Volume 91, Issue 84
Tuesday, March 10, 1998
Graphic by Colin Dunne
"There was a time," he began, in a voice so sure and so resigned that for a moment, as the night air settled around us like some patient killer, I swear I felt all the shoulders and skulls of the world lean in ever so slightly, fearful they would miss what came next.
"There was a time when I was so cold and so alone, that had my life depended on it which in some small way, I guess it did I wouldn't have been able to get a fire started." And there in the darkness, silent as a broken heart, it took only these simple words to loosen the earth's grip on me. His statement was, I felt, like one of those Einstein equations where the last line looks so easy but then you realize suddenly, cruelly, that so often the simple belies the complex.
And now, some distance from that situation, I'm wondering if anyone out there has ever felt like this before. And at the same time, I recall what seems such an ancient relic of a memory, one that I've struggled to unearth, digging in rotten soil with blistered hands. I remember the two of us, sitting on a paved walkway between two houses, smoking cigarettes. The shadows were so strange that night as to make both our faces appear hazy and distorted like old, rabbit-eared, black-and-white TV sets. And through the pixels I listened while he told me of faking back injuries in walk-in clinics across the country, to obtain Tylenol 3s. "Take one," he told me, "then about 20 minutes later, take another, and man, things really slow down." And all I can think now, listening to him in my head, is that life is difficult enough to get through at normal speed. ("Now you say you're leavin' home 'cause you want to be alone / Ain't it funny how you feel when you're findin' out it's real"). What good would slowing it down do?
There is a song I listen to occasionally and though you've never heard it, this is how it would make you feel: First, you clamour frantically for cigarettes and with good reason, because three notes into the song you're too sad to move. It creeps up on you like the first ripple of water to hit your feet at the beach; even if you expect it, still the surprise is there. A surprise that finds you waterborne, floating, picturing old fingers met by steel valves, grey like worn out tires. When you finally realize how the song's making you feel, you're too busy cherishing that feeling to be frightened by it. Sometimes, I cry when I hear the song and sometimes you would too.
That first night on the beach, we talked a lot about loneliness and being down. I said that I know when I am truly down and truly alone because when I wake up in the morning the first thing I do is count and loathe the hours until I can be back in bed. That's funny in a way because you'd think lonely people don't want to be lonely. If that's what you think, you're wrong. I know you're wrong because we all agreed that the key to being down and the key to feeling lonely is to revel in it. John said that for him loneliness is an escape from everything and that being down alters your state of mind so much that it should be welcome: "When you get that way, you can control your dreams. I mean I can consciously decide what to do in them, as if even my dreams have given up on taking me out of my depression." Ryan told us about a time on his drive from Vancouver to Moncton. At one point after failing to find a hotel room, they pushed on through city after city, the rain falling hard, his girlfriend asleep next to him. "I was so tired," he said, "and so incredibly depressed that if Caroline hadn't awakened and said something to me I'd never have noticed my tears. But the neat thing was, she didn't question. She reached over, rubbed the back of my neck, and stared straight ahead until I was done." I didn't tell anyone that night that sometimes, in my loneliness, (my cherished loneliness), I put on "Thunder Road," press repeat on the CD player, and for hours I listen, and not even the ring of a phone or voices in the hall outside my room make me want to speak, get up from my bed, or even breathe. Other times, I sing "You Are My Sunshine" over and over in a low, quiet voice, but only the second verse, the sad one that barely anyone knows.
We were all at a funeral once; a friend of ours; too young. I sat for two straight days and watched the people my age walking around, all hushed tones and fumbling fingers, all zombified and stammering, all scuffing shoes at the ground, all searching for words ("...so sorry...loss...take care...we should really be going...") that until then had never even existed for us. We cast our little jokes here and there like fishing lines housed in reels held by two-year-olds. The adults in attendance filed past the casket and shook their heads slowly, side to side, their way of saying what a terrible thing it all was. Now, in my mind, we are at the cemetery and the casket lowers into the ground and a friend comes up to me and the people around us fade away (like a video tape being played backwards is how uncomfortable and awkward they look), and my friend hugs me and whispers, "It's all just so sad," and he begins to cry. Whoever is in charge of death puts something on the ground that everyone looks at continually but no one ever picks up. Death is the biggest nerve gas around.
It occurred to me the other day, just how long it's been since I made someone happy. I was thinking about all the loose ends I've created and like a body count I can see them all strewn on the road behind me, and again, how long has it been since I've made someone happy? The answer, perhaps, is in the unbearable length of time it takes me to remember. Sometimes, I feel invisible. Most of the time I like it that way. I think there was a gift, not too long ago, the giving of which, I hope brought some sense of happiness to the receiver. But now, the past, the setting, the emotion in which I gave the gift is so muddy and confused, that I must wonder is the happiness still there? Does it mean anything now when the gift seems a severed limb. I read a book once that said when people lose an appendage, for days and even months afterwards, they feel as though their arm, or leg or finger is still there. I will try tomorrow to make a day of helping people feel good, to make them believe for one more second, that they still have limbs.
In a bar, the other night, as my best friend prodded me towards sure humiliation at the hands of some girl whom I'd never met, I was comfortable for the first time with the thought that I wasn't ready for that. "I'm not done being lonely," I told him. Conversations with my old girlfriend are strangely easy to me. The difficulty lies in the quiet times between the words because all I can think is that those are the times that in the past were filled with kisses, or hugs, or music that floated around the room like an airborne blanket. "Listen to the words here," I used to tell her. "Listen to this part." We would lie there, her head on my shoulder, moving only when she adjusted her arm or when my face brushed against her hair. I think the same thing now as I did then: how did this happen?
I am on the verge of something that I can't quite place. I simply can't allow myself to wake up five years from now and realize that all I ever did was plan and not physically do the things I now feel within me. It is important, I think, to ensure that the dream and the desire are equal. At some point, memories become stronger than anything lying ahead.
To Contact The Focus Department: email@example.com
Copyright © The Gazette 1998