The other thing I'm struck by is that I don't feel substantially different than I did 8 or 10 years ago when I wrote this... I still feel on the outside of something I can't quite figure out. But I was so much more emotional about it here... somehow needing to think of things as extreme, to define myself as more or less or oppose to something. I'm more patient now... I can watch these things happen and not feel so torn up about it, and I'm getting better at living, but it's not like anything has really changed, and I wonder if this being patient is a good thing or not.
The place always looks so fresh when I get back, eerie, clean. The way the house looks, it could have sat is stasis for three months and been the same place I left, the exact same place I’d spent eighteen years of my life bored with. For some reason I have trouble now believing it’s real, like maybe it’s a movie set I accidentally spent my childhood growing up in.
It’s best to get home in the middle of the day, when no one’s around. Walk into the silence of the house with only the dog to greet you, pass through the rooms one by one like a ghost, inches above the floor, touching nothing, leaving no imprint. The carpet in the living room had been freshly vacuumed, the fibers slanted and colored differently, depending on the direction of the machine’s push, leaving the impression of rows, like corn of the view from an airplane.
I’m energized by car trips, by driving long distances, leaving places, by the shock accompanying arrival. All of a sudden the world slides back into place, the scenery screeches to a zero velocity halt and the slow sounds of the world return. I can always visualize the moment when I pull up into the driveway and cut the engine off, quick and without thought, and the stillness that follows – to get out of the car, uncertain, unaware of the reason for this strange sensation of presence, of tangibility.
I called her before anyone else, after I’d been home half an hour. I hadn’t talked to her all summer, hadn’t given her my number or told her I was fleeing to Virginia. I had thought of calling her but never acted on it. At those moments I had thought about how we needed distance, and I had gone and played basketball, or to read, to create my life without the layer of another’s awareness and the affirmation that addicts.
She was out for the night, in Ann Arbor where she has friends. I imagine them driving four packed into a small car, all male except her, listening to some sort of bland indie rock which they all sing along to because they know all the words. Of course it’s hard to talk to her over the racket, and every time I call she’s in the middle of laughing, answering the phone her voice just coming down from a laugh.
They go out to eat, spend money, talk loudly and never run out of things to say. Over the phone she tells me stories which always place her in a group. She tells me her observations of others, of the subtleties she notices. Sometimes we have long conversations about the right way to live, I’ve found another piece, she says. This seems to be my role in her life. It’s like I am thought only, an electronic whisper for her to reflect her ideas upon.
Well she was going to Radiohead tomorrow night, I had just driven ten hours from Virginia, would I like to go? Well, sure. But she was going with someone else, these small lines and borders surrounding us now, the way we have to act. We decided we would meet at the concert and she would drive home with me. I’d need someone to keep me awake; that’s a good reason to tell some other guy I don’t give a damn about.
* * *
We grew up in the suburbs of the shell of Detroit and out lives were bright and colorful like picture books. We grew up in big empty houses with landscaped yards. She was raised Catholic and I was Presbyterian. My family went to church and hers didn’t. She went to Catholic high school and I went to public. We played sports and had friends and went to the Prom together twice.
Night in my suburb is a surreal experience. Walking down the vacated streets, lights in second story windows, the flickering of a television projected blue across a room’s interior. It’s strange to know there are people in those rooms living their lives as you watch. It all looks the same from the outside, each construction roughly the same two common rooms, four bedrooms, a kitchen and bathrooms, standardized in their dimensions and accessories. It’s strange to imagine a person in one of those houses really experiencing something, not just empty and bored, but isolated, alone in a room as I walk past on the street outside. It is my experience that the suburbs affect this cruel relationship between proximity and isolation, amplified violently by the night.
Darkness has always seemed more alive to me, a presence, a thick mangled thing, leaned over dripping breath down the back of your neck. There are certain aspects of the human mind that only emerge at night; the dark existential experience of self, a haunting feeling of being lost, unable to find anything to answer questions you can’t compose into words. In the suburbs everyone is given a warm place to sleep and left to deal with their problems on their own. We are divided into neat claustrophobic containers where we project our insanities onto the walls. Sometimes there were nights I felt so ripped open I couldn’t sleep, and I would just lie in the dark listening to music.
* * *
With each album, Radiohead gets more electronic, the lyrics more cut up and deconstructed. They move towards saying nothing, towards just whispering and screaming while noise and tempo evoke all the madness the listener has to discover.
I copied down directions from Mapquest and got in my car. I’m the sort of person who turns the music on first, begins backing down the driveway second, and manages to get my seat belt on halfway down the street. It was a nice day to be heading back out onto the road, the sky stretched out blue full of mountainous clouds overhead. I merged onto the highway and left the windows open, turning the music up to account for the wind.
When you’re in motion you don’t have to think. You don’t stay in one place long enough to experience the bad side. In motion, driving down the highway, life is touch and go, nothing gets too deep and nothing needs to be taken seriously. It’s like you’re watching a movie about yourself, sensory input flying across the windshield at eighty miles an hour, as big as your peripheral vision can get.
The concert took place in Cuyahoga Falls County, Ohio, near Cleveland. An outdoor venue adjoining a state park. A beautiful day with beautiful trees and nice gravel roads. It didn’t feel appropriate to me. Some music, some experiences you need boundaries for; some beautiful things are dark and unnatural; they come out of claustrophobia and paranoia, a trapped animal insanity. This was my experience of Radiohead. This was what they meant to me. It began to feel forced to drive all this way, to seek out a feeling, when it conflicted so vulgarly with the pleasant atmosphere.
I got to the concert early. I tried calling her but couldn’t get through. There were different types of people in the parking lot 0 dreadlocks and collared shirts and sandals and boots. People were learning against cars in groups, sitting at picnic tables, walking around. They were all talking and occasionally one voice would solidify for a phrase and then fade back.
To get in the venue you have to cross a bridge manned by security guards. They make you empty your pockets for them. They pat any suspicious pockets and run a metal detector through the ozone surrounding you. Inside are stands with merchandise and beer. From over the hill you can hear the sounds of the crowd and canned music blaring. It was like this for awhile. I lay on the hill and pulled my hat down over my eyes. I tried calling her.
Night falls, the lights go out, Thom Yorke begins whispering. The music comes in, slow, intricate, tangled keyboards and distorted guitars. Thick, layered, arrhythmic, atonal. Illegible whispers, feedback and radio broadcasts, cut up and looped. Everyone is cheering and the sounds begin to build. Red and blue lights wash the figures on stage. Behind them a massive screen plays distorted feed of Thom breathing into the microphone.
The last thing she had taught me was to be patient. To look past the words and find the reality they couldn’t quite express. To understand the way people work, like equations, the web of forces that function as a social machinery. I learned that I am something aside from the way I work. I learned that people are just situations and to accept them like gravity. She taught me I don’t have to let myself be hurt by anything, because none of it is exactly me, and none of it is important, and you can just decide to let go and keep moving.
It had been two years and I’d changed dramatically. The contact I kept with old friends just saw them falling into paths they would never escape, passively making decisions they wouldn’t understand until it was too late. I wondered if she had managed to stay alive. I needed to see her to find out. Sometimes when my routine and relationships stretched thing I needed to think she was out there moving in parallel.
* * *
At twelve thirty I merged on to the interstate. The flat Ohio sky was sibylline and dark. Thunderclouds suspended in monochromatic gradients for miles overhead. In the distance lightning formed brief thick stalks between the earth and the sky. I hadn’t found her at the concert. I had looked and I had called and when it was over I had left.
An hour later the green numerals on the dashboard and the rhythmic sweep of my wipers begun digging into my mind. Bits of consciousness fell away, half seconds ticking off somewhere not quite awake. I was blinking out and drifting lanes, my head jerking back, eyes full of fear and adrenaline. I kept passing rest stops, pushing on to watch the storm in a kind of rapt religious awe.
Heat lighting was dynamiting the clouds, briefly staining them grainy shades of orange and gray. The road was empty and abandoned in both directions. I had forgotten about her. The world was disintegrating, shrinking. I watched rain in the headlights. Lightning was flashing constantly now, soundless, horizontal, walking on spider legs along the belly of the clouds.