Sunday, April 14, 2013

When the Winds Have Swept the Moon from the Shore

In San Francisco, Autumn transitions noiselessly into Spring and then back again. The weather differences are subtle. It’s raining in the morning; it’s sunny in the afternoon and cloudy in the evening. At night the stars return to their ocean beds. The change was so gradual that I didn’t even notice until cherry blossoms were suddenly whirling out of the trees and collecting in drifts along the curbs. I probably wouldn’t have noticed at all if it didn’t betoken the passing of another year. I realize now that I have neglected to notice how the years have gone by; I have been attending to place much more than time. At each place, achieving something and moving on, quickly. > The wind is once again blowing and now more attentive, I hear the sound of time it nearly drowns out. The waves are moving onto the stones, the blooms are lifted and the clouds lumber across the sky. It is now impossible not to see these passages as they are. They are past progressions borne into the present: the places and the people staid forever by implacable nature of memory. 1999: The radio is on. The room smells like pastel crayons and old, wet clay. Someone is talking quietly in the back of the room, but, under the radio the predominant sound is pencil scratching and the hum of institutional lighting. Michelle bursts into the doorway. She’s got tears running down her face and now I know that Jeremy is dead. At every milestone, that moment has reasserted itself. Jeremy never finished high school; He’s there forever. Always right there in the doorway. No college, no fiancĂ©, no travel, no child, just right there, caught up to and surpassed, long surpassed at every moment. 2003: The Grand River is rolling away under a canopy of new foliage and subtle afternoon light. I am sitting on the edge and considering the decade that has just passed away. I feel a twinge of anxiety about how I might have to think of myself differently in the future, but as the days go by, I realize that if anything is going to be different, it’s everything but me. Until 2006: The tradition and non-tradition, the Spring nights, the caffeinated dreaming, the snow outside dark windows, it’s all going to leave you standing somewhere else so obviously tabla rasa. I didn’t choose where I was born and I didn’t choose the places after that, but this street and that hill and this whole mess-I chose it all. What a horrible mistake! I’ll have to do something quick to take the responsibility off myself. 2007: I finish packing and Mikey goes off to get a few burritos. The car is pulled over on Hyde with the hazard lights on. It’s a five hour drive and I’m barely going to make it to the leasing office to pick up my keys before they close for the weekend. Moving into this new place is horrible. It’s surrounded by trees and when the wind passes through them it sounds completely empty, like it just blew in from nowhere, like it was just born there. This must be the end of the world. Mikey and I stand on a bridge together and watch the night traffic underneath. In the morning, I watch his car disappear over the crest of a hill. Completely alone, I take the first of a year’s fruitless walks. For the next year every time I cross the bridge, I see the ghost of that moment, like a llorona weeping desperately at the sputtering traffic. Each night is frozen. If not for my classes, days would go by and I wouldn’t even talk. I ride my bike for hours past old farm houses falling in on themselves and I think how they are going to send me some place so much farther than this. It’s going to be a dusty steppe of buzkashi and kumis and I am going to have to stay there for more than two years. When I leave this Klondike I am going to another. It is isolation and impending isolation. 2008: Before you even arrive you know how long it’s going to be before you leave. Every moment feels like work. Work learning a new language, work preparing teaching materials, work just trying to communicate basic feeling to the strangers with whom you live. When the work is done I’ve got enough to read to last for hours. From May to October, the feeling of adventure is grounding. The walks become 8-hour hikes but as the weather gets cooler it becomes more difficult to get out of bed. On my days off, I think about staying in bed all day. After a few hours the room is almost bright with cold and loneliness and I go out to the grey and windy foreign country outside my door where everyone stares. 2009: At night, I sit in the window with my headphones on, smoking cigarettes and looking at the stars. Sometimes, I will go out and take a late-night walk with a stray dog who disappears after a few months. I look for him well into October, but he never comes back. 2010: There is a bird outside my window that whistles a single note at night, a low, sibilant note, like the hoot of an owl very gently whistled. Every note counts off a day that I was here, but I never stay awake to hear them all. The nights are too fine and I am too content. It seems like I had to wait years to hear this bird. This single note joyously full of flour and fire, dogs barking after faraway sheep, dusty parquet floors and dusty coffee grounds. 2011: I return to that lonely town with more than two years’ worth of stories to tell, stories of which the telling has been dedicated to one person. The present becomes underscored with the past and the two are impossibly tangled. 2012: We leave together. I keep telling stories for the moments that I cannot fully make her understand and the sky of a new hemisphere scrolls over the crowded streets, inexplicably changed. Now: The sorrowful notes and the happy ones are all blown together in the wind. On this quiet day, I listen to them one after another and wonder how far they will travel. How many more empty rooms will take me in and how many more moments will spin out of them? How much more present can succumb to past?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Empty Airports

Almaty: Empty. Kiev, Budapest: no one there. Milan: no one. Lisbon: get your luggage and skate toward down town. Madrid to Dublin: empty airports all. When you’re not expecting anyone airports are strangely quiet. There are so many people waiting behind customs, at least five of them in the back standing on their tiptoes, hushed and expectant. They look at me, look right into my eyes. No. No you’re not him. I shoulder past them all. I already know there is nobody to find in the crowd. The people do not want to lose their viewing areas and are reluctant to move a few feet to let me pass. I and the bag: a salesman, a vagabond, a gypsy. I haven’t come from anywhere and I haven’t arrived anywhere. There is a seamless connection between Kazakhstan and Ireland, because I haven’t stopped once to say: “Here I am.” And no one has yet asked me “Where were you?” I haven’t been home in years. Not to America at all. Not anywhere near it. The closest I got was Sarajevo and Sarajevo is still pretty far from America. When I was there I remember thinking to myself, this is the closest I’ve been to America the whole time. I looked west from Sarajevo but there was a mountain in my way. No Europe, no Atlantic to see. They say there’s a reorientation period, that you have cultural shock. They call it reverse culture shock which is stupid. After being gone this long, culture seems like a very relative thing. It’s ridiculous to say that it’s reversed because you once understood the culture now shocking you. It didn’t happen to me. Not in America, at least not in that disorienting way. Every last volt of culture shock passed through me in Budapest. I wasn’t sure, I thought maybe there’d still be some communist vestiges there, you know? A Pushkin street or an old oxidized sign in Cyrillic somewhere. Nothing. This was a city well within the borders of its own democracy and now well within the borders of Europe. In the Budapest airport, the tourist map I’d found had a restaurant directory by category and there was a vegetarian category. I couldn’t believe it, after years of piroshky, a complete meal. I couldn’t decide if I should eat or find a place to stay first. When I considered how nice it would be able to do anything without the dacha I had on my back, I decided to find a hostel first. Near downtown, I found a backpacker place that looked like some youthful adventure club. All the places I’d stayed over the past couple of years, I’d usually been the only one there. If there were others it was hard to tell. It seemed to be expected that you would never meet. Here it was clearly encouraged. They even had outings planned and pencils dangled from string, making small hatch marks on the paper when the front door opened or closed. “Would you like to sign up for the walking tour?” “No thanks.” The guy at the desk spoke English like it was normal for him to do. I was used to using echolalia and word salad techniques to make myself understood and it was almost difficult not to interrupt him and ask him to speak slower. When I taught English, a lot of the kids would explain to me that they had already studied German. They explained this patiently in their own language. ‘Sorry, buddy, I’ve already started my third language [The native language and Russian being their first and second]. Can’t start over again and learn English this time. Wish I could, but German’s already in there taking up all the room.’ Then I would turn to them with paternal ‘sprechen sie deutsch?’ The poor kids, they would immediately respond with ‘da’ because they were almost hard-wired that way. I would repeat it ‘da?’ Realizing their mistake they would scramble to correct it, but often found that they did not know what the German word for ‘yes’ was. I would restate my offer to teach them English and at this point, most of the kids accepted it. ‘Parlez-vous francais’ worked the same way. I wondered if this Hungarian guy had ever tried to get out of his English lessons, or did he realize at a young age that he lived in a pluralistic world and not many other people on it spoke Hungarian. I went into my room to lie down. It was a dorm room but there wasn’t anyone else staying in there. At night, that seemed the oddest thing to me. Here was a room crammed full of bunk beds and I was the only person sleeping on one. In the morning, I went for a walk and ate at the first place I saw offering vegetarian food. While I ate, I looked up at the menu. There is was. ‘Vegetarian.’ It actually said it on the menu. I stared in disbelief for a while longer before accepting it and wandering back outside. It was just a word after all, but one that signified such a drastic cultural shift. All day, I walked slowly. There was too much to process: the fast food restaurants, the diverse population, how expensive the metro was, men wearing tennis shoes in public and the obvious rock and roll influence that never made it past the Urals. In the evening, I went back to the hostel and on the way I passed a park. It was filled with young people. Not kids, but people in their twenties that were not married or acting like adults. They drank beer, smoked and laughed out loud. They rode bikes and put their beer bottles in the recycling when they were done with them. I wanted to go up to each one of them and introduce myself. But I remembered that this is a disheartening correlation between places where there are a lot of young people around and places where no one has the slightest interest in you. I was part of the crowd, but I wasn’t. I smoked cigarettes and grinned like a moron at everyone, waiting for someone to come over and ask me what I was doing there. After the first day things got less disorienting. I went to another hostel, known for being a party hostel and became completely confused by the hedonism of the residents. I’m not going to say that I had been forced to live like a saint while I was away, but I hadn’t seen anything like this in a while. The Scottish girl who checked me in had been drunk at 4 in the afternoon and when I had come back in from a long walk around 2 am she was sitting at the bar drinking and laughing. She told me she couldn’t leave. I could see why. By the time I left Budapest, it almost all seemed normal again: different kinds of restaurants, places that took credit cards, police that generally left non-criminals alone. What took me an unexpectedly long time to get over was all the tennis shoes. I took a late-night bus to Italy expecting to be woken up with a flashlight in my face at the Slovenian border and a hard-faced border patrol demanding my dokumenti. Nothing. I didn’t wake up until we were already in Italy. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t even heard anything on the border. Did we even stop? I continued to travel around Europe like I was visiting some kind of limbo. The starkness of the soviet landscape was nowhere to be found, but neither was there much evidence of American enterprise. There were no clover leaf exchanges, rows of fast food restaurants, large new cars or entire places shrink-wrapped in advertising. I expected to still be surprised by some of these things when I got off the last flight and walked down a once-familiar street. I had gotten as far as Dublin, and my last night there felt like my last night in Philadelphia years before. I killed the day walking around a park and taking pictures of a typically green and overcast Ireland. I tried to walk down to the Martello towers where Joyce used to live, but I got sidetracked and ended up going back downtown. I took pictures of spider webs on wet iron gates and bridges in the distance, not really knowing what else to do. Over two years before in Philadelphia, I was looking at all the pennies shining on Ben Franklin’s grave. Why not old keys? Did these people all confuse Franklin with Lincoln? I walked by the liberty bell late at night, the same self-sufficient copper glow. America: paved in copper. It wouldn’t have drawn the immigrants as well as the gold rumor, but it had more truth. I walked into south Philadelphia, thinking I would go see some live music. I didn’t expect to have the chance again for a long time. I watched a band with keyboards and trumpets for a while, one of those bands that has more members than they seem to know what to do with. I couldn’t get into it and I went back to my room. It was late. I started at my bed and then went back downstairs. I didn’t have a phone anymore. I’d already cancelled the plan. I asked at the front desk where I might find a place to make a call. “Like a pay phone!? I honestly have no idea.” ‘Interesting how people say honestly to mean ‘really’. Gives it a little more ponderousness, I guess.’ I thought to myself after someone else told me maybe all those 7-11s still had payphones in their parking lots. I went to four before I found one that would work. Luckily, Philadelphia, at least the part I was staying in, has a lot of 7-11s. Because I was still in America, I felt like I hadn’t yet made a decision. I could still rescind. I didn’t have to go, but deep down I knew I did. Everyone knew. The call went like this. “Hello.” “Hi.” “I don’t know about this.” “Sure you do.” “Did I make the wrong decision?” “Well, you’ll never know will you?” “…” “I think it’s the only decision you could have made. It’s your decision.” “I don’t think I can do this.” “You’re being melodramatic.” “Yes, but it’s 3 AM, and I’m standing in a 7-11 parking lot making my last American phone call. I’ve barely got anything left to hold on to.” “…” “…” “You don’t know what’s out there yet.” There were a few more encouraging words before I hung up. The diner, the coffee, the drugstore, the bus ride, a giant cemetery outside of queen’s with a smokestack towering over it and a 20 dollar phone card that I bought in La Guardia and never used again and then I left. At first, I thought about it all a lot. On long walks, in the morning in my room, in the afternoon reading outside my host family’s house I would imagine myself returning tearfully to it all. I held on to these fantasies for nearly a year. It was as if I’d left only so I’d be able to return and say I had left and then never have to do it again. Even when it was clear that I would have no right to my former life when I returned, I still held on. It’s hard to stand by while the world changes around you. Usually, you have the comfort of knowing you can do something about it. From where I was, I watched my world change as if I were reading about it in a newspaper. Babies were born, friends moved or died. There was no closure to get from anything. I just watched it happen and hoped that every so often someone would remember me, just remember me; I couldn’t expect them to call. I stood on a bridge that spanned the Liffey, the night before leaving Ireland, unable to really remember all of that. I knew it to be there, but I couldn’t remember it. I tried telling myself, but the words seem to fall away without revealing their meaning. The only thing I wanted was a welcome home. I wanted the stony-faced customs agent at the airport to look up, assume a mild expression and say ‘welcome home,’ like saying thank you. I didn’t want anyone at the airport. I didn’t know how emotional it was going to be, but I wanted the customs guard to welcome me back. I wanted someone impartial to acknowledge what I had done. It was after the first year that I began to accept my situation. I stopped living like I was in exile and started to accept where I was for what it was. I stopped feeling like I was killing time, just waiting to go home. I understood that I lived in this place. I wasn’t visiting it. I had learned a lot of the language and had internalized parts of the culture. After a year, I had finally begun to understand that one day I was going to miss this place too. Once I understood that, there was no more struggle. I had a life here and until I went back, it was completely here. There was no one in the Dublin airport and no one in the Chicago airport when I came back. I really had used up all my culture shock in Budapest. I found I had none left. Once I cleared customs, a taxi driver stopped me by the currency exchange windows. I was trying to exchange a few remaining euro coins. He asked me if I needed a ride. I told him no, but stood there talking to him. He took me through the subjects, weather, sports, his job, evidently looking to kill some time. I talked a little but mostly listened to him. I didn’t have anywhere to go, not right away anyway. Before he walked away, I gave him the euro coins. I don’t know why. I thought maybe he could find some place to exchange them, or give them to his European fares as change. I went outside. I went out into Philadelphia, looking for a pay phone; I went out into San Francisco to go to the library; I went out into the Michigan summers I loved when I was a kid; I went out into an early autumn day outside Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I went out into everything I had ever known and realized that it was no longer the whole object it had once been. I put my bag down, kneeled and put my forehead on the sidewalk and I could already feel it, in the midst of my return, I had already begun to feel what was missing, but I could also feel the sense of returning to something. “Ahhh, here I am,” I mumbled into the sidewalk. Here I am.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Night is Less than a Day

Ashgabat was the only place where we didn’t need to be accompanied by our tour guide every time we left the hotel. In the capital of Turkmenistan, we were allowed to amble along the parade ground avenues and faux Timurid domed government buildings. We hadn’t been able to do this before, although we had tried. A few days earlier, when the freighter carrying us across the Caspian had docked at Turkmanbashi, we hadn’t expected to be able to enter the country until our tour guide arrived to vouch for our future activities and whereabouts while in Turkmenistan. When everyone else got in the customs line, we sulked on a curb outside, smoking cigarettes and watching our freighter unload the remainder of its cargo from Azerbaijan. We took out our passports and again looked at our Turkmenistan visas, still incredible in their blue-yellow sheen. We reminisced about the afternoon we had returned to the consulate in Yerevan thinking we’d get mummified in red tape and then booted out the door. We were left sitting in the reception area, looking at a copy of the Ruhnama, trying to decide if it would be OK if we picked it up. I had been just about to open up the touted Turkmen Book of the Soul, when the consular services attendant returned with our passports; he held them open to the page where he’d just affixed our visas. It turned out that we weren’t allowed to wait before entering customs and when we were found lounging around, smoking cigarettes in the back we were told sharply in Russian to get inside and go through customs. The whole time we had waited nervously to see if we’d actually be allowed to leave customs unattended. The stamp on our visas was as surprising as the visas themselves had been. Elliot and I walked out the door into the glare of new sidewalks and the oily Caspian and ran toward the town of Turkmenbashi, about 2 KM down the road, convinced that someone would soon discover their mistake and come after us. After having a gun pulled on us by walking into a bank and getting a slap on the wrist from the tourist agency we were in Ashgabat and finally able to look around one of the most cloistered and xenophobic countries in the world. Everywhere I went it was soldiers and monuments. There were no stores, just wide streets with a few government Ladas cruising around. The only civilians to be seen were completely wrapped in scarfs that covered their heads and faces while they cleaned the aforementioned monuments. It was hard to tell if the cleaners wore these scarfs to protect their faces from the sun and the sand blowing in from the Karakum or if they wore them to protect their anonymity in an autocratic country. They must have realized that there was some safety in looking like everyone else on the streets. Everyone was a worker and every worker had the scarfs on, man or woman. It seemed all one needed to do here to pass as a local was to put on fatigues or an day glo orange safety vest and wrap a scarf around your head. I never heard anyone talking so you could expect that no one would question you. I walked around downtown all day. I saw all the golden monuments and an odd unbroken line of brand new hotels, there must have been at least fifteen in a row, where it looked like no one was staying. I couldn’t help but to pity the volunteers and aid workers living out in Turkmenistan. In the former Soviet Union the capital was supposed to be a place where you could find an over-priced jar of peanut butter and speak English with someone while having a ridiculously overpriced beer in a mock-up Irish pub. Ashgabat seemed to be the only capital that was devoid of these things. What would it be like to live in a Turkmen village and come here once a month? It wasn’t a village, but it wasn’t exactly a city either; it was an amalgamation, part Baghdad, part Xanadu, part Gulag Archipelago. It was also boring. I had been wanting to see this place for years, but there wasn’t anyone to talk to and all the buildings were ministries behind armed guards. If I had tried to wander into one of these even the ignorant tourist card would probably not get me off the hook. Nowhere in the world have I felt the same kind of fear that I felt in Ashgabat. I wouldn’t say I was afraid but I was conscious of a fear. It may have not even been my own, but everyone else’s creating a palpable tension. Everywhere else, you fear a dark alley, a riot, a roving gang of armed teenagers, dogs and maybe even explosions. You fear the overt. In Turkmenistan, you didn’t fear so much as you felt the invert. It’s like there was something underground or between the walls that had no rationale that just struck occasionally because that’s all it knew and, of course, what it did when it struck was a complete mystery. Initially, you enjoy being a protagonist in a Kafka novel, but after a while you get hungry and the conspicuous lack of pirozhki stands is probably the most disconcerting thing. It’s almost like Ashgabat is entirely beyond the purview of either communism or democracy. In a way, it looks like an example of what the world would’ve looked like if fascism had won. The only other place in the world I have seen that looks like it is the EUR, a neighborhood that Mussolini designed as a world fascism exposition piece that still exists south of Rome. I don’t remember there being any place to eat there either. All the right angles and the chalk-white marble seem to inform you that you no longer get to decide when or what you’re going to eat. After finding the only place I saw anyone, in a market on the edge of the downtown area, I ate a little then went back to the hotel. I was exhausted. I found Elliot by the pool with a book and a beer. He looked unfazed by Ashgabat’s epiphytic quality. He had seen most of the monuments I had seen, but hadn’t bothered to walk to the outskirts of town, where the place abruptly ended in the desert, giving one the impression that Turkmen nomadic tendencies were still alive and well. Even the capital, at its fringes, gave the impression of a tent city. We went back to our room, showered and laughed some more at the incredible obvious place where the microphone wires had been run through the wall, but unlike the night we had gotten in, we no longer made a joke of sounding like spies. All those blank guarded buildings were too close to the fore of our minds. There was one place open to buy beer. I had never paid so much for beers in the former Soviet Union. I hadn’t been ripped off too badly because the price of the beers had been marked. Everywhere else, beer had practically been free, Efes in Azerbaijan, Kazbegi in Georgia and Kilikia in Armenia, all well under a dollar a bottle. It was the same in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan too. Either everyone drank araq (homemade) in Turkmenistan or no one drank, which in this part of the world would be quite a feat. After we drank our beers in the room we decided to go down to the hotel’s disco. There were two bars there, one upstairs and one downstairs. We went to the downstairs one first, but there was hardly anyone there. In the upstairs one we found a few more people, even a guy wearing a yes hay em (I’m Armenian) shirt. Thinking maybe we’d talk to this guy, we decided to stick around. We still had too many notes to compare about our experiences in Ashgabat that day to invite ourselves over to the Armenian guy’s table. The more beers we had, the more ponderous our conversation became. By the time we paid the check, we had agreed that the place had something cold and inalienable about it, but, to be fair, I had gotten the same feeling reading from reading Crime and Punishment and drinking too much back in the states. Elliot laughed at this. True, he said. We paid our exorbitant bill and went downstairs to the disco. Earlier there hadn’t been anyone down here, now it was almost at capacity. I’d already had too much, so I promptly went over to the bar to order another round of beers. Elliot stood on the edge of the dance floor like an uncertain kid standing on the edge of the ice skating rink. When I got the beers and turned back around he was gone. I looked around and found him sitting with some American-looking guys, military by the shape of their hair. There were two girls at the table too, one of them darker, like she could’ve been Turkmen and the other clearly Russian. I put the beers on the table and Elliot introduced me. I could feel the tension from the greetings. One guy was friendly, the other indifferent, but those two girls, those two girls wanted us dead. Either Elliot didn’t notice or, more likely, didn’t care. He was too busy talking to the friendly guy, leaving me to try to coax something out of the indifferent one. Since they were military they were practically hard-wired to regard any question with suspicion. I’ve seldom had such an unamiable conversation partner. Over the noise and russki pop I could hardly hear his monosyllabic answers. After a while I gave up, besides the more I talked to him, the more those two girls glowered at me. One of them kept saying things into the friendly guy’s ear. While she talked her eye brows fluttered up and down with irritation. I was about to wander away from the table when the friendly guy order a round for all of us. The place was so expensive that it felt rude to take my beer and go, so I stayed with the sullen crew, sipping my free beer and looking out at the dance floor like there was actually something interesting out there rather than the spandex-clad and bored-looking prostitutes. On their heels, in the flashing lights they looked spiderish somehow. Both the girls were getting up, they had been angry ever since we had sat down. I guess Elliot and I were bad for business. We had showered earlier, but after traveling for a few weeks, we probably still had that transient look, especially for these girls that were used to the biznezmany who came down here. They’d probably never seen anybody so irresponsibly groomed as Elliot and I. The girls stormed away and although I thought their behavior was vapid and amusing for its naivety, I hadn’t angered anyone so much with my appearance since I was in jr. high. After the army guys left, I finished my beer and realized I was at a threshold. I could either go up to bed now or get another beer and, quite possibly, do something stupid. I was about to go upstairs when I saw the angry girls that we had been sitting with out on the dance floor. They had the same bored looks on their faces and danced in the same uninterested way as everyone else on the floor. I felt choler burning the back of my throat, but I’d had too much to drink to be able to tell if I was actually upset or just felt maudlin. Elliot had wandered off somewhere. I stood there for a moment, tired, drunk and thinking about how quiet it must be out in the city. I am dancing, not just swaying around a little, but dancing like I’m at a punk show, dancing like a complete jerk, bringing my knees up, pistoning my elbows back and forth and shaking my hands like they’re holding maracas and I’m not alone. I’ve managed to wedge myself between the two sneering girls. At first they’re so shocked they don’t know how to react, but gradually their faces take on the same sneers they had on before and their eyes roll. Right in the middle of the song they stop dancing and walk to the other side of the floor where they begin dancing again and I follow them, not making it obvious at first, but soon, I’m right between them again, flailing around, acting completely oblivious. I’m trying not to laugh as they cross the floor yet again and I find myself dancing their way. These girls are so icy and I’m such a ragged bum, I can’t believe that I’m the only one that sees the humor in this, but then I think of the humorless city outside. I think of all those empty hotels and that revolving golden statue of Turkmenbashi. I think about the fascist architecture and the lack of any place to eat. I leave the sneering prostitutes alone. I don’t see Elliot anywhere so I go back up to the room. There’s no one there either. I get a glass of water and walk over to the window. I open it and there is nothing, no sound, just a gust of desert wind, it is bathwater warm. I finish my water in a gulp and lie down on the bed. I am lying there listening to the silence outside when I notice the microphone wire in the wall again. “You can hear me, right?” “It’s not funny, you know,” I say against the warm silence coming in the window. “It’s not funny at all.” The last word almost seems to echo. I roll over on my side and feel myself falling asleep. “Yeah.”