Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Same River Twice

I reach over and lift the needle off the spinning record on the turntable. On the computer screen where I’ve got MAGIX Audio lab running I stop the digital recording and click save. I’m trying to get this old record onto a CD to listen to in my car.

Holding the edges by my palms, I lift off the vinyl record I bought at a record shop in Dinky Town forty years ago when it was new. It’s “New Morning” by Bob Dylan. It’s pristine condition testifies how little I liked it as a kid. My old Beatles and Stones LPs I packed up and brought home from a big mildewed box in my Dad’s basement, the last night I saw him alive, those are all scratched and scuffed from trips to friends houses on my bike, or lying in sloppy piles next to the little stereo I had set up in the room I shared with my little brother. From the look of this Dylan record I may have played it once and gave up on it. I like it a lot now. Sometimes you have to grow up to reach the level of what the artist is trying to show you.

I pick up the cardboard jacket with the photo of Dylan who looks a little like me now, and I start to slip it in when the light of the desk lamp glimmers off something inside. White sheets of lined paper. I take them out.

Three sheets of lined notebook paper, written in my handwriting as it looked long ago and dated 13 July 1971. This must be the feeling a paleontologist would have if he were scrounging for fossils in the Gobi desert and tripped over the metal edge of a flying saucer sticking up out of the sand.

It’s a perfectly preserved record of a day in my life forty years ago. It’s a little hard to read my own writing, but it’s the story of a very nice day in 1971. A swim in the pool with the teenage girls who lived in the apartment complex. One of the girls says they were going to surprise me with a party on my birthday but I’d gone off somewhere. Flirting with a young girl named Jeannie Olson who had a tough face and magnificent legs. Grieving over my girlfriend Kim who dumped me for a close friend. Seeing my best friend Karl for the last time. Musing on the move to College Park Georgia before the end of the month. A flash bulb in the eyes, a snapshot of a quiet time. The green years.

I take the pages inside the guest room which doubles as a library and put them in the notebook of diary pages I began keeping in 1973. I have a box full of these things.

Getting ready for bed downstairs in my room where my wife is sleeping, I look around this little world I’ve made for myself feeling the breeze off the ceiling fan and remembering. The young man is inside my head, and now my own room feels alien to me. The young man was a virgin. To him sex was a mystery waiting to happen. The woman bundled over there under the blanket; I know her body as familiar as my own. We made love a couple of nights ago. Happens all the time. The young man didn’t owe a dime to anyone. This man here, money terrifies him. This man here can’t remember a time when he wasn’t worried about money.

The window is open and outside the cicadas are singing or whatever it is that they do so loudly. Everyone in the house is asleep. I take off my shirt. My pants. Drop them to the floor. Take off my underwear and socks. Stand beside the bed, nude, watching myself in the wall mirror. I’m trying to see that young man, the person in a past incarnation though in this life, who sat down somewhere in his antique world feeling happy on that particular day when the most important things in his life had not happened yet. This man in the mirror, his body seems so loose, a worn hand-me-down skin he is still trying to grow into.

Stupid. Stupid so much of it – but that young man had so much faith in the future.

The naked man in the wall mirror looking into the unanswerable, I ask myself – would I live this life over again, making the same lunatic decisions that young man was doomed to make? Most certainly.

Its easy to discard the idea of God, to think this world is all there is. But when I look into the eyes of the aging man in the mirror I still see the presence of the young man who wrote those pages. He’s changed. But not gone. There is something here science and materialism can’t explain or describe. Something yet to be learned. Its this part, this continuity, that keeps me coming back to the tormenting idea of God. It’s the closest thing to God that I’m sure of.

The young man wrote that paper, for who? Why did he write? I can’t remember why, I can’t remember that day at all. I dimly remember the people he describes and how important they were to me at the time. Is this how it is when we die? It all seemed so important at the time? Until it isn’t?

What he wanted, I think, was for me, the current incarnation of him, to someday find those papers, forgotten and unexpected like a message in a bottle. A time capsule. He wanted the sound of his voice and his honest mind to be heard after he had long faded from the scene. The young man who wrote those pages also wrote short stories and showed them to people. I don’t remember it, but on the pages of the old high school yearbook, which was new when he wrote those words, are friends he loved in that life wishing him well and telling him to keep on writing, just as there are such people for me now. Those hand written pages are the stomp of his foot on the stairs, the shout of his “barbaric yawp". I think he wrote for the same reason as I do today, as a consolation against mortality. Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father demanding – “Remember me.”

We, the writers. The professional dreamers, we send out stories like prayers into the world. They go out, they sink, and are mostly unanswered. Each one carries the mad hatter banner of “Remember me.”

We’re right to do so.


  1. Garce - Very nice.

    I wodner if I cracked open my old year books if I'd see the same messages.

  2. "As a consolation against mortality..."? Perhaps. But that young man, like most teenagers, most likely felt as though he'd live forever.

    Sometimes I go back and read from the diaries I kept in my teens and twenties. Or I read my old poems. Like you, I vaguely remember what it felt like to be that person. But the individuals and the events that were so important then have become so faded that in most cases I can't recall them at all.

    A lovely post, Garce--yet another fine addition to a stellar week.



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