59 hours, but nobody’s counting.
She came along a road. On a dark night. My buddy, Becca's bud, our pal.
It is always the beginning of something.
She pulled in on the dark late night, and brought a big hug - I kindly let Becca squeeze her first before shoving my wife aside - and a bigger box of her baked delicacies full of sugar and butter and cinnamon and spices and secret stuff and such to savor over the next 59 hours. And we did. The molasses ginger cookies were sublime and exquisitely textured.
As you like it.
She slumbered for a number of hours that dug deep into the following morning, and I measured carefully the contents of our coffee supply and determined there was enough for a single serving each, and impatiently waited with patience for her to awake, and waited, and waited, and waited, and debated making myself two cups, but the potential of being able to share a cup on a Friday morning with an adult, and historically one of my favourite drinking companions, was strong enough to back me down, so I waited, and waited, and waited - but I stayed busy educating minds with the joys of a Shakespeare comedy, Latin, a breakdown of the U.S. Constitution and genius of James Madison, a refresher on the beauty of the Fibonacci sequence, and the difference between metals and metalloids on the periodic table. And such. And I waited, but not with inaction.
One more cup, or one cup only.
Up. I made the coffee, and it was mediocre, possibly a few notches beneath. This is not a subjective analysis; she observed this accurately, in the deadpan voice I like to think she saves primarily when mocking me, and I do not mind, because she sneaks the lightest trace of affection into the corners of the deadpan and I can tell.
In which a general satisfaction is found.
She expressed appreciation, once more, for the single cup of, to quote precisely "...mediocre coffee." This was the second conveyance within a nine-minute span whereupon she found occasion to observe the quality of the handmade beverage I made with my hands. A particular glee at the left corner of her mouth accompanied an otherwise straight countenance in delivering this observation for the second time; a glee that was perhaps an enthusiastic rebuttal to a statement I had made before gently setting down her container of black gold:
am intimidated to be drinking coffee with you, let alone making and serving it to you.
she asked, the left corner of her mouth fighting hard to stay down and being utterly defeated.
You shouldn't be.
I can see by your expression,
That you know exactly why. You have spent the last ten months being trained in the exotic art of making exceptional coffee and paying attention to subtle variances in external temperature and relative humidity and the exquisite care one must take in preparing a proper cup of coffee, and knowing all that, and knowing that I know that, and knowing that I have dug to the bottom remainder of our stash to prepare...this...
…it is difficult.
Oh, I'm sure it will be fine,
she said, her eyes betraying the lie of her words and alighting on the truth of what I had just spoken; a truth which was confirmed by her coupleted statement not ten minutes later.
Thank you for the coffee,
she murmured in the sun, looking up post-sip.
It really is mediocre.
The left corner turned upward ever so higher in either mirth or disgust. It was a difficult tell.
The vanity of time.
After that she did not initiate a conversation about time and how the reality of time is unchanging, but the social construct we have built around time is so different than what it used to be. We did not have this conversation - I am usually the one who brings up such conversations with her, and then she eagerly jumps in and we repartee and argue, and she may make me feel like an idiot sometimes, but it is generally because she made a relevant point that I did not see coming and should have; importantly,
it is rarely, if ever because of the fact that I have brought up a silly conversation to begin with,
such as a questioning of the social construct of time and its evolution - devolution - over time.
Our hyperconsciousness over time and constant awareness of the calendar, of obligations and responsibilities and alarms and timers and reasons to never forget to do anything are an horrific example of the wreck that techno-efficiency brings to our lives in the guise of progress. Incandescent bulbs and microwaves and silicon chips are all great inventions on so many levels...but now we get to work later, make food faster, and be connected at all times to a reflective screen that we live so much of our lives on...in the name of efficiency, productivity, and...connectedness.
The persistent melting away of connection in an age of hyper connective potential. Sad. A reminder of
the beauty of scarcity,
and how having more than you need of something - e.g. the ability to constantly connect - does not mean you will connect better. Or even well.
Of electric sheep.
She also did also not casually integrate Salvador Dali into any of our conversations, although such casual slip-ins have occurred enough times to not be uncommon in our dialogues going back twenty years. Dali was another individual fascinated by time; a fascination symbolized best by his 1931 Surrealist masterpiece
The Persistence of Memory,
in which pocket watches are melting across a desert landscape in a nod to the relative nature of time and space.
We did not speak of that, except perhaps in telepathic dreams?
Call me anytime, but not then.
In addition, she did not begin talking of how Dali was often inspired by the landscapes of Catalonia, the autonomous area in the northeast of Spain. I've never been there, but she has been to Spain, and Becca has been to Spain, and my understanding is that Spain, like many hot regions, takes a siesta at midday as a respite from the sun. Later, shops begin reopening and stay open late. As a lifelong American with an interest in other geographies and living, this is fascinating: being on a completely different sort of clock than I'm used to; a clock that is out of sync with the standard we've been on since the Industrial Revolution helped invent the standard work day in which efficiency and production matter most. Anyway,
we did not speak of that, but it would not be strange if we had.
There is a soundtrack to your life and it is not mine.
Shortly thereafter, she did not shirk or shrink as I pulled out my phone in the midday sun to take a selfie of us; a practice I have been engaging in heavily since 2015. It is difficult to know whether the greater joy is what I feel much later on in looking at the snapshot of a moment frozen, or whether it is the evolution of her reaction in the moment I pull out camera to selfie. A reaction that went from groaning and eyerolling years ago externally to pose-striking deadpan Kim Deal cool with Mediterranean warmth now. Combo killer. It has never been a wasted moment.
Waste a moment.
She did not scream at the boy, at my son, as he kissed her. As he kissed her six hundred and twenty-two times with snot-bathed cheeks and blue smile targeted at her, she did not waver in returning the aggression in the hot sun. It was love, and she wore a rugged flannel built for wiping toddler-phlegm off cheeks, and she never screamed.
The modern age.
At a certain point, she tried to steal my mug, my Wonder Woman mug; her fingers grasped the ceramic but not enough to tug from my grasp. I kept it from her and gave her my third favorite mug to drink coffee from. There are immutable laws in the universe: gravity exists, objects in motion stay in motion until a force acts upon them, etc. Also: nobody drinks from my Wonder Woman mug but me. No one. Not even Becca, except once on her birthday because I was being nice. So I could not, did not let her, one of my best buds, drink from it.
But I let her touch it. Interesting thing about immutable laws: they're not always immutable. For example, I was talking with the children earlier this evening about the circumstances in which natural and immutable laws do not work the immutable way they're supposed to. Like around black holes. The gravity that defines a black hole's existence is so powerful that it sucks everything in. Everything. Including light. The area around a black hole is very strange: the immutable laws governing force and motion that seem to apply everywhere in the universe don't apply here.
Same with subatomic particles like quarks; the beginning of the insanely cool and insanely in-understandable world of particle physics. How can the same object exist in multiple spaces simultaneously? Physicists, astronomers, geniuses are still trying to figure out how and why sometimes the immutable laws of the natural world don't apply.
I love that.
I would rather exist as an exception than a rule; an outlier rather than an indicator.
I am happy to surround myself with others who embrace the exceptions to immutable laws. If there's one thing you take away from this paragraph, it's this: yes, you read correctly; I am strongly inferring, if not guaranteeing, that time travel is not only a possibility, it is a certainty and will definitely happen within this century. Though probably after I'm dead.
So I guess if there's two things you take away, it's this: don't touch my Wonder Woman mug. Also, I need to look into the affordability of cryogenics.
She accepted my invitation to drive into the big city to a big store, where I bought a large bag of coffee, thirteen bananas, and picked up my contacts from the optometrist - which is vastly different from an ophthalmologist - inside this big store. I looked longingly at a diverse assortment of items, such as a kayak, a standup paddleboard, and a small boat. Perhaps in violent reaction to my reactionary longing, she took decisive action and ordered me to deposit a single item in her cart: a flotation device for two, requiring paddles and starting with the letter 'k.'
She bought a kayak, which I thought was the appropriate method to get a kayak if you want one, as opposed to shoplifting. Had she chosen that route, the remainder of the weekend could have had a different flavor. I acceded to her demand; demanding in exchange a second selfie of the day as we stood dour-countenanced in front of three thousand shopping carts.
I bought my bananas and coffee and checked to ensure an appropriate number of children were flailing their infinite elbows within a hundred foot radius as we headed into the parking lot.
A boy in front wiggled and waggled along as he held onto an adult across the concrete walkway, tugging and kissing her leg and losing balance, but kept sure-footed by the firm grasp of a bigger hand over a small. The sun beat down, one was wearing a baseball hat as we climbed in and left the parking lot...
...to drive into another parking lot on a Friday afternoon artery to the highway. Yuck. An hour to go two miles or so. Should I have bought iced coffee previous to this? Life is full of should haves. But we work to eliminate them going forward. So next time. Fortunately I had some emergency music stashed away I was able to put to use, and got a few words of conversation in as the two-year old in the back bantered and played with who had once been my friend, but who had now been transferred over to his dominion. C'est la vie, que sera sera.
She then stopped by the grocery with us, which brought a big bill, more yellow berries, and and a rendezvous with our other friend, also known as my wife. The Countess - my wife - and I parted ways with her temporarily and shared a banana in the sunshine.
At this point, there is a break in this narrative's chronology, as she conveyed herself ostensibly for a visit with grandparents; a divergent path which led down physically a separate road from us, but also a divergent path from honesty, as later events led to a somber moment where it was revealed she spurned a grandparental generational chit-chat in favor of a gourmet mid-afternoon lunch with her mother. This was a circumstance outside of my prior knowledge. I do not know what she ordered, though it is unlike me to have not asked.
The hour is late.
She posed for a shot with her sister before they departed for a show. A concert beginning at a witching hour, a concert which I urged my wife to attend for the joint reasons of:
A) it'll be a fun bit of culture and melody.
B) you'll see your brother up on stage slappin' da bass.
C) you'll make a great memory with your sister that can never be stripped away, save through severe and sudden traumatic retrograde memory loss or genetic-markers leading to extreme dementia and the erratic cleansing of your memory bank; either way it's out of your control, so if all goes well you can use tonight to construct a delightful memory that won't disappear, ideally. But take pictures too.
So they hopped off the porch, rolled away on wheels, giggling and done up, gorgeous and fifty-percent pregnant. I returned to children, scrounged up enough morsels for their stomachs to survive them through the night, and yelled them into bed before settling with a blanket, my laptop, two notebooks, seven books, and my fave G2 gel pen to make little notes and work on my little book I'm working on in little bits.
Moby remixes swirled in the background, probably too loud, but what can you do? I wasn't going to turn it down in the name of sleeping children. I wrote. Some good things and some mediocre things and I tried some new tricks with a semi-colon, and I reheated a cup of mostly uncaffeinated coffee that was mediocre and befitted the weekend in terms of beverage quality.
The sisters returned post-Cinderella clock, but radiances and attire intact. I had been preparing myself all evening long to back off upon their return. By 'back off,' I mean "not initiate a conversation that would keep one of my favorite conversational partners up into the wee wee hours of the morning. I held firm to that commitment, because I am strong, and watched her crawl into bed, also known as our living room couch, without brushing her teeth. I commented on this because my wife is a hygienist and our relationship is such that I can ask those questions of her at 1am and I helpfully suggested she could borrow our two-year old son's teethbrush.
She declined, and I left with nothing more than a small judgmental look tossed her way. But she was already dreaming.
The hour is early.
She asked me a question, and I allowed a significant number of time to elapse before responding. Around fifteen hours. Rather than responding, I waited for her eyes to run to slumber twelve feet away. Skipping backwards through time, this is what happened:
I awoke at a premature hour, an hour which could have been used for sleep, but instead was used for the entrance of two sleepy boys joining our bed. Sleepy boys with the bed-sharing habits of a Cirque du Soleil trapeze artist, which is to say they are acrobatic, and the vocal subtleties of Tom Waits, which is to say that the growling, throat clearing, and whistly breathing of bed partners is not the companion of restful early morning slumber.
So I quietly ducked out to a couch and discovered enough light to read through my ragged paperback Sophie's World, a literary trek I have been on for a couple years now and immensely enjoy. It is a Scandinavian novel whose narrative involves following a young girl's mysterious journey into studying the history of philosophy. Thus it is a plot-driven approach to learning about the eras and titans of philosophy throughout history. I typically read it Friday evenings or nights; sometimes a page or two, sometimes 20 or thirty.
I carefully turned the pages in as rustle-less a fashion as possible, knowing from long experience the impact that "quiet" noises can have in distracting one from sleep, such the hypothetical situation of an 11-year old girl choosing your 20-minute power nap time to suddenly take an interest in thumbing through your book collection at the foot of the bed. One rustled page at a time. This is also why I avoided anything more than a millisecond eye contact when she threw off the comforter and trotted across the room and down the adjacent hallway, perhaps to use the toilet, perhaps to do tai chi, perhaps to go crawl in bed with her sister, who was accompanied by the two young men I had sought to escape.
My suspicion of the former was confirmed a short time later when she returned and asked in her passage across the room: "What are you reading?” followed by a glance at my small journal and pen precariously perched on the arm : "How is the writing?"
There are moments in a person's life where they can clearly see everything in an instant. I have not yet embarked on a near-death experience, although I have broken one ankle and two legs, though both were the same leg at different times, but my understanding is that at the moment of death minus one-second, everything flashes before your eyes. Perhaps this is a novelist's construct that has waded into modern archetypes, or perhaps there is something to it. There is certainly a romantic allure of having the split second before death be filled with a hyper-sped version of your life. I think Walt Whitman would agree.
Again, I have not experienced the nearness of death, aside from some near-near-ish experiences I will tell you about someday, such as the time I saved a prostitute along the Ala Wai Canal from her knife-wielding pimp, but what else I have done is to practice the art of exercising an ability to immediately size up a particular situation in an instant, and in that instant know the right thing to do.
I knew the right thing to do was to ignore her.
Because I knew, based on my instant assessment of posture, gait, head turn, voice modulation, tone, angle of head, amount of eye contact, and inflection at the end of the two questions, that she was simply asking out of misguided responsibility and obligation.
Do I believe she was interested? Yes. But I also knew in this instant that these questions were driven by a motivation other than a deep desire to be up at this hour engaged in conversation. Even if it was me, who is often her able and capable conversational partner and verbal duelist. And I knew if I used the next five seconds to answer, her synapses would move from dormant to alive, against their will, and all other body and brain functions would slowly grind their gears into action, and it would be against her will. And face it: some people are cranky when they don't get enough sleep. I make no inferences. Simply that some people are.
So I ignored her, although I would have swapped ten pages of reading Sophie for five minutes of conversation with her. But I knew it wasn't right, and I was able to smugly peer over my book at the sleepy figure of my friend as she ignored my ignoring and trotted into bed, pulling the comforter up and burying her body underneath, and I knew that I had performed a beautiful and self-sacrificing action. Truly the action of a saint.
The sun broke through the slits around the thirteen-year old blinds hanging over our thirty-year old windows as I polished off several more pages, and she finished her night's nap. When she awoke later, we spoke some words. She had little memory of the encounter.
I don't really remember it either.
A time to turn.
At 9.56 am I took three selfies of us holding a small stuffed animal. I wore a white tank top for the occasion.
For a period of four minutes between 10.02 and 10.06am, she backed out of our driveway, executing one of the greatest 27-point turns seen in my lifetime, in which a turn was never executed, but did, in the end, allow for a successful exit.
The time required to execute this move might have dropped from four minutes to ten seconds had I moved a vehicle or two in order to allow for a clear exit path, but I was heavily involved in the important task of laughing as she made micro-turn adjustments and attempted to extricate her vehicle. In the end she did so.
If I had intervened, she surely would have lost the opportunity to show her capability at executing a 27-point backup maneuver.
She sat in the pew behind at the memorial service we attended, and I stepped out with our two-year old son who had a soggy diaper and tired eyes, and he finally lolled to sleep on my shoulder, whereupon I returned to the sanctuary and dumped his plumb body across her chest, where he lay splayed upon her bosoms, chest rising and falling and falling and falling deeper into nap and the dreams of a good dream brought to life when he opened his sweaty eyes at long long last and saw in whose arms he lay; a circumstance which led him immediately to begin kissing her with his sweaty face, again and again; an activity which continued for the entirety of her fifty-nine hour stay, if anyone was counting, which they probably weren't, which I was.
Because sometimes to savor the moments, you gotta own up to their scarcity and make em count.
Also, I tried to eat soup while driving.
We drove home in silence, save for bottomless sounds of talking, laughing, and music. A child kept her attention for most of the duration, and she gave it with something less than a sullen presence.
There are many people who treat time as a fixed entity, and there are others who invoke Albert Einstein and Salvador Dali in creating elaborate reasons for why time is more of a fluid concept. I could be described as falling into the latter category; however as I watched the minutes tick away, in maddeningly un-fluid fashion, and I swiftly used calculus to determine the timing of making it to my brother's album release show at the scheduled time, I came to the conclusion that there was a discrepancy between the two numbers.
The long version is, if we drove all the way home - 35 minutes past the concert venue - and then drove back, we would most certainly be late to his show.
So my wife, the Countess Becca, spoke the words that John Huss and John Wycliff and Joan of Arc spoke so many times (or perhaps only once, as they were being burned at the stake):
"I'll take care of this."
This is not technically what she said, and probably not what they said either, but it does capture the spirit of what they all meant, which is why I included it in quotation marks, and also to give it more gravitas. I did not take care of it. Becca did, and what she did was this: she dropped us off at the show so we could be there on time and she took the children home, and promised to drive back in, long after bedtime, to pick us up.
A saintly thing, although I can say with delicious knowledge that she may be a heavenly-bodied angel, but she is not a saint, in the best way possible she is not, and is much more interesting and rebellious than one. But what she did was a kind and saintly gesture. She lifted the responsibility and the anxiety and the stress of us potentially missing the show away with her saintly decision and sent us off with a wave as the sun began to set in northwest Portland.
We walked the thirty seconds to the venue. I used eight of those seconds to selfie-video us walking, and looking back at the video, I am deeply irked at myself for not using at least twenty. She wore a jean jacket and was applying lipstick and looked very cool,
and then we crossed the street and entered.
Hearing is weak, listening is strong, so which do we do with music?
The venue was small and the people were many. Chairs were found and we found ourselves located in a center-front vantage point where we watched two performers - first the lovely duo of Adam Black and Ariel Roxanne Cook (the latter on my fave guitar solo of the year), then the stompin sounds of Jacob Westfall, and finally...
…my little brother. Jeremy M. Long, or as he goes by professionally: J.M. Long. A beautiful set with him splitting time between keys and guitar, ink rippling his lithe dense arms as he danced sang and played his way through a falsetto-soaring set of rockers, ballads, and experimental pop gems. My toes tapped and I felt her head bobbing time and my heart leaped when he said "...this one's for my brother Joseph" before launching into People Worry, a track that has both brought and taken away tears in the last month. So good.
We ducked out and found fresh oxygen immediately thereafter; we looped around 300 blocks or so while waiting for Becca to arrive. She spent 275 of them grumbling about not having brought knee socks on a cold night. She was grinning while grumbling so I found it unnecessary to break Anthropologie's window at 11 on a Saturday night in order to get her a pair, which I totally would have done if needed. But again, grinning-while-grumbling. She somehow survived until Becca arrived.
Because it's what I do.
After sliding almost-sleeping Becca over to the passenger seat and giving a brief synopsis of the show, I launched into an appropriate discussion question for the ride home.
Tell us about this fellow you're with.
Because I asked.
You can ask me two questions,
I informed her.
She thought briefly, and then asked two questions. I will only list one of them.
My fave Shakes right now,
I answered her,
is Twelfth Night.
We approached the bottom of our mountain and I knew it was time to play a special song that would bring us home as we pulled in the driveway, which is what happened as the closing strains of Kings of Leon's
True Love Ways
died out and I cut the engine and I don't know if she thought it was special but I know her and I know that someday she'll realize it was and is.
The morning after.
There was coffee on the porch, and late birthday gifts given, and sunshine which bothered me because sunshine when I'm sad does not make me happy and I was sad because the clock would not stop ticking and time would not stop moving the wrong way and there was nothing to do to prevent her from leaving.
And I wanted to grab hold of the stupid little seconds winding their revolutions and slow each one down but they wouldn't stop moving. I gave her a CD, and I gave her sister a CD and I said:
It is the same playlist on each CD. Maybe sometimes you can each listen to it when you're driving and feel connected, or something. They're songs that are special to me.
I hugged her, a good hug, and other people hugged her, and Becca squeezed her, and then I skulked over at the last minute to sneak the last hug in, and then she left,
and drove along the road.
The wrong way.
Away, way away.
There were some good hours in those fifty-nine, and I think the mountain misses her.
I took my stupid watery eyes inside and angrily ate a ginger molasses cookie. Allergies.
HOME / SISTERS
True Love Way / Kings of Leon
Pretty Voice / Cloud Cult
Ran / Future Islands
Jade / Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
The Vanity of Trying / Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
River of Brakelights / Julian Casablancas
Keep You On My Side / Chvrches
No Widows / The Antlers
Waste a Moment / Kings of Leon
The Modern Age / The Strokes
Seventeen / Sharon Van Etten
Black Water / Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
Don't Miss It / James Blake
Blood Bank / Bon Iver
Seasons (Waiting On You) / Future Islands
Impossible Request (alt version) / Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Over / Kings of Leon
I guess it's good to feel even when it doesn't feel good.
all times are not exact times and all quotes are not exact quotes; for both there is no apology. the truth is still contained within these hybrids of fact and interpretation.