My life is like waiting for the walk sign
when no cars are coming.
I look both ways and, after deciding to wait this one out, I pull out my 'grets and a book of matches. I perch a filter on my lips and light up. I stand there, my toes jutting over the curb. The light turns over, and I start walking.
There's this piece by Rachmaninov, it's called, "The Isle of the Dead," and it depicts the ferryman Charon taking a recently deceased soul to a place called, appropriately enough, the "Isle of the Dead." The piece is predominantly in an asymmetrical meter, 5/4 probably, and that asymmetry symbolizes Charon's rowing, longer on one stroke than the next.
The piece progresses slowly, and the whole thing is filled with slowly ascending melodies and hypnotically rising arpeggios, rising as still does the soul, yearning for a life no longer its own. It ends, at the very end, with the soul on the island dreaming of its life now past, a light and sad melody, high in the orchestra's register and descending as reality sets in.
I have no way of knowing if Rachmaninov's depiction is accurate - I don't think anything "happens" after death, there is no entity left that perceives - but nothing I have ever heard has been more "true" than that piece, so unarguably true.
The night is cold and dark as I walk, and a fresh dusting of snow blows across the sidewalk in patterns reminding me of deserts and further of the Sandhills. I've known so many people. I rifle through a list of images of people I've known and their names, which I sometimes don't remember. I begin at the beginning and end at the present, Amy, Margaret, Matt, Angela, Angela, Jeanine, Nicole, Joy, Tom, Christie, Brian, Emily ... the list goes on.
I've known so many people. This shady history of people I've known keeps me company, assures me that I am, indeed, capable of maintaining human relationships, at least for short time spans. I take another drag and let my hand fall back to my side as I pick up my already brisk pace.
The night howls cold. The trees around me are bare save for shriveled, overripe berries. I reach campus finally and the sidewalks are empty. Closing time isn't for half an hour. I pull my coat sleeve up, my cigarette clipped between two straight fingers; yes, half an hour now, 12:30. I'm just coming from a bar, and my coat is burned with the smell of smoke. There's a new bill in the state legislature limiting smoking in restaurants, and higher-ups on campus have removed all the ashtrays - I think of this while a flick of the fingers sends a bit of ash wild into the night.
The bar was crowded, and I paid 50 cents to check my coat, an expense which I decided ultimately was worth about 30 minutes. That is, 30 minutes before I would leave in an introspective fit of boredom and disillusionment. An unfortunate number of my evenings end this way. I'm not sure why that is.
My cig is burned out, and I drop it, littering, as I walk by the Union. They have a camera watching me right now, somewhere in the darkness, and it updates once every minute or so on the UNL Web site. I stop and look for it. I expect it to be on Canfield, but maybe it's on Love, that's why I've never found it. If I stand long enough, maybe my image will be carried to a bored surfer somewhere, and we will have a private moment of communion as we are digitally aware of each other. I purse my lips in a salute to my companion. I turn back toward my dorm.
I present my ID to get back in my dorm, feeling a little hoax-like. I am not swaggering in drunkenness, nor am I with a large group of laughing people. I have no stories to tell after this evening, nothing learned, no classic richness to reflect upon once I am 35 and old. But I'm 22 and old, so it's - as they say, the young'ns - it's all good.
I go downstairs - you have to go downstairs to go upstairs in my dorm - I go downstairs and debate what I will do with myself. I can e-mail people, or I can go to bed. My stomach protests; I haven't eaten for six hours. I could eat. Citrus soda sounds good.
I decide to e-mail a few people. Business contacts. The lab is lopsidedly full, everyone on the PCs, so I take a Mac. I finish. I leave the lab the same way I found it, walking through a cloud of body odor, attached to no one in particular.
My feet on the raspberry tiles clop one after the other, and I change my gait so as to make them clop more richly. The washing machines rumble at the end of the hall. I feast on the sounds, my ears are full, my hunger is transmuted in a confusion of sensory stimulation.
I go through the list of people again, people I don't see much anymore. Rob, Scott, Brian, Katy, Scott, Joe, Casey. I'll see them around and remember the lives I've lived. My life is more in the past than it is in the present. It's a life lived as a consequence of what no longer is. It's a sad thing, to be born an alien. You don't know the language, you don't understand the culture. You spend your life catching up, all the while the background music is something by Simon and Garfunkel. I have a CD by them, "Live in Central Park." You can hear an anti-government sentiment in the crowd.
I walk up the stairs to my room and open the door. The light, overhead, flickers, one of the fluorescent tubes has burned out, so that it is dark even during the day. It's been that way for a month; I haven't gotten around to changing it. My clean clothes lie strewn, unfolded, across the floor where I dumped them as I finished laundry before going out.
I really should hang them up.