There are moments. You hear something, and you look up, and you realize that you are thinking. For the first time. Or at least in a long time.
Today, I talked to someone on the phone. Are you ok? they asked. They’ll use you up, you know. They don’t care. Take time for yourself.
You know that feeling, when something hits you, in on by towards to, some invisible line, or band, of sense. A band that runs across your stomach and around your back and up to your head. And the something becomes a quick headache.
Christ I thought. Once my body had processed what she had said and recognized it as true and filed it away, to emerge later, in some inaccessible set of tears, my mind came up with words. They are abusing me and I am letting them.
After that, I sent one more email, and closed the computer. I felt sick, but that wasn’t unusual. We all feel sick, I think, these days, except for those with very strong constitutions or delusions. I went out. It was grey and rainy, and for a while at least, there weren’t many people on the streets. Then the usual round of men without masks, and joggers, sometimes both in the same person, went past. I took a different street than usual. I wanted to see the chickens. There is a house with chickens near me. They pick at the bugs in the grass, in this weird little bit of village construction by the railroad tracks, the old brick houses, and beautiful majestic overhanging trees, plane trees I think. They shelter the streets and the little brick homes, and the grass and the chickens. Two of them, the chickens, not the trees, are golden and fluffy, almost the same colour as an orange cat. They are fat and quiet, and I wonder where they go at night. I walked on. A man with his carer had stopped to pee in the street. I surprised him, but I didn’t mean to. I hurried away. He held on to his walker, looking horribly frail as he tried to adjust his pants. If it means he can walk a bit further, then why not. We are all losing our faculties and facility. Youth seems a very long way off. Even the young look old, these days.
Then I walked by a car that was double parked. Music was coming from the four open windows, but there was only the driver inside. Get the Led Out. I could hear the DJs voice in my head, like a siren from another time. What time was it? There used to be a world when that station whatever it was, played Led Zeppelin every day at the same time. What time was it? It wasn’t one of their best songs, something off Coda, I can’t think of the name. But it reminded me of that other place, somewhere in space, when these things were expected, predictable and pleasing, and love for them something to hold on to.
Now, it just seemed like another life, one I might recall if I drifted past it at distance. Then birds in the tree above started calling to each other at that moment. A tree of starlings, hiding and darting amongst the glossy leaves. There was one flitting bit of wing – it looked like a hummingbird. Could it be? Hovering, its little wings a blur. It was too far away to see for sure, then a car went by and the tree shook slightly with the birds rearranging themselves from the sound. How happy they all were, when we were in lockdown and it was quiet and the air was a little clearer.
Led Zeppelin and Robert Plant continued to groan and thrash a few cars down and the birds swooped and chirped to each other. Another determined walker went by, a baseball cap on, flanking the cars as she went up and down the street, intent on movement. These constant adaptations. Make the most of your time outside. But now – do we want quiet? Or have we settled for the hope of regaining a normal that includes exhaust fumes and angry drivers? The roads are full. I saw a car barely stop as a family crossed a street with a stroller. A street that in theory was set aside for pedestrians, 5 mph, maybe they didn’t know their car could go that slowly. Their hurry always more important than anyone else’s life.
A man walked down the empty street, past the shuttered warehouse. He stopped, then lent down, over a green square of overgrown grass and weeds by the curb, where once a small tree might have been planted. He stood back up, an empty pizza box and bottle in his hand. He was cleaning up the streets, picking up the trash where someone had dropped it. They think some mother will pick it up, mother nature maybe, out here a bit further on, where the train tracks are closer still, and the houses are plainer, covered with siding in different colors. What do people think as they drop what they no longer want?
There was a time when all these things wouldn’t have mattered as much. A daily reckoning of what really matters. Did I say daily? I meant hourly. No, wait. Minute by minute.
A train went by at the end of the street. So – people are still going somewhere. A scientist on Tiktok reminded us that if the world stopped spinning we’d all keep going at 8000 mph, I think he said. So – I guess we all are going somewhere. Tonight’s Amtrak train looked empty. I have nowhere to go, and a night in a hotel 300 miles away wouldn’t solve anything. But I still wished I were on it, looking out the window at the people who weren’t going anywhere.
Websites are supposed to be filled with ‘content.’ If content had a title, it would be easily found again. By which name do we call the content that fills our heads? Does it have a title, a chapter? Do we need to brand our thoughts, give them a promotion? Push them to be their best selves? Cervantes apparently said:
To be frightened of our thoughts.
Worse is to be so frightened of them, we must homogenize them like milk, or, shut them up in an endless parade of meetings, keeping a behemoth alive for the power hungry at the top, our precious time in exchange for the comfort of routine.
And when the trade goes south?