Closer Issue 6
"The dead of midnight is the noon of thought."
Anna Letitia Barbauld
Right now, I just want to hit the road. It's Sunday afternoon, the day before Christmas, and I want to leave. I've got a small paycheck in my wallet, about three gallons of gas in my car and a need to get out. I've been sitting here listening to Mary Lou Lord sing "The Lights Are Changing," thinking about heading out to the Motel 6 in Palm Springs and hiding for a few days, watching TV, lounging by the swimming pool, eating bad diner food and trying to forget how lonely I am. Maybe I should head due north, just to see how long it takes me to get to Canada. Maybe I should go east. It's been a few years since I contracted food poisoning in Gila Bend. Maybe the Best Western Space Age Motel's food has improved a bit. Maybe I'll just wait until next week and take off on the 15, just to see where it goes. I keep thinking I want to be somewhere, anywhere else so I won't be sitting here by the phone, hoping it will ring. "You slow down, you slow down, the lights are changing." Really, my wants are pretty simple. I want to be in love. I keep thinking it happens and then it all falls apart before I can blink. I e-mail or call my friends, lamenting my poor luck. We sit around, drink, commiserate and then wake up the next morning with the sun shining in too brightly on our hangovers.
I just walked outside. I know you're in Sacramento, but I half expected to see your car parked in front of my house and hear your shoes clicking on the concrete steps as you came toward me. For a second, I even saw you. You had your hair curled, you looked kind of uncertain. You said "Hi." Then reality kicked back in. I've got a headache. It's December outside and I can feel the chill seeping into my bones.
I don't want to have a history anymore. I just want to disappear into anonymity. I've spent all night throwing away memories and fragments of my past - tattered scraps of paper with phone numbers on them, photographs ... I don't even know what else. I want to tear myself down and re-invent myself, all over again. I want to get in my car and hit the road, heading east just to get out, but I'll probably just fall asleep on the floor, resting my head on stacks of books. I just want to leave. I want out.
"Driving is a spectacular form of amnesia. Everything is to be discovered, everything to be obliterated."
I went on a minor road trip on Friday. Drove about an hour and a half east, out into the mountains. Spent some time hanging out in Jacumba, a small town about 60 odd miles outside of San Diego. It seems like there's only one street, lined by independently owned businesses. The place is like one of those small towns in the middle of nowhere which only exist because a bunch of people decided to remove themselves from society. Spent some time in Campo, buying candy for some friends. Spent some time farther east, sitting on the hood of my car by the side of the freeway, looking out over the vast, flat expanses of the Imperial Valley.
I think it was therapeutic to take off and drive east for a bit. It reminded me of all the road trips I used to take. All this wide open space, all these monuments to the inexorable processes of time - exfoliated rocks, mountains, canyons, huge hills - In a lot of ways, it reminded me exactly how small and unimportant my troubles are. I know, intellectually at least, that these problems will pass, just like everything else in my life. I know that in a few months, maybe a year at the outside, I'll be over this. In the meantime, those freeways are empty and I'm feeling that craving to get out again, to simply go, driving away from the afternoon sun for little purpose other than clearing my head in a rush of acceleration, punk rock and space.
It's strange really; the freeways don't have much identity or character. The landscape they cut through defines them, but the freeways in and of themselves are virtually placeless, meaning they simply exist without context or time. It's a great place to lose myself in thought and mull things over. It's better than meditation because they're so blank, because I don't have to try to keep my mind free of thought - when I'm by myself, the freeways remove everything except the motor functions and reflexes which keep me on the road and prevent accidents. Sometimes they're made of concrete, usually some form of asphalt, but they are, essentially, a blank slate upon which I can write a new story - a new tale and plot for my life.
I mailed her a postcard from the road, responding to a card she sent me which talked about dust and healing. I basically said I missed her, that I was going as far east as I wanted to get my head straight, and that I'd see her when I saw her. I think this may have been the final step I needed to get over her and get on moving on. Driving under impossibly blue skies, the color you see in watercolor kits but never happens in real life, that fabricated shade of blue that seems to define the hue, but in reality has no original or match in the natural world. I listened to Jawbreaker's "Ache," Guided by Voices' "Motor Away," Lois' "Shy Town" - it felt incredible to hop on the freeway and chase the darkness for a while. For a while there, I was somewhat afraid (and also secretly hoping) I wouldn't stop; that I'd just keep going until I found a town where I could disappear into anonymity and wash dishes until I could think of something better to do. I miss her, but I'm getting over it.
"My drive continued and worries about vanishing feelings remained like a background radiation. But I guess the nice thing about driving a car is that the physical act of driving itself occupies a good chunk of brain cells that otherwise would be giving you trouble overloading your thinking. New scenery continually erases what came before; memory is lost, shuffled, relabeled and forgotten. Gum is chewed; buttons are pushed; windows are lowered and opened. A fast, moving car is the only place where you're legally allowed to not deal with your problems. It's enforced meditation and this is good."
How many ways am I supposed to count my mistakes? How many ways can I tally those silly little fuck-ups that snowball until it seems like they'll bury me, rolling me over and over until I can't tell which way is up, encased in a icy white tomb ...
It seems like my life has been a treatment for a script about Generation X lately. You know the deal - young male hangs out with friends, listening to indie bands and drinking heavily, lamenting his romantic/occupational/scholastic/etc. status. Lately, my life has been about fighting, living out of hotel rooms and hanging out in small apartments. It's been about wearing heavy jackets, wandering down city streets and drinking too much in dive bars. It's been about making hard decisions and failing to follow through, then suffering the consequences.
In issue 4, I wrote about taking a late night drive to Barstow with a friend. I didn't write too much else. Didn't want to jinx it. By the time issue 5 came out, that whole thing was over. So I thought. She came back to town at the end of August. The first time I saw her, I thought I was having a stroke. She didn't look at me. So much for friendship. Besides, she found a guy who she liked a lot. Moved in with him in fact. She told me she liked him so much he "made [her] shy." Yeah. Whatever. I mean, I'm your friend, but a few weeks ago, I was still saying I love you. Thanks for sharing though. Really. I appreciate knowing how you feel. Then she called me.
We started talking. As such things go, it started up again. It was wonderful for a while. Then I started having more work to do and less time for her. I went through midterms and papers. Still less. She started calling me at work, sometimes every 20 minutes, even when I had told her I was busy and couldn't talk. For my part, I started avoiding her. I worked on my computer, I wrote. When we did get together, we usually wound up fighting at least once. We were miserable.
So about two and a half weeks ago, I inadvertently broke it off. I just wanted to talk to her and see what we could do to improve the situation. I think we both wound up crying that night. I took off for New York a couple of days later. While I was sitting in my hotel room, watching syndicated talk shows, I realized I missed her. I realized I still loved her. I realized I fucked up, made a mistake ... I'm sure you know the litany. So I started calling her. We talked a bit. Then I got home and started trying to put it back together. It worked out for a bit ... I guess. I spent a lot of time with her that night. I spent the next night with her, cuddled in a twin bed. I was studying for my 18th century British literature final. She was sleeping. I kept looking over at her, marveling at how lucky I was to have found someone like her. Dawn hit, I finished studying, we went to the campus and took our respective finals. That night, everything started to fall apart. I won't go into the details, but we fought. Again.
I almost walked out. As it was ... I stayed, but I slept in my clothes. I don't know why. I spent the next night with her, and the next. I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible before she left to go home for winter break. A few days after she got home, I called her. She said it wasn't working out. Said she had already started getting over me when I left for New York. This time, she said she wanted to marry a French guy, and that she might go out with people, but she really wanted to marry a French guy. I think I called her four more times that day, trivial questions filling my head. Why? Are we still friends? What did I do? I'm too exhausted right now to think about it any more deeply. After we finished talking, I hung up the phone, thinking I never should have called. All I wanted to do was wish her Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Birthday and the like, because I knew she wanted some time to herself.
I just found one of the Blow Pops she gave me on Halloween, never mind that it's December now. Earlier this evening, I ran across a letter from an old flame. Sooner or later, I may be able to bring myself to throw away all these things that bring the memories back. Some things are better left forgotten.
It's Saturday morning. About this time last year, I called said old flame up, thinking she should have returned from Italy. She had. Not a good sign. I won't dissect that mess again, but after I put the phone back on the hook, I sat in my high-backed chair and cried. This morning, I'm cleaning, still waiting for someone to call. Sometimes I think that telephone is my umbilical cord. Sometimes I think I've never truly started living on my own without the assistance of someone else.
I need a shave. I need a shower. I need to clean. I need to be alone. Every time I do one of these zines, I usually try to finish on a positive note. Maybe it's just a lie masquerading as optimism. I'm starting to think I might be fooling myself. I'm starting to think it's not going to get better; this is the best it's ever going to be and that's only because I'm young and relatively healthy. I'm starting to think it's all downhill from here. I still try to be happy, but it seems like crafting happiness out of my unhappiness is just getting too hard. Loneliness, mixed in with periodic short-term interpersonal relationships, seems like the track of my life.
Right now, I'm not doing anything. I'm just sitting on the grass, staring at the sunset. It's moments like this that make it worthwhile. I derive my happiness from the world around me now, not people. Nature is just more reliable. A pink, cotton-candy-cloud dawn in San Diego, peeking over the eastern horizon at 6 a.m. Waking up on the 35th floor of a hotel in New York, watching snow fall on the rooftops around me. A sunset over the bay, an orange cataclysm of fission, sinking behind Navy ships.
I may have been inattentive at times, I did avoid her at times, but I always loved her. I hope someday she'll realize she really deserves to be loved and stop hurting herself. So I guess I'm starting over. I hope I'll find someone, but it's not exactly a priority. I want to spend some time by myself, hanging out, drifting. Sooner or later, I'm going to have to get around to learning how to meet people. Sure, I can connect in conversations (sometimes), but it happens so rarely anymore. It just seems like I said everything good that I had to say, that I used all my words up and I should just shut my mouth now and go back to being what I was before I met her - a workaholic, Type-A personality who was treated for pre-ulcerative conditions in fifth grade, who stresses too much, who doesn't sleep, etc. It seems like the expected course of action for me to take is to retreat to my Walter Mitty-esque existence where I don't go to shows, clubs, etc. and instead sit in coffeeshops, drinking hot chocolate by myself or with a friend and writing gibberish on legal pads.
I'm not depressed, just pensive, hurt, pondering my life and the situations I find myself in, trying to figure out what to do next. The expected thing for me to do is to go back to not having a life which, in truth, I didn't have before I met her. I worked, I ate, I went to class, I did my zine, I hung out with friends sometimes, I slept. End of story. After I met her, we went shopping to movies, to clubs. We went out to eat, we rented movies (though our tastes were radically different at the video store). I think for once I truly understood what it felt like not to be alone. And I lost it. It's like when my old flame left. For a few days, I had someone's arms around me every night. Then she left and her departure basically ripped this huge, gaping black hole in my personal space-time continuum, sucking all the emotions and good things in with its hellish gravitational pull. It seemed like her absence might have pulled me in too if it hadn't been for work. I retreated to my job and wrote as much as I could, spent as much time at the office as I could, all so I didn't have to come home to this goddamn empty room that always seems so cold. The only thing that fills it up is music and, periodically, a dog sleeping on the floor. Usually I just sit here by myself, working through my problems the same way I've done most of my life - by myself. I don't like being alone. I want to connect; that's the whole point of the zine. I want to communicate. I wouldn't be spilling my guts on the page if I didn't want to try to communicate with someone. Sometimes, I think about how sad it is that some of the best friends I have are thousands of miles away, and, in many cases, people I've never met and never seen. Then I think about how lucky I am to have friends at all, and it gets better for a while.
"You're only running away / Making it easier for today"
So as I bring this to a close, it's 4:26 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. I slept until about 1:30 a.m., got up, wrote some e-mail and then finished reading Matt Ruff's "Fool on the Hill" while eating crackers and granola bars and reclining on my bed. I haven't gotten out of my sweats for some time, but it doesn't bother me. I'm comfortable, and that's what's important right now. I'm also dancing around my room, listening to Richard X. Heyman and I can't tell whether I'm laughing or crying. I think it's both in some ways. No one ever said you can't cry when you're happy. I have those chills running up and down my spine and I've realized that pretty much every circumstance which has surrounded my life lately, making it seem gloomy, is falling away. They're just evaporating into the pre-dawn fog.
I know a few things right now - I miss her. It's okay to miss her; after all, she was the most important part of my life for several months. I miss her, but I'll get over it. In two days, I'll have a fresh start and a clean break, not to mention a new chance. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that on Thursday afternoon, a day I never really did get the hang of, I'll be walking out of a building in downtown San Diego with a new direction, regardless of what happens, which is a good thing. I've realized that, as much as I loved her and as sad as I've been since she left, I will, finally, be okay. I can finally say goodbye and not regret the way it ended. In time, maybe she and I will be friends again, the type who still have all the closeness of lovers but none of the physical aspects, but if we aren't, I'll get by.
It's incredibly early and I shouldn't be this happy, goofy or silly, much less this energetic. I'm still bouncing around, laughing with tears in my eyes at how wonderful and beautiful life is. Sure, there are times when it hurts, but that's the payment, the price of admission for all the joy. Hemingway said it best when he wrote that line about paying some way for anything that's ever any good, and if these fares seem a bit steeper than most, well, that's just too bad. I'll find the coin somewhere because I don't have anything better to spend my money on. Besides, what good would life be if there weren't moments to provide balance so we can understand and fully appreciate those moments when we are truly happy? What fun would it be if our personal narratives didn't have struggle, conflict and heartbreak to counterpoint the small triumphs that happen every day? Not much at all.
When I started this about a month ago, I didn't think it would have a happy ending, but I was so wrapped up in my own self-indulgent and pointless misery at the time that I couldn't see the proverbial forest for the trees. Now, I'm thinking quite differently. It's all behind me, finally, and all I know right now is that the sunrise, when it hits, is going to be like none I've ever seen. I can't explain how I know this - I just do. For my part, I'll be sitting on my front porch in a lawn chair with a sleeping bag wrapped around me and a cup of hot chocolate at my side to ward off the early morning chills. I don't know what it's going to look like, but I do know I won't miss it for the world.