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 fiancé, 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?

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