I knew, for a day, a man named Terry who had murdered two people in cold blood 20 years ago. He had served his sentence and was on parole. Terry had shockingly red hair that matched his sideburns and impressively cartoonish handlebar mustache. He laughed a lot and talked a bit like how I imagine a cowboy would talk. His eyes were cold.
I asked Terry what he likes to do in his free time and he was quiet for a long time, staring indiscriminately at a crack in the ceiling and unfolding his arms.
“I go fishing,” he finally told me. “Fishing, it’s good. It’s good for ya. Everything these days is about goin’ fast but fishing’s stayed the same. It makes you slow down. You go up there [to the mountains] with a good buddy and it makes ya deal with the shit you don’t wanna deal with. It makes you think about things you didn’t even know you were ignoring.” He pronounced ‘shit’ in two syllables: ‘shi-yet.’
“Ya go fishing and come to terms with yourself. You don’t even have to bait the hook.”
We try so hard to maintain stony stillness, to not be touched by the people we come across. We weigh and compare our options, we act like we have a choice in who we allow to shape us, mold us. You get in the shower and you scrub, you scrub yourself raw, but the fingerprints are still there. You can’t help it. Why are we so afraid of these marks that stay, anyway?
Before I left home, I used to sneak out at two in the morning and meet Hunter by the park down the street. We’d roam the night aimlessly, somehow always ending up at the only 24-hour diner within walking distance for the best strawberry milkshakes in town. And on our way home, we’d have the entire sky to ourselves. With Los Angeles just on the horizon, the night sky is the color of dirty milk, drinking in and oozing with all the light from here to kingdom come. There are no stars to wish upon in a man-made sky, so we’d make do with the hefty 747’s that blinked past, a perpetual meteor shower. I believed in it like nothing else, I’d believed in him like nothing else. Consequently, when Hunter grew up and away, all the jet-planes and aero-planes and all other-planes flew up and away, becoming what they were. What they’ve been all along.
Love somebody. Don’t ever love anybody. We’re playing tug-of-war with ourselves and we wonder how we end up in this awkward in between. You wake up in a stranger’s bed and sneak out of his apartment, hating him to keep from hating yourself, and all the while wishing for touch, for closeness. Wishing you could have what you won’t let yourself have.
The candle burned, gin and rosewater, playing a funny picture show on my royal purple coverlet. The patterns on my bedspread started moving, traveling away from consciousness, from being noticed. A string of Indonesian flower lights were our only source of brightness, but we emanated our own warmth, our own vibrancy.
“When I was 14, I went to summer camp.”
“No, but I went to summer camp with a bunch of Buddhist monks, in this really woodsy area of Massachusetts. That’s back when I would smoke a lot of weed in the forest.”
“Yeah, it was really interesting. They don’t talk, you know? Quiet is the best way I can describe it, but it’s amazing how different everything is if you don’t talk and you aren’t talked at.”
“Well, first of all, they take a lot of time doing things. Like eating. They eat for such a freakin’ long time, each meal takes like an hour.” I laughed. He shook his head like a lion would shake his mane in exasperation.
“But they don’t talk, they just chew a lot. And they think about what they’re eating. And they taste it, you know? They really taste it.” “We don’t do that very often,” I agreed.
“I know, right. But they’re doing something right, because when you slow things down, your life changes. One time, and I remember this so well, but one time I was playing basketball with a bunch of them. Five on five. It was a really good game, I think we were playing to eleven or something but it was ten against nine, my team was losing. And this monk on the other team was playing in his robes, it was ridiculous. He was going up for a layup and I was guarding him. I figured no problem, right, this monk in his robes. But then out of nowhere he jumped, and I saw all the fabric and layers of his robe ripple, like literally ripple, and the next thing I know he tomahawk dunks the ball. I got dunked on by this guy. It was so bad, but it was so funny, and it was so good, too.” The boy laughed and his face, illuminated by tea lights and the unstable flame of the candle, lit up. “Man, I got dunked on by this monk in a robe.”
Sometimes, experiments in aloneness are what it takes for you to realize how much that thing he said, or the way she did that, changed you — changed the way you look at things, changed what you wish for when you are making wishes by yourself. Why are you alone? Is it because you have to be, or is it because you chose to be?
Three in the morning in Paris, 2012
There is a special kind of glitz and glam, of romanticism, to lonely wanderlust. This is especially true if you are young. But, all of that aside, when reality forms cold, steel substantiality from your superfluous imagination, you will find that three in the morning is the same, be it in Paris or Los Angeles. You’ll maybe wax poetic and order glass after glass of red wine in your broken French until even red wine can’t wash the bitter taste of aloneness from your mouth. Because all the beautiful things you discover will stay with you in the form of private, unspeakable memories documented by meaningless pictures here and there. But you will not have another human being to seek out and remember with. Your memories, when made alone, will never be communicable.
You will wander the streets of a rainy Parisian Thursday night and remember things.
You remember: Ray Bradbury once talked about three in the morning, that it is the time when the soul is most vulnerable. You remember: Ray Bradbury died last week. You remember: the last person to break your heart spoke better French than you. Your life will make less sense; you’ll start to wish you’d stuck it out with your Creative Writing major instead of switching to politics, of all things. But what you’ll think about most is why you are in Paris, alone. This will keep you from returning to the hotel room you paid for, because if you stay awake, the night will never be spent. Sooner than you think you’ll watch the dawn rob the stars from the sky.