There are a number of states for the human mind and heart. There is infatuation. There is driven to distraction. There is love. There is love gone wrong. There is loneliness, specific and loneliness, general. There is jilted, guilted, shamed, blamed, hopeful, hopeless, lost. There is listening to certain record albums and brooding, there is kicking inanimate objects and shouting, there is drinking, there is drinking, there is drinking, there is dialing, there is writing it down and tearing it up. Giving up, giving in, giving it away for free. Letting yourself go and letting it go and going. Hoping and praying and wishing and waiting for the day, and ruing it.
Then there are the other times, the desert wanderings. All the things that have happened to you finally go still, flattened like pictures in an album, quiet on a shelf. When the sight of a person in image, flesh or memory no longer plucks a string or sounds a note.
You can still hear the note, but it is a recorded note, and you are no longer the instrument. The story you lived and later told yourself is an old letter you’ve read too many times, a DVD you’ve watched before. You know where the chapters begin and end. You can jump around in the story with a sure thumb on the remote, but you will never really be in the story again. You can say the storm smelled metallic but by now you only know the words “the storm smelled metallic” and the metallic smell itself is long, long gone.
Did you ever sit on rock in the midst of a thunder- and lightning-storm, holding hands with someone you could only see every few minutes for a fraction of a second while the rest of the time you sat in pitch-darkness under all that noise and falling water, soaked and shivering not with cold but thrill as it was hot, high summer? And then wonder later why the only romantic experiences that made you feel anything at all were those that made very loud noises and were illuminated in tiny increments of time and often felt like they might wash you away? Which came first, the desire to see the thunderstorm or the thunderstorm you saw?
When we went out into the thunderstorm I was so young and this was so new to me that I had no idea what it was. I was certain that what was happening to me had never happened to anyone else before and I was having a wholly new human experience.
I had met someone who glowed oddly to me the first time we spoke, and even before that, even when I saw him for the first time, even when I saw him for the first time in my peripheral vision. I have so often wondered on the few occasions since that this has happened whether this is a trick of selective memory, if it really was that way or I only remember it that way after a person has become significant to me, if the first time we spoke or before that, the first time I became aware of that person as a movement that resolved into an object in my peripheral vision was really so odd or different than any other person I spoke to or saw in my peripheral vision who did not later become so significant to me. I have wondered if this memory of significance was itself the imposition of a retrospective significance that was surely a hallmark not necessarily of any inherent significance but of a personal significance the we ourselves as subjects imposed on the objects of what later came to be our affection.
All I know is that at first I was wary of him and thought he was very strange and then because I thought he was so strange was fascinated by him and everything that happened between us was painfully significant to the point of monumental and I had the sense that everything else that had happened or would happen to me was not as important as what was happening now and I felt myself burning to the point of combustion with a singular desire to experience whatever it was that was happening and for years afterward and in fact to this day I have prowled the night and eventually the world, notebook in hand to keep busy during the long periods of solitude, to see if there might be anyone else out there prowling the night looking to climb up on a rock.
It is not only climbing up on a rock. It is climbing up on roofs or fire escapes in urban environments where there are no rocks. It is the vertiginous physical sensation from normal conversation that one has in fact ascended to a precarious height. It is swimming in the ocean and diving under enormous waves, the fearless enjoyment of any kind of moving or still water. It is the sensation even on dry land that one is immersed in a different state of matter, that the laws of gravity have changed, that the substance that is normally contained inside of us is instead all around us. It is the witnessing of celestial phenomena on the order of shooting stars and lunar eclipses and fireworks and the sensation that the events happening here on earth are just as rare as the phenomena in the sky, that things are glowing and exploding and emerging from shadows but most of all burning, burning, burning, not only above us but between us and within us.
Back, back, back, before the rock, before the thunderstorm, so long ago as to be preverbal, there was something else that happened like this. I now know it is a song but before I knew what music was or what words were I only knew it as a feeling, a thing that happened. It began with drums that beat like a pounding heart, and when I heard them I felt something like, “IT IS HAPPENING!” or after I had come to recognize the feeling I did not yet even know was a song, “IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN!”
The song was “Cecilia,” by Simon and Garfunkel. My parents played this song a lot, exposing me to it at a frequency not uncommon to children born around 1980 to parents born around 1950. I can’t imagine they had any particular intentions in their playing of this song, but it set my internal tuning fork to the beat of those drums. Or did the beat of the drums happen to match the vibration in my own internal tuning fork? Which came first, the drums you danced to or the drums inside of you?
It has been observed by my friends that I am incapable of dancing to what is known as the downbeat. I move to every beat I can hear in the music, to the beats in between. This means I dance twice as fast as everyone else. This means I exhaust myself more quickly. This means I dance alone.
This started with “Cecilia,” with the drums. I have heard that epileptics sometimes smell oranges before they have seizures. The song previous to “Cecilia” was the smell of oranges. The song that came after was defined as the song that was not-“Cecilia.” Its introduction became tied to the feeling of emptiness of the passing of what had been happening, the return to normal time. When the next song would begin I understood it only as not being IT, not IT, happening. Very often this is the same with people. The ones that come after the ones that really happen are the same way. They are not really whatever songs they are so much as they are not the songs they aren’t.
This is the only other feeling I can have about a song or a person, the feeling of “It is not happening.” The feeling of it not happening is the same to me as being dead. If it is not happening I have no interest in the song or the person. The feeling of emptiness, of it, not happening is the one thing–more than loneliness–that I cannot tolerate.
There were no repeat buttons then, and I had neither the lingual facility nor the manual dexterity to push them or request them pushed. There was only a needle that dropped into a groove. It spiraled toward and then away from the the not even three minutes I only knew then and know now to call “IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN.”
When I eventually did learn and understand words, I puzzled over the words to “Cecilia,” thinking they would help me to understand what IT was. The first thing I puzzled over was the construction “making love.” “Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia/Up in my bedroom.” I wondered over this privately without ever asking what it meant. I remember believing that what I felt about the song “Cecilia” was something that could not be articulated or asked about, lacking as I did the words “euphoria” or “fleeting,” lacking as I did the concept of ecstasy as a state that we passed through or that passed through us. I felt then as I do now that maybe I was making this up, that if I talked about it people would think I was only making it up, that the answer would be that I felt what I felt because I wanted to feel it and it was all in my mind. I worried over this even then, because if it was all in my mind then why did I need the song, together with my mind, to experience this feeling? I could not ask and I sensed that even if I did ask there would be no answers.
But “Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia/Up in my bedroom.” I did not understand how love–this intangible thing–could ever be made. It got felt and expressed by parents and other relatives particularly in accompaniment with hugs, kisses, and the wrapping of towels or smoothing of blankets. Eventually I understood vaguely that there was a different sort of love between parents that was explained in some way around the frank biological facts of where the new baby had come from (something I never had one moment’s confusion about, something that was explained very clearly and accompanied by a viewing of the Nova: Miracle of Life video on a recently-purchased VHS machine in a time when Betamax was still an option, something that unlike all of this secret business with the song and the feelings I had because of the song was in contrast quite clear to me, presented as scientific fact as it always was), but I could not understand the making of love.
I tried to picture it in a literal way, two people in the bedroom, making love the way you would make dinner, or a fingerpainting. The best I could do was to imagine them standing over the bed, passing a plasma-like energy substance between them, the way my parents sometimes stood over the bed folding laundry, taking this energy substance from a laundry basket and stretching it or fluffing it and passing it from one to the other, industriously creating a neat pile of love.
“I got up to wash my face/When I come back to bed someone’s taken my place.” This I understood. I washed my face each night. Kid music was full of all kinds of silly lyrics and I understood that in songs things just rhymed and sometimes evoked weird images. I did not know then as I came to acutely understand later, what it felt like to know that someone had taken your place in the bed while you were gone.
The final verse was my favorite. “Jubiliation/She loves me again/I fall on the floor and I’m laughing.” The “a” in “JUBILATION” was drawn out into two syllables, “Jubil-a-aaaay-tion!” This was my favorite part. I was fascinated by this idea of being struck by a joy so great you would fall down on the floor. Somehow even though the whole song was in what I later learned was a major key, this part was even more major, and I loved the idea of happiness lavished upon happiness to the point of complete collapse.
The final chorus of the song was sung on “Whoa,” until it faded out, and this made perfect sense to me, this devolution of words into the sound you made when you went fast or lost control. It did not occur to me until much later that “whoa” is a homophone of “woe,” and that “whoa” means “stop” as much as “go.”
As the song drifted away (it had a fadeout, not an ending chord, something I also puzzled over, why some songs faded and got quieter and others ended abruptly), I would press my ear to the foam of the stereo speaker to catch the very end, not knowing when it would come again and not even being able to ask.