be rough. It is going to be too rough to even give it a go. We rated our feelings for each other. We really talked things over and we just, well, we just think that you’re right. We are not gonna go through with it. Me, Harry, I, I’m going to go back to school… after I finish school, maybe. And Charlie is going to learn a craft. If we want to still see each other after those specific five years, then, well, we will check back, circle back, and see if this is what we want. Thanks a lot for the level-headed warning. Sensible thinking. Nothing they said meant anything that they wanted or wanted to say. They just wanted their daughter to stay their daughter a little bit longer. That was never going to happen no matter who she was gonna tote along. They just didn’t want to let go. Who invites mourning? Who relishes loss? Who guns for it? I get it. But man what they said really effed us up. It was just words and fear and imminent loss in their world, but to us, well, to me, it was the beginning of the end. It was a while ago now. A while ago for a young man. I just wonder if she’s changed. She must have changed. Her hair will always be red to me though. Maybe even brighter than it ever was.
We weren’t that far off either. But man was that rain bad. She was driving. I was sleeping. I had driven 15 hours. We switched off. We didn’t talk much. She slept when she wasn’t driving. I can still picture her. Beautiful. Not the most beautiful. But very beautiful. I always drove until I started to fall asleep. Then I’d draw a line somewhere around then those first few dozes and I’d say only three more hours. I wanted those times when I was driving and I could just see her there sleeping to never end. Occasionally she would wake up and smoke. Smile over at me here and there. She’d rest her hand on my headrest and sometimes it’d migrate to the curls on the back of my head. It wasn’t sexual. It wasn’t motherly. It wasn’t anything at all. It was almost devoid of meaning. But it was pure bliss. She would even leave her hand there and doze off. I knew the faster we drove the faster we’d get there. I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to get there. That I wanted to end this trip. It seemed safe here in the car. Lord knows I’ve never been so fucking far away from St. Louis. I’d never dreamed of ever passing through Wheeling. Who did? I know she’d never. Not even a little bit. She knew what road we were on. The highways and stateroads were easy. She’d wake me up if she wasn’t sure where to go. She didn’t know much geography. Neither of us were exactly sure which state we were in most of the time when we were in the dark. We never talked much. It was nice and relaxed. Nobody pressured anyone. We just hung out. Some of the scenery was real pretty. Mostly the weather was rain. It was wet everywhere. The car had that wet, that moist, kind of smell. Without fail. It was like those monsoons that they got in other parts of the world. The drops would hit the windshield, the roof. They would dim the lights. They would dim my eyes. I’d hear a rhythm with the wipers and the shissshh of the tires on the wet road and the cars passing by. Shissshh, Shissshhh! Too close. Passing us. Across the way. Two lane roads. Four lane roads. No barricade. Barricade. Potholes. You avoid them as best as you can. It isn’t easy to do and not wake her up. I was concentrated at the time. It made me even more sleepy. Sometimes I’d miss them. Sometimes I’d hit one that surprised me and I’d look over at her to see if it had woke her up. Sometimes she stirred. She never came to completely though. We eventually hit a big one. It woke both of us up. Most telling was the sound of the flat. Defeat. Rainy defeat. I silently pull over. I open the door. No cars. No nothing. Just flat rain. I got it. I do the do. But I can’t. I give it everything I have. She must have thought it was taking too long. It was. The wrench was tiny. It was slippery. The jack was even smaller. She tried what I had tried. Stomping on it. I told her I had tried all of that. She didn’t think I was a complete idiot did she? That, with a slippery wrench I wouldn’t try pushing on it with all of what god gave me? Strange to me even now. We needed to think. Not play games. I tried to think. The rain came down. I told her to get in the car. She was going to get sick. The rain wasn’t cold. But it was thorough. Complete. Almost. She was drenched as she stood up and got back in the car. I finished the job up. I broke it. But we were so close. Just a little bit longer. She had loosened it, I think. Stronger than she looks I guess. I got back in and said thanks.
I don’t know why I even butted in. What compelled me to go? I was way too scared. I was no hero. I had tried time after time to save myself. It always came up the same. Same shit every time. It never worked. Back on track this time. There was something in her scream. Her howls. Her sob. Maybe I just saw one tear too many. Maybe it wasn’t even the quality of it. Night after night. It would grate on anyone. I couldn’t figure why she stayed. I think I even remember crying once just listening. It was months of cowardice. I had my own shit going on. What the fuck was I thinking about someone else for? Just a big old mess of red. No. It wasn’t the quantity. It wasn’t the months on end. It wasn’t even me or my shit or my depths. It wasn’t even the filth that I was living in at the time. There are no pictures of me then. I know what I looked like. The only time I really looked in the mirror for real. You know. And remembered what I saw. Good god. Just a big hairy piece of shit. It wasn’t even all of that. It wasn’t even looking at myself in the mirror. It was Jesus or Vishnu, or rage, or something mystical. Something holy like the primality of being about to throw up. You know people have been throwing up since before they birthed the gods. Ancient like time. Unthinking. Sad. I heard this one little pebble, this corner in her voice. A second dimension. Everything went silent and holy from there. I walked down the hall sober as the day I was born in a new kind of way and all I remember is buzzzzzzzz… I was there. I wasn’t there. He was there. He wasn’t there. Then there was just a big mess of red.
Someone must have called the cops. The buzz never really turned into the sirens. It did turn into tears. They matched hers maybe. Tears triggered by tears. By fear. What the fuck was I thinking? She was in the corner I think. I couldn’t hear the sirens. I knew about them. I welcomed them. I was sitting in a big smelly chair. I couldn’t smell it though. I think I might have been looking at her. She didn’t know I was there.
It was some jam. And we were so young. How did we end up in that same hell hole of a place? Maybe her parents didn’t want me involved. But damn if they only fucking knew. Thank god they don’t. I don’t even know if she knows anymore. I doubt she remembers her screams. I know I remember them. I remember them and I can hear them through the ears of every single one of the people in that building. Each one was the end of the world. Everyone was the end of the marriage. I didn’t really do anything. The choice wasn’t mine. It was just wild. I’m nauseous now just thinking about all the red splashes in that place. She stayed with me for a while after that. I guess that is when we started to know each other.
How we made it that far I have no idea. We made it so far. Way beyond anyone would have thought given a fateful start. She knew it. She saw it in her own eyes. Lord knows I knew it. I felt it deep down. It had been a couple days. That town was the smallest I’d ever seen. They only make towns that small in no name western states. They even made movies about them with horses and guns but they stayed smaller than ever. Garages. Gas stations. Pissing places. Sometimes that is all they had. Those things and a house for the family that worked the place. It wasn’t the perfect place. But it was as far as we got. There is nothing darker than a town like that. I’ll never go back to a town like that. Nothing but dark. Clouds. Dust. Blacks out the sun most days. It did at least everyday we were there. Granted it wasn’t long. We made it a little bit farther than that town. We agreed to not abandon that sad car right in front of everyone. We drove it down the road some.
I don’t know how she did it. She convinced me of it. She knew I was no idiot. But somehow she almost had me figured better than I did. And somehow we weren’t young anymore either. Everything mixed together. And that was it. We had reached the end of the road. The jig was up. She called it quits with me. We together said, OK. But I didn’t feel it. I knew it. I knew she knew it and I knew she felt it. But I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t so sad a night for her that night. One thing we both knew and felt was that I was the embodiment of that last night for her. For us. Me too. The buzz never went away. The sirens never went away. The red never went away. It was all just a little farther in the mirror but it was like a horizon that just kept expanding. The moon never actually set back there. It was back there and you could see it. But you could always see it. No matter how far you drove.
We couldn’t shake that night. I wanted to. There wasn’t anything I wanted more. Like I said, I’d never be able to save myself. But man it felt like I actually succeeded when I barged in to her life that night. Those first nights together I felt like I had it figured. Shit made a bit more sense. I couldn’t figure out what I had been thinking, but I could figure that seeing her everyday made more sense than looking at myself doubtfully in the mirror all alone. We made it from that mirror where I had put up a picture of she and I, her in a short dress, all the way East and nearly all the way West. But we never really stopped anywhere. We never sat down. We never found that place. That buzzing never stopped for me. It replaced the hole and her half smiles replaced my long lonely stares, but eventually we had to call it quits in a one room town. That sad car was done too. Shit just comes and goes I guess.
She walked one way. I walked another. She was gonna hitchhike. I was gonna stay one more night. I’d guessed she’d head west. Keep on in the same direction. I couldn’t head there with her. Behind her. I could follow her in a few days when I didn’t know where she’d be or what she would be doing. I wasn’t going to stalk her, track her down. I wasn’t silly like that. Besides I had agreed to it too. The buzzing was still there as I walked down the road. It was way back there in my head at that point. It almost receded a bit as I walked. I knew when I agreed I was agreeing to something like relief. Something like silence.
I can’t believe she finally had anything to say. Did she want to meet again? No. I really didn’t think so. I didn’t think I wanted to either. I wanted her. She was mine. But we had agreed. There wasn’t anything to it really. I kept walking. I kept my head forward. I kept my face stuck. I made my arms stop moving. I put my feet on the ground. Each one. A car drove by. Someday. And why not now? Cause of time. It goes in all of these circles. These imperfect loops. Looping back to tangents that are totally different than the ones they were before. New rivers. Nothing twice. I lit a cigarette. I hadn’t tasted one in a long time. There it was. I tasted it. It was different.
Just like me. I kept my head up. Almost like I was gazing at the stars. Foot. Feet. Steps. Dark. Breaths of smoke. That is how I could tell I was still breathing. She was going to go on. Keep heading west or south. I could see the sun in her red blue eyes. It always reflected. I went back to where we stayed. She headed on to Santa Fe. Maybe even Reno. Who knows. Hitchhike with someone even more off than I am. Maybe even hairier. They’d smoke together for hours and he’d never make her drive. She’d sleep and watch the sun do its thing across the sky. I’ll go back and finish that bottle. It’ll be empty for this feeling and this buzzing…
It was the farthest north I’d ever been. I didn’t even want to go. I didn’t want to go that far north and I didn’t want to go that far west. I didn’t want to go that far at all. When you’re not your own driver you don’t have much choice. No car. No change. You go where the wind of the land blows you. Land sailing. You end up in swirls and eddys and circle back to the same places. Some you love. Some you just don’t. I just didn’t dig it up there. Why do people even live that far up north? I’d never been. I won’t go back. Usually when you hitchhike you have an idea of where you’re going and you talk about it with the driver. It is in all kinds of movies. “You going to Rapid City?” “Even farther, hop in.” A two line interchange. If they happen to be talkers or more than one person, if there is more than one you almost always have to talk, then you have to talk even more. But if they aren’t. Those two lines at the start and the two lines when you part are all you need. You might as well speak different languages. Sometimes, you can get lucky, you don’t have to talk because no one makes you talk and so you sit there in silence for hours on end. But if it is a good person. Like a deeply good person. You still share plenty. Maybe it is one laugh at someone passing and both of you get it. Maybe it is some of the colors in the sky or the trees at the end of the day. And you just happen to both not be lost in thought as you pass them by and you both just happen to see them and appreciate them at the same time. And you know the other person is there with you and thinks they are beautiful too and you know they know you think so and they think so too. And they too, know you think so. Round and round it goes in a spiral that relates you two together. Not in any real or spoken way. Just in a real and deep and silent kind of way. Those were the only kinds of people I wanted to be around then. Quiet ones that still shared with you. Quiet ones that you still understood and that understood moments with you. Well I rode north with one of them like that. Don’t even know his name. Don’t want to know it. I slept. We ate. We went far. I didn’t want to go that far, but I had no reason not to. Once I could feel I had overstayed my welcome I headed on on my own. I just walked that last part of the way. Trees everywhere. Roads like tunnels. It wasn’t for me but it sure was beautiful. I’m not that opposed to the place.
Off the road, backing up to a small river there was this all wood spot that had a sign saying “EATS”. I thought it’d said “EAST” at first glance. Where I kinda wanted to be going really, but just didn’t have the courage to so I went in. It was a dirty and simple place. A real place. I knew it right away. It had cushiony, fabric-backed, checkered table cloths. I sat down at a table and “Angela” dropped a menu at my table with a near smile. I propped myself up on the table. I didn’t open the menu. My feet were tangled up under the table. She came over and poured me a coffee I hadn’t asked for. I looked like I’d needed it I’m sure. It had been a haul. She gazed outside. Her eyebrows raised wondering how I’d gotten there. I nodded to her. She and I both knew how I’d gotten there. I ordered some toast and she scurried off. I slowly moved my elbows forward and half buried my head in them. Like when you’re swimming and your nose is just above water. No one was there. A radio played. It was peaceful but creepy. A space meant for people with no one in it. Maybe it was late or early.
When I finished the toast and the coffee I asked her for a job. She asked me if I did drugs and I said no. I was just tired and I had been traveling. She asked me when I could start and I said in a few minutes. She said, it sounded like I could have made my own toast. I made a lot of toast after that. I reckon it might have been a year I was there cooking. Toast. Eggs. Hamburgers. The same shit on the same grill. Everything smelled the same as it was cooking. Everything tasted the same when it was cooked. Sometimes I’d see through my little window the same people come in day after day. Ange would chat and talk and blither and blather away. She hated me. I think from when I showed up till when I left. I can’t explain it but I really think she did. It doesn’t matter. She was crazy the whole time. I’d do exactly as asked and she’d really give it to me the whole time thinking that she was out of earshot of the eaters. She never was. Nothing in ten miles was out of earshot of that voice. One day I told her to just stop. That was the day I walked out of there. It didn’t go over well. I barely broke even.
Sometimes guys would dock at the back of the place and then eat and head down river or back up home. They’d disappear behind the thick trees and be gone in a minute. I could see them from the kitchen window. Regular guys it seemed. I had no idea where they came from or where they were going. Maybe it was far. Which was my plan. Get far. When I walked out of there I walked down the road. But I circled back because I’d decided it was the best and most interesting way to get anywhere. I didn’t really know where I was and I didn’t really know which way the river would go. I went back there anyways and just sat. I was watching the waters and every so often someone would come on down and untie and head off or they’d dock and head in. I picked one that seemed more or less harmless. He had on no shoes and a shirt unbuttoned completely. He said he’d take me down river a ways since I didn’t know my way or where I wanted to go. He didn’t know and couldn’t understand that I was heading farther than he could dream. Father than he had ever thought. Days passed before he said he wasn’t going to go any farther. I was ready anyways. He wasn’t the kind of person who got things. Just dim. Just zero. Another guy helped me keep on going. Another guy after that. Some Jims. Some Hucks. All solo. All loving the company and hating it. Not knowing what to do with it. I wasn’t really company anyways. I didn’t care. Just sat there thinking and watching the river go by most days. The rivers just kept getting bigger it seemed. Wider. Faster. Busier. Then you got to start to seeing ships. Almost actual sea ships. Not small at all. They’d stare at us and not understand us. We were irrelevant. I was.
You could smell New Orleans before you could see it. It wasn’t no ordinary place. It drawed us in. We could see it. Highfalutin’ people walking on wood. Couples. We just let it go by. We were right on time. We stopped at a dock and I said I was thankful and that I’d be moving on. He just nodded. Easy. Breezes floated by and the New Orleans smell dissipated. I put my back to the dock and walked. I found myself around millions of boats and fishermen. I asked a couple if they were fishermen. Some of them said yes. Some of them said no. I kept moving through them until one made sense to me. I asked someone on the boat if they were hiring. We shoved off every morning earlier than hell. I slept whenever I could. Worked long days. I stayed just near the boat. There wasn’t much more than a shack. We ate some of what we caught. The Captain cooked it. Some smaller guy shoveled the bits of fish on a plate with some other critters. Not much happened. Quiet place. Good place. Not an inch of cold to bother you by. Better that way.
It seemed it had been a long time since. I had known some others since. Mostly on leave around New Orleans. Never made me do much. Never made me think much. I just felt it more. One named Cat sat around on her porch smoking a big funky water pipe. A real elaborate thing. Had music on all the time. Sat there splayed out smoking, taking sun. For hours. We met at the unofficial bar she ran in the backyard. After midnight hours some of the boys headed there. They all wanted her. No idea how I ended up staying there as much as I did. Just an easier place to crash I guess. Sometimes I’d sit out there on the porch with her. I’d try not to look at her. Try not to watch her. I always just wondered what she was thinking. Not much passed between us. I never felt more solo than I did on that porch of hers. I felt like I was in a distant land and that we could be communicating only by letters. Letters that traveled weeks before arriving. She wasn’t beautiful. She’d draw you in and then always left you there hanging. At the perfect distance. That was where you found the silence. Your silence. You’d sit there in your mind and slowly, slowly, numbly poke around. I almost found nothing in those days. It had been a while since. Somehow, I always fucking found her though. That fucking mess of red. She’d be curled up somehow. Somewhere. I’d be sitting there with a nothing kind of silence and then there she’d be, around the corner. Quietlike. She’d smile halfly like she knew my thoughts. Seeing herself there in my head. Maybe we were still connected in some way. Maybe she still thought of me. Of course she thought of me. But maybe she didn’t think much of me. Just like I didn’t. Maybe she thought of me blankly. Weakly. I wondered where she was. I wondered if I still loved her. People would pass the porch on the street and I’d think they’d seen her before. I wanted to ask them if I still loved her. Maybe they knew. Maybe they’d seen the answer in her eyes. They’d think I was crazy, but maybe, just maybe they’d know. ‘Cause I wasn’t sure.
Somebody at the house went there often. He talked about all the girls. A little too loudly. Always a little too loudly. He knew some of them by name. He’d go with some of the regulars and they’d come back late, drunk and rearing to go. I could always hear them. Sometimes I’d stay just above the bar there on a mattress on the ground that smelled like tar. A lot of the time I couldn’t sleep so I’d lay there smoking and looking out over some of the buildings. You could see stars fairly well for having a city nearby. You could see a lot of planes flying in and out full of tourists. I’d just breathe and watch it and vaguely listen to the hooligans out back. That was when I heard him talking about her. I knew it was her before he’d said her name. I don’t know what it was. Preemptive. He was talking about her hair, but lots of women have hair like hers. Kind of.
I showed up one night. She was there. Working when I walked in. She didn’t see me. I had a couple beers and sat there on the side. It was busy. I bet she made good money. She looked the part. Played the part. She was dead behind the eyes. Passed out awake. Done. I couldn’t believe I could see her there. Right before me. The light caught her face. I stared. I saw what she was doing but it was lost on me. I remembered too many things. So much flooded back. She was beautiful. I slumped in my chair. Leaned my head against the wall. I just surrendered completely. She danced slowly. Deliberately. I wondered where she’d picked up these moves. This gig. She must need it bad. I bet she lives nearby too. I wonder if I’ve seen her. If she’s passed me on the street and didn’t say anything. Maybe. I’d have said something. What I would have said I don’t know. God save me if I have to come up with something to say to her. We never did talk all that much.
I started thinking that I had nothing to say to her. I think about her every day for what felt like forever. And now I’m done. I’ve seen it all. I watched a few other girls dance. They were pros. Dead behind the eyes too. One of them was a long way gone. She knew the steps well though. Got a lot from the boys at the front. A seasoned pro. I paid a little attention. I came and went. Sometimes just watching my bottle get emptier and emptier. I’d look at my hands too weathered for me take the beer to my lips. I don’t know why I was there then. I’d seen her. I’d had my reaction. Inertia I guess. That point in the circle, in the pendulum that looks like it could be at rest, like it could be there forever. But its nowhere for long. No motion. Just the hair on my hands. Emptier bottles of beer. Her. It was late. It was getting near morning. She didn’t come on the floor again. Guys started to leave. My inertia stayed me. I was there but I wasn’t. I wanted to go too. I didn’t want to go back to the bar. Not to my shack. Not to the boat. I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t homeless. I wasn’t lost. I wasn’t anywhere. And I had nowhere to be. Nowhere to go. So that is where I went. Nowhere was fine with me. Walk. Move. Forward. Breathe. I was ready.
My feet moved. My knees bent. I lifted myself off the seat with the table, the back of my chair and my hands and arms. It was an effort. I weighed a thousand pounds. My feet were heavy. I reached for my cigarettes resuming an old habit when I heard her. When was the last time she’d said anything to me? Something about an avenue? No idea. Her talking to me was back again. Echoing through years of what ifs. I could see every second of my wonder about her in discrete blocks piling up. Spilling over. Yeah. It’s me I say. When was the last time I’d talked to her. Did I ever? I lit my cigarette. My hands shook. No good reason. But it was just too surreal. Too not real at all. Halfsmiles all around. Another drink at another bar. We both looking ahead. Wondering if we’d changed much. Thinking about nights on the road. Dark goodbyes. Old smells. My hands stopped shaking a little. I noticed when I lit another cigarette. I looked over at her. She was staring straight ahead saying something about how she got so far south. She was as calm as the day was long. She was lost in what she was saying. The light shone off her face. Beautiful. So. Beautiful. My hands weren’t shaking but somewhere towards my center and closer to my elbows too, I was still shaking. I’d been that way since I’d decided to come. I didn’t have any idea. I was so tired of it.
She finished and I said something I don’t know what and half-smiled. She nodded. She looked at me. I am almost completely sure that she had never done so before that moment. She looked relaxed as she looked at me in the face like someone looks someone up and down. Maybe she even saw me in my eyes. In fact. No one had ever looked at me and saw me in my eyes. Not that I cared much. I was there and side by side and present with people. That was always calm. But I never saw. I was never seen. That shaking down closer to my elbows, to my middle gave way. I couldn’t tell if I was shaking so completely that I just stopped. But something changed. It wasn’t easy to experience. I know what my face looked like then. Lined, grey, sleepless, sunned, taught, with an almost mean, skeptical look. I must have looked constipated. I tell you I was lost in the moment. The bar was closed. She was done looking at me. And the fact is, the whole time she looked at me, saw me, I could not for the life of me look back. See her back. I did, but it didn’t register. I was too busy not knowing the hell was happening. I was too unsettled by this incredibly strange first. It was too much and we unlocked. A few feet apart. We both looked down. Still breathing. We both saw my laces untied. I was immediately embarrassed. She didn’t notice. She just tied them. Both of them.
We never decided to go to her place. We were talking, silent in fits and starts. We were there and sitting in her kitchen. I could sit at her kitchen table and put my feet up on her countertop. I did. I had sobered up by now. She pulled this beaded chain on an out-of-place green lamp on the kitchen table. We both were suffused though it was barely on.
She was talking to me about this joint she had worked in after the last time I saw her. She was a cocktail waitress. She loved it. It was her first job apparently. She’d never done anything on her own. It made me feel good for some reason. I didn’t know she was doing well after we parted ways, but I had met her at her lowest of lows and after we left, she was on solid ground. Made me realize I hadn’t been on solid ground since… I don’t know when. If I’m truthful, maybe I never was.
I started to breathe more slowly. Things slowed down for me. I started to feel a relaxation that was strange. She took out a match, flicked the burner on and lit it then let a pipe that she handed to me. It was damp and smooth and easy. I handed it back to her. She wondered aloud to me, about me, if I was gonna say hello or just stay silent. She kept talking but I started daydreaming. I wondered myself. I think I was ready to see her and just walk off. Close the loop. Close the loop and let go. What would talking/reconnecting do? What would it add? How can I wonder this while I am sitting here listening to her and smoking? Never say hello? I never actually did say hello. I just turned around in my chair to the sound of her voice.
The sound that lulled and listed in my ears at the moment.
Turns out it adds a lot.
It wasn’t easy paying attention to what she was saying. She never checked to see if I was paying attention. She wasn’t paying attention to my paying attention. I guess I could tell. And then, of course, she did. She said, you know? And I said, what do you mean? She grew ever so slightly frustrated. She was clearly trying to get some idea across. There was a bit of passion underneath the frustration. What the hell was she trying to say? Why? She doesn’t care that I don’t get it. She is more just trying to say some very specific thing. The antidote. The silver bullet. The one true answer was on the tip of her tongue. The fire was in her eyes. And she was trying to tell it to me. But. Not.
Finally she ran away. Past me. Behind me. Over my shoulder. Around the corner. Into her bedroom. Ruffled around in some things. Made some inaudible sounds. Breathed loudly. Scampered back to our table. Plopped down with a sigh. Underneath the light of the green lamp she open up this book towards me. All I could see was the green light. All I could smell was the age of the book through the smoke.
I blinked my eyes a few times to try to begin to read. I thought I’d humor her and start paying attention. I wasn’t figuring anything out on my own. The brambles in my mind lead nowhere. On one page it was Italian. On the other it was English. I started reading, mouthing the words that started by where her finger pressed the page. I read immensely slowly. My silence and my speed were clearly not OK with her. She turned the book towards her and started reading aloud. Beautifully. Words ringing. Off of every page. She didn’t read too softly, too slowly. Perfectly.
Infernal noises from her refrigerator were the only ties I had to something real and mundane while she read to me. Most else seemed to melt away. Numbed away. I think I was sipping some tea. Maybe the tea was hers. A bachic muse. She read afire. She might not even have been reading. It is possible that she had written the lines. Memorized them, at least. Loved them, definitely. This was love. That was clear. I could see the relief she was experiencing finally being able to communicate what she’d been trying to just moments before.
I couldn’t tell you what she was trying to say. She couldn’t either these days. That much is for sure. Whatever it was, it was true. Bright and true. So clear to me. It was like a little taste of Buddhic enlightenment. I remember a feeling of truly knowing something. A really intense relaxation came with it. Through this buzzing in the back of my head that buzzed my entire life, I heard a bit of silence. What she was reading was so deeply true. Not only did I get it, but I got what she had been saying when I wasn’t paying attention just before. Through the fog of memory, there it was. I could see what lit her up so much. What she was trying to say.
But she wasn’t trying to say anything to me. That is what got me. It wasn’t intimate. It was isolated. Governed by the laws of the universe we floated around each other like planets. In relationship but totally and completely separate and not one. Trains passing in the night. Dying alone after a 50 year marriage. Men as islands. I had been to this place before and it always, always brought an intolerable sadness with it. But this time, I was seeing it in a greenly lit light. It was clear to me that it wasn’t sad. It was true. And it was beautiful. This wasn’t what she was saying or reading to me. Like I said, I don’t remember that anymore. But I am certain that knowing this was what illuminated her before she read to me and as she read whatever she read. It poured. It rained. And it was burned into my soul. That floating whatnot of mine. From hers to mine. Across an impossibly real chasm.
It took some time. A strange series of events. No need to go into them. She and I stayed connected. Not in the old way. In a sidenote kind of way. She moved and I joined. She had a roommate and I joined. It was all new to me. It was all where I had been heading, been trying to get to but didn’t know. It was the street. A perfect place of wild fetid imperfection. Greats played down the street. Sounds wafted out of windows and doors. In many ways the scene was the same as it was in every other spot I landed for a time. I’d sit there at the window smoking. Sometimes I’d have a chair. Other times a mattress. Most of the time nothing. But the sounds this close to the East River, the buildings of Walt’s early life, it all fit, hinged together with my burning flame resting on the window.
They were never there. I didn’t even leave that often. Too enchanted by what I always saw out. My beard grew long. The winter set in. I warmed myself with nothing. There was nothing that worked. We were below the street. Not even the sun shone down to warm my pale hands. Maybe the music warmed me.
I didn’t leave too, because, a bit was going on in those days. People weren’t happy with each other. She always had a lot to say about it. He did too. I didn’t think they were wrong. Just too passionate. Not real passion either. Using the passion. Whatever was in the air they used it to cover over their shit. I saw it and knew it well. I don’t know why I didn’t try to ever cover over my shit. The revolution sounded fun. I could never muster much for it in the end. They would perform their tirades at ever higher pitches cause they knew I was in earshot. What I thought mattered to them. Just not in any real way. I don’t know what I thought. If I’d have met someone that really cared, maybe that would have changed things for me. Who knows though.
Like I suspected though, he wasn’t right inside. Long ass fucking trips to nowhere. She’d bite her nails the whole time he was gone. He’d have endless money on short ass visits. We’d go up to the street and blow all of it in less than a weekend. They’d stopped covering their shit with politics. Not a lick of revolution concerned them those years. Just booze and drugs and death. A dark dearth in his eyes; a sad dim light in hers. I watched it all, took it all in. He had wild stories. Boars. Wars. Diseases and wild peoples. I could never look at him. Turned my stomach. I grew numb to him. A dark dearth of life. Bloodless. Completely bloodless is what I pictured. What I knew.
His visits grew more and more infrequent. I’d remember occasionally that he was due to come back every so often and I’d cringe. Nobody wants to go to a cafe with a dead man. Thing was. He usually brought months and months of rent when he did show. And we needed it. Without, we struggled. She started selling shit she had accumulated over her decades. We’d be sitting there smoking and she’d start wistfully telling me about this random object of hers. Some of her shit was actually fascinating. How she came to have it. Worth a lot too. Then we’d drift off talking about the old days. Nostalgia begat nostalgia. I’d forget about it. Then I’d inevitably never see it again. Her shit dwindled. I’d never see it again but it never really registered. I knew it was how we got rent. But man, I just didn’t pay attention really.
Because at some point we didn’t have no more rent. I realized that was it. She had nothing left. Dead of winter. I had little to add to the mix. He never showed again. No word. No visits. She rarely left. I knew some people nearby that we used to know. They helped for a bit. But no one wanted any part of her. Like they wanted no part of the winter that year. Colder than it had ever been. She barely registered it. She was used to it before it came.
At some point. Some miraculous moment, I heard some birds chirping. They must have been some cold ass birds. But they were a sign. The firsts of the firsts. Sunlight came a bit later. Easier to smoke out the window. In silence.
With the sun she went out more. Came back less. Her face never seemed to change except for a weak smile of a greeting. A really, really beautiful sad smile. I sometimes wonder if she ever saw herself. Saw her like I saw her in those in between moments. I wonder if she ever felt it. It’s possible.
With the sun and the bird chirps came actual human beings doing things and in the streets. There was no telling when it was all gonna finalize. When the shoe would drop. I spent months worried about it. All through the dark and cold and smoke. And the tears she seemed to forget to cry.
It had been days since I’d seen her. Everytime she was gone for days I assumed I’d never see her again. One day when I was out I came back to our beds on the street and bags of trash and commercial locks on chains on the doors. I leaned against the wall outside the apartment. Finished my cigarette. Felt the sunlight on my face. I scratched at my beard. It was warming up but the chill of the winter was still deep inside me. It was a feeling that I’d never get warm again. I camped out by that place for a few nights. She never popped back.
I started walking after those nights. No hard feelings. None of it was easy. I’d seen her in the most unlikely places. Time goes in those circles like that. I knew I had to get somewhere hot. Somewhere sweaty. And just keep going.
It was a question of necessity. That hapless mother of invention. Mother of motion. Force. No choice. Centrifugal motion. I’m sitting in paradise. Easiest fucking place to sit. Alice doesn’t notice me. Gazes past me like I’m a post holding up the ceiling. Been there for years like she has. Too easy. Nothing acts on you. The sun melts your brains and ambitions. Not that I ever had any.
Except for one.
I can’t not. We used to know millions of people. We’d meet people here and there. They’d know us inside and out. We’d have stories that never ended. Revolutions came and went. Pains and issues came and went. We’d party. We’d travel. We’d been everywhere, if not together, at least one or the both of us had been there. Seen it. Knew it. I can remember it in spite of the sunny mush that the Keys had made of my brain. If I had wanted to I could write a history of us longer than Rome’s. People and places and ups and downs. Names and dates. All of it. Dense. Deep time. Not a lot of it, but time passed deeply for us. Maybe that was why I knew the necessity of it. Or maybe it was because I could write it all down, tees crossed, i’s dotted but every single person still seemed like an illusion to me. Vague. They were players playing the same age old roles. The ones that history repeats because history is lazy. History or all of us. Godknows I am.
It was different when it was she and I in the same room. The same space. It was different when we were in each other’s stories at the moment. It wasn’t even like time slowed down. It was just bigger. Had more force. More élan. It went subterranean. I had to get back to that. Yeah to her, but to that. The one that wasn’t an illusion. Maybe it wasn’t a question of necessity, maybe it was a question of reality. I know it was all reality. Everyone had their own stories. I ran through them. My arc touched theirs tangentially. But my arc ran right through hers and I didn’t even want it to. And I could feel it heading right through hers again watson and crick style. I had to get back. Not back in time. Back somehow. Back in a way no one ever had gotten back before. I needed to get back inside it all. So now I’m going to.
Maybe the illusions of people were more important than I give them credit for. Maybe they were necessary. Maybe they were reality. Maybe they all knew that. That they were a part of our dance through time, at least at that moment. They were all kinds of people. They did all the same things that people do with their lives and have done with their lives since the beginning. Since they wrote books about them that were called “Book”. They begat gods and laws of gods’ domains. They can’t be doing the same things they have always done. But what else could they be doing. They are not, were not ghosts. They mattered. All of those people from our pasts, our stories. They had to matter. They had to still be going.
I wonder what they do. I wonder what they think. Can it be different from what I think? If I am the same, and I must be, of necessity. I am me, the same one since we met and before we met. So it must be with all the others that passed through, that passed us by on their ways. I wonder if they are still even living. I wonder if some of them are even dying. Anything goes. Alice has been here in this bar since time began circling and still stares out of the windows toward the water. But not everyone stays put like Alice. But maybe inside they do. Maybe they just change place and Alice is the exception.
Why are we moving around at all? I’ve been so many places with Charlie, inside and out. What if we just sat there in silence or talking and just breathed and knew that that was it? Maybe we’d look back and know it wasn’t ever all that bad, that we never needed to go so far so often.
Alice tops me off. I see her and her hand through the smoke and the now dimmed light. The sun setting, she waits until the very dark before she turns the lights on. I’m the only one here and so it doesn’t matter. Neither does her silence. I’m just passing through. We both know that. Everyone is just passing through the Keys even if it lasts years and years. The south beyond the south. We seem to all be looking north. Feeling like everyone up there remembers us vaguely while we want to be remembered for real. Seen again. Seen through the smoke. Seen in the pitch dark. Seen as real.
I drink half that drink. I flick my cigarette. I need to. Something inside has clicked. The switch has been flipped. Half the drink I leave for the illusions. A libation to the gods. To lives well-lived. Nights well-loved. A gesture to the constant rotations. The least I can do.
It will protect me on my road back. It needs to. It’s got to. On to another joint.
I know exactly where I am going. So does Alice. So does Charlie. She knows the hour has struck on our deep clock. The hand has whipped around again. Somehow I’ll run into her again. I know it. I will keep moving. So will she. It is a dance strung out over a thousand miles and ten thousand years. A waltz or something. Our hands and arms and fingers entangled in a way we don’t understand like action at a distance. Magnetism in our veins.
It was right when it was right and was right when it was wrong. We always felt that and knew that. And knew the other knew that and felt that. We wanted to dance the dance regardless. Pour the libation regardless of whether we wanted the rest of the drink or not. Better that way. We saw that. And we saw that differently. We both saw a million ways to honor that. She had her own way. I had mine. Hers constantly moving forward, mine, well, I punched through the depths backwards on the same arc. Totally different directions. But our tangents always kissed. And that always brought life to our lives. We always needed that life. Something clicked, and I got to get back to that. Maybe she does too.