I fell into one of my bleak moods just as Janie was about to arrive at my apartment. We’d planned to take the van out to the woods and camp out, as we both had the next couple of days off. I shut myself in the bathroom and sat on the floor with my head between my knees. I figure this is why I fought so much. I didn’t enjoy the pain of being beaten, and it gave me no real pleasure (aside from a fleeting sense of release) to hurt someone else, but it was preferable to frozen futility. If I could describe this void then I’d be a true poet; but if you’ve never come under the fringes of its frost then you can’t conceive of its particular kind of hopelessness no matter what words I use anyway.
There is no grace within life during those moments. I witness human endeavor and see nothing but impotence unfurling throughout all of our history. Nothing, and no one, can convince me of another vision.
I heard Janie knock and, a few seconds later, the sounds of her and Tommy talking in the doorway. Tommy was no doubt warning her. ‘Snap out of it! Snap out of it!’ This is what criminals and madmen mean when they say that they can’t stop. You become so convinced of doom that you’re helpless to do anything but watch its prophecy unfold. In believing yourself unlovable you make it impossible for anyone to love you.
I already knew that I was going to drive Janie away; and I hated myself for this.
Although I heard both sets of footsteps, I knew it was her hand rapping on the bathroom door.
Anything I might have said was bound to be nasty, so I kept silent. There was nothing but ugliness in me, so how could anything clean come out of my mouth?
“I know you’re in there, baby! What’s happening?”
Her voice had risen in pitch. The genuine concern that I heard made tears well up. Then the door was pushed open. I caught it with my left foot before it’d even made it six inches – kicked it closed and held it there. It began to rattle.
“Goddamn it! Why are you doing this?”
I found my voice at last. “Just leave me alone, Janie!” I sobbed.
I heard her slide down until she was at the same proximity to the floor as I was.
“Let’s go out, baby. You don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to – or until you’re ready to. But let’s go have a good time. I can tell you’re really down. But… once you get away from everything and you’re out there surrounded by trees, and nature, you might feel better.”
Maybe there was some fleet of mental viruses within my brain, killing off all of my thoughts as soon as they were hatched, before I was able to voice any of them.
“Baby? Have I done something?”
Her refusal to react, to fight me, began to melt some of the ice within me. I rallied a second time.
“No. It’s me, Janie. I… This happens to me, sometimes.”
She spoke right through the crack between door and hinge. “I’ll go, if you really want me to. But it sounds like you’re just feeling fucked up at the moment and not knowing how to say where you’re at. Am I right?”
I dried my eyes and then chuckled aloud. Her beauty and sincerity astonished me that much.
“I don’t know how it can be that I deserve you, Janie!”
“Whatever that means.” Notes of laughter and derision ran through her voice now. “I wouldn’t be with you if I didn’t want to be.” Then, with even more obvious relief: “Does this mean you’re coming, then?”
Even knowing that she couldn’t see it, I still smiled for her. “Just give me a few minutes to get myself together, o.k.?”
Her response was brisk – and appeased. “I’ll get my stuff and pack it into the van.”
I stared at the white linoleum, the faded white walls, the cobweb in one corner with a few sucked-dry fruit flies dangling in its strands, for one stretched moment. Then I looked up when I heard the creaking of the door.
Tommy poked his head in. “Hey, man… I’ll get your stuff in the van, if you want to chill for a bit longer.”
I nodded – probably more fervently than was needed, because it required effort. “I got it together. It’s all in a mound in the middle of my room.”
I wished that I could convey my complex gratitude telepathically. “Thanks, Tommy. I’ll be out in a few. Janie can get it warmed up if she wants.”
I felt deeply unworthy of such friends in that moment. I cried some more; and I had to bury my face in my towel to muffle the sound. Once I felt that my outbursts were exhausted I stood and gave myself a pat down to bring myself around. Then I went outside, found Janie and asked if she minded driving.
Within fifteen minutes we were on the interstate and headed out of town. Janie and I were both on weekends-off schedules by this point. The forecast didn’t call for rain until late Sunday and so far the prediction seemed to be bearing out. The few clouds in the sky were light and puffy as marshmallows. Winter. I think it’s all the evidence of death, in the wake of autumn’s splendor, the sense that all the surrounding life trusts what is happening, and doesn’t fear for what it’s shedding, that really fires the creative mind. I’d already written three songs since the leaves had first begun to change.
I finally found the courage to speak up. “I’m not sayin’ this like it excuses everything, or even explains it,” I told Janie, “but my mom would have been forty-five today.”
She took her right hand off the wheel and clasped me.
“How long’s it been?”
“Little over six years now. She got stomach cancer that came on real fast. By the time people were sure of what was wrong with her it was already too late to do anything about it.
“My mother was a timid person, always seeming like she was Dad’s shadow. He could say or do no wrong. I hardly got to know her in all those years ‘cause it was like she was just there to be his pale echo. It’s funny to think about that now, because to look at what became of my father after she died… it’s like she was his strength, in some strange way.”
Sometime later Janie turned onto US 26 and the traffic on the highway thickened considerably. I was surrounded by people who I’d never know, merging and passing.
“If you ever get to feeling like I’m too intense to deal with and you gotta leave… it’ll hurt like hell, but I’ll understand.”
She squeezed me tighter. “I have my days, too, you know. Next time we’re together I may end up paying you back for today – and then some.”
She’d had the radio tuned to a classic rock station, but the reception was breaking up into static. She reached over and turned it off. “Have the sessions with Saul been helping out at all?”
I didn’t like talking about my therapy with her; and she knew it. I had to allow, though, that it was probably inevitable. If we were going to grow closer then she’d have to learn, sooner or later, what I was working through.
“Mostly it’s about how I experience so much conflict because I think I’m at the mercy of the world,” I said. “He’s trying to get me to understand that I’ve made my life the way it is and I have the power to change it.”
“So he’s kind of a self-empowerment coach?”
“Saul insists that we create our own experience – in every aspect, every detail.”
Janie seemed genuinely impressed. “Oh, so he’s more of a mystic or shamanic thinker. Wow. And he works as a therapist?”
I chuckled. “I’m not sure what Saul would call himself. He strikes me as an ancient medicine man somehow transported to the modern world. And I find this ironic, too: Everyone who sees him, he tells them to trust themselves and their own inner guidance. I mean, if we all did that then he’d be out of a job.”
“Better that than a guru telling you that you have to believe in him,” Janie pointed out.
“Yeah, that’s for sure. I’d never follow somebody like that. But I have to be honest with you: I don’t always trust myself. Sometimes my thoughts and emotions just run away with me.”
I released a long sigh. She was not letting me off easy. But I owed her something for hanging in there.
“Sometimes I get swept up by feelings that I can’t explain. It’s impossible for me to get it across to someone else, what I’m going through. And it’s especially hard when I’m with someone who I want to talk to.”
“Maybe that’s part of the reason why you love to write songs. You think?”
I glanced over at her, hoping that the respect and affection that I was feeling was showing in my eyes. I could only nod – and smile.
Earth has its store of wonders, to be sure; and the way that someone can spring into your life and so perfectly mirror your hopes and fears, your longing for love as well as all the parts of you that shun it, is one of those miracles.
Read More: What Casts the Shadow?