The winter of 1980. It's my basement room in The Silvers Apartments on Busch Campus of Rutgers University. There was never much light down there. Even though I put down a slab of carpet the guy called a "remnant", my feet were always cold. It smelled of dirt and buried pipes. The daylight was gray and came from thin windows near the ceiling.
Tiny animals scaled the cinderblock wall. The linoleum floor was salted with grains of sandy clay.
This is me sitting on the edge of my unmade bed clutching some test papers I was sure had been misgraded. Phase angles and root-mean-square values and imaginary power jolted into alternate mathematical dimensions by complex impedances. The breathing me touching knowledge ephemeral and surreal like a strand of dandelion fur lost from deep summer.
It's me with her in my mind, trying to clear my head as if from the effects of a cold, the virus that changes the DNA deep within the cell, fools the body into replication, so that the blueprint of the person becomes the self-referential, recursive factory that is an agency of physical destruction. It's me unable to concentrate. It's me imagining her turning, stop-motion ten frames per second, mouse-brown hair aloft on microcurrents as she steps away and I'm not stopping her. Her face toward me for half of one of those steps, and then moving through the radians in instants that evaporate, something wet glistening in the acute angle at the corner of her eye, the view into her, the reflection all that's left, and my mind impaled on the millisecond I did not act.
This is one frame. Me remembering a book explained by a friend, supposing our motivation is strictly to get our molecules into the next generation, and the next. The human as time vehicle. Transport the pattern through history and nothing left is meaningful. So this feeling I have, this viral darkness consuming my ability to conceive, is the force of those patterns shot forward from the moment of God's "Let there be light." The smell of her I cannot forget. The way her breasts moving against my chest feels like a universe created and destroyed in the time it takes to light a candle. We are the creators and destroyers.
Other life, from our life. Who granted us this power? How do we control it? Is love the need to procreate, or is it that we lose ourselves to nothingness, and cannot persist without the other to provide the meaning?
William Miller. My roommate. Communications major. UNCF scholarship recipient. He thinks I'm the smarter of the two of us, but he knows ways to breathe I can't fathom. Sits on his bed and looks at me.
"You got trouble."
I open my mouth. Words are stuck.
"She catch you having a sneaky fuck? Oh wait. This is you we're talking about. She dumped you for that, what's his name--Kevin. Guy probably knows how to fuck but good."
I'm shrugging. William, I want to say. William, I can't move. William, I'm trapped. I can't read anymore.
"Well, it's for the best. I got some women you need to meet. Set you up good, bro. You let William's fingers do some dialin' soon she's the one who'll be cryin'"
"William," I say to him--
"Hope that's not important," he says, motions with his eyes. My test paper is crumbled in my fists. Never felt it happen.
This is one frame. This is one glance. So many millions of years expended to get to this point. One tableau of light and form after everything that has been. I can't get it out of my eyes. My patterns, my DNA won't let me see past her. The last trace of yellow-white sunlight from her eye. The way she turned her head like time was over. Like the world didn't need any more history.
And we could all just
"Tell her you love her."
"Obviously, it didn't work, bro. How did you do it? Did you just pick it up somewhere in the middle of blabbing about how your pizza is too hot? Like you usually do? Did you just spit it like you were talking about car parts? Like some dumb fuck white brain boy with no grace? You got no grace, bro. None. You know grace? You know how it works?"
"Not like that. You gotta want it. You gotta earn it."
"Then why'd you bring it up?"
"You don't listen. You're not hearing what I say. The words, they just go in one side and come out your ass. Right?"
"Can we stop talking now? I gotta first period test."
"Sure, bro. You just go to sleep. You don't need none of William's shit with what you got going on."
"I didn't mean it that way."
"I know. You can't help it. You're a dumb fuck white boy."
"William, one of these days..."
"You take one step toward this bed I crack open your skull with my riot baton. You stay on your side of the room until you earn the learning."
"How the fuck do I earn the fucking learning?"
"Yeah. First you figure that out. Then I tell you. Go to sleep brainy boy. You gotta test in the morning. Momma wants you get you sleep."
"Not a chance."
He told me to do it this way. The rain wasn't in the plan. When the wind is blowing and you can't see for the wet and the howling, it can get in the way of the details. Pounding on the door that won't open.
"It's me." God it's cold. Goddamn. "It's me. Please. Just open the door."
It's daylight gray. Outside the way I live inside. The grass, dark like green night. The farmer's fields, freshly plowed into rows of mud and rivers the color of the earth's blood. Fast lead clouds scraping overhead against the television towers at the horizon. The rain slanting into the collar of my sweater. Oh please open. Oh white door. Oh peeling paint. Oh white concrete stained vanilla by falling damp.
Maybe she's not home. Maybe all this way it's been for nothing. Time's already stopped. I missed it's end. The ball dropped on the last new year and nothing is left worth recording. No more video. No more sound.
What if she's with him? What if she comes home with him? What will I say?
Oh open door. Goddamn door. Fucking door. Let me in. I can do it. I can be graceful if it's what you need. I didn't know. I just didn't know.
"It's me. It's me." It's gotta be good enough. "Please. It's me."
And then it's like another world. Like the sun split open and there was a smile inside. A palm tree and a beach.
"I'm sorry. I got scared. I don't know how to be scared so good."
"What's wrong with you? I told you--"
"I know. You said I shouldn't ever come back. If I let you go I should just stay away but just listen. Just talk and I'll listen. I didn't hear. I heard you but it didn't get in right. It's all here." Touch your chest. Hit it with your fist. Just step in. One step. Shut up and listen to her. Kneel. Get lower than her eyes. "I'm not good at this. I'm just not good."
"What's the matter with you?"
What's wrong with me is everything that's missing when you're not here. "I just--I just can't--"
"Are you crying?"
"It's just rain."
"I had to come. I had to tell you. I'll leave if you want but I have to tell you--"
"What? Say it."
"I love you and I want to stay with you."
"That's not good enough anymore."
"I want--" Oh walls. Oh ceiling. Oh air. Oh cheesy wall poster. Help me do this. Somebody. Don't let this slip.
"It's not about what you want."
"Then I give you me. It's all I have."
"I'll plow under the whole world and build it the way you want. I'll run at the speed of light and catch all the times you smiled at me. I'll make you touch inside so you feel how I feel you. I don't know how to make you know this thing inside here. It was never there before. It's a stranger to me. It's hard to understand and it scares me, like a part of me that's not me because it's you."
And then she knelt by me.
"I want it to be us."
This is all it is. This is everything. There is no more. "Yes."
"And then what?"
"I will be here. I will be yours. I will be for you. I will have this baby, if you want." Wait. That's not what I meant.
Then it stopped being the matter. It started being.
"I have to do this right."
"Yes you do."
"Can I come all the way inside now? It's cold."
"What's wrong with you? Why?"
William said that if I got this far, I could say anything. Anything at all. But he was smart and he knew there would be nothing to say that wasn't right.
So I told her, "You," and I kissed her for the rest of my life.
There would be no baby, then. She would come later.
Time would pass, and we would learn each other the way pilots become proficient flying modern aircraft. The relationship is a complex structure with many moving parts. There are statics and dynamics to be mastered. Relativistic physics and biology. Literature and drama. You could study it for years. They could give you a Master's Degree and a PhD and there would still be big enigmatic chunks that seemed like poems in dead languages.
We had seen the Paul Brickman film, "Risky Business", and coming out of it that night, out from under the yellow bright marquee into the rest of the world, I felt something spinning in my chest I hadn't felt in a couple years.
"You liked that movie, I can tell," she said to me.
"And you don't know why and it's killing you."
"What did you see in it? Is it that girl?"
"You're prettier than her."
"Okay, you're not."
She punched my arm. I said, "Just kidding."
"But why did you like it? You want to sleep with hookers?"
"No, it's not that at all. Not even a little. It's sort of like that time when I came to your apartment in the rain and then..."
And I tried to figure it out, but it was strange, even to me. Like something moving so fast you only see it as a smear.
I said, "You know how it was, how when she asked him if he wanted to make love on the train?"
"You want to do it on a train? In public?"
It was night and it had rained. There were no stars, but the ground was wet and reflected the crisp streetlights. Cars splashed, tires hissing through puddles like far away curtains torn.
"I think," I said, trying to think. Closed my eyes for a second and filled my lungs with clear air.
"Not that I want to do it on a train."
It came out without thinking. It was just there, and I read it.
"I want to be asked."
The look on her face changed. Inquisitive to serious. At first I thought she was mad. I thought she was going to hold my hand, but instead she grabbed my fingers and tugged. Stepped away, not letting go. Both hands urging.
"Come..." Something like a smile, tiger to the child.
"No trains," I said.
And as if I hadn't said a word, she said,
"Make love to me."
"You're a smart boy. Figure it out."
"Yes I am," I said. "Straight-A student. Very smart."
And she drew near, touched my ear with her tongue. Whispered, "Then you know I'm not wearing any underwear."
Life comes in frames. Pieces that fall onto each other. Stack to become a life. The human conveying patterns in DNA through time. Deep thick energy we've named. A crushing need to become.
In all love, creation.