Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Deeper Into A Murakami Novel" continued

Both you and J. were raised in religious house-holds, though you had the benefit of your parents enjoying a conversion away from the Church after you came out. In a certain respect, coming out of the closet allowed your parents the excuse to re-draw the lines of their allegiances with a purpose above and beyond their own increasing ambivalence that had weaseled its way into their faith. Finding in yoga and tai chi the calming solitude and reassurance that once prayer had afforded them, your parents started to "offer up their practice" for you on the eve of a major interview for a grant request. You would thank them while also reminding them you thought it was all silliness, a petite bourgeois substitute for the same religious behaviors that they claimed to be liberated from.

You hadn't wanted to talk to them about J.'s disappearance, least of all your father. When you had taken J. home for the first time--4 years ago over winter break--they had received him the way one would a friend's autistic child. They spoke with exaggerated precision, making sure that the very clear meaning of their words were expressed: We like you, they essentially said, and we are leaving no space for you to think otherwise. This was for my benefit but it came across in such a perversely obvious manner that J. was instantly overwhelmed by the spectacle of their pleasantries and after a week of enduring their unflinching acceptance confessed as soon as we boarded the plane home that he was exhausted, apologizing for thinking my parents were "too intense." My father and I had duked it out three nights earlier after we all smoked a joint and killed a bottle of excellent port. J. had excused himself on the pretext of being tired from the days romp through Manhattan and as soon as I heard the door to my old room close lit into my father.

"How is he supposed to feel comfortable with you, I demanded, if all you and Momma do is insist how comfortable he should be feeling?"
"Well what am I supposed to do, boychick, tell him he's not welcomed? You tell me to stop making him feel at home, and if I do that then you accuse me of being rude or inhospitable! There is no winning with you!"
"That's unfair," I countered. "I'm not asking you to be rude, for godsake, just less obsessed with saying the right thing every damn time. It is painful to be with you two, you are so anxious about saying some that might come off badly."
"Your Momma and I just want you to know we don't disapprove of this life of yours, that's all, boychick. Not many parents would even agree to see their son's homosexual lover, let alone be as welcoming as your Momma and I have been."
"Jesus, Old Man, I know you guys are really proud of how accepting you have been, but J. hasn't gotten to know you at all because you've been so uptight. It's like you suck the air out the room--we're all on eggshells tip-toeing around some elephant in the room, an elephant that isn't even there!"
"Well what would you have us do, kiddo?"
"J. isn't afraid of you judging him for being a homosexual, but for who he is--he wants you to like him, the boy who's fucking your son."
"Jesus, boychick, do you have to be so goddam graphic? Cut your old man some slack--I'm drunk and stoned off my ass. I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you and you're making it into a porno, for fuckssake."
"Fine, Old Man: he wants to know that you aren't sizing him up and saying to me, right now, in this room, at this moment, that I could do better. He hasn't been able to tell you anything about himself, or to just be at ease. You ask him a question--Who's your favorite director? He answers Beckett, who he loves, and who he knows you love--who he knows you named me for--and that's all he gets in edgewise. You jump in and don't shut up about how discerning his taste is, how Beckett was stabbed by a pimp in France, fought with the Resistance during the War, had to emigrate to save what was Irish in his soul... By the time you're done dinner is over, and he's said one thing in answer to your question."
"I get nervous, kiddo, that's all. I still have no idea what the hell I'm supposed to be doing and no way of knowing if I'm doing anything right."
Then your father suddenly looks very old. The dim lighting of his study cast shadows into the deep crevices of his face making his eyes and mouth seem sunken, like features on a decomposing corpse. He looks old, tired, on the brink of death.
"I love you, Dad." You wanted to reach out and touch his face, to cradle it in your hands and kiss his cheeks, as if to give them new life. You stayed where you sat instead and tried to change the subject but the wave of exhaustion you saw wash over his face had thrown him roughly onto the shores of his own frailty and he quickly called it a night, with the promise to finish the conversation the next day.
"Or whenever you want to, boychick. I'm not afraid of you."

When you see your father's number appear on the screen of your cellphone you hesitate before answering, but with a sigh you answer.
"Hey Old Man, what's good?"
"We need to talk, Boychick," he says in an uncharacteristically straight-forward manner. No on-ramp to the purpose of the call: just the facts, ma'am. There is a pause on his side of the line and you hear him breathe deeply before clearing his throat. "Your mother had a vision the other night while she was in the Ardha Chandra-asana. Are you sitting down, kiddo?"
"Yes," I said, barking my answer through the lump that had congealed in my throat.
"At first she didn't think anything of it. You, Sarah, J., her father--they've all appeared to her when she's meditating. I've never appeared in one of her visions, but then she doesn't need to see me in the spirit world. I'm here all the time..."
"Dad, what did she see?"
"Did you sit down yet?" I sit down so I can answer him honestly. "We got a letter from J. today, son. It was addressed to us so we read it. What else were we supposed to do? We didn't think it was a big deal--you kids write us every once in a while."
"J. has written to you in the past?" I never knew this.
"You didn't know? At least three times a year we would get a letter address to us both. It wasn't ever anything special. Sorta like those letters people send out at Christmas time, only they would show up in the middle of August or February. We never wrote back. They weren't the sorts of letters that one responds to. It was always enough to just tell him that we'd gotten his latest letter whenever you would call and pass him the phone."
"So what was special about this letter?"
"Nothing. Except it was mailed from Canada. Were you two in Canada?"
"No."
"That's what we thought, and that's why I needed to call you and tell you about your mother's vision."
"Old Man," I interrupted, "I don't want to hear about Momma's visions. You know I think it's all a bunch of phoney crap."
"J. is in danger, boychick," my father said. His tone was flat and even, unwavering. "You know it, too. He's been gone hasn't he and you don't know where he is, or why he left." I said nothing but my silence speaks emphatically of my apprehension.
"What did Momma see?"
"He's in a block of ice, like Han Solo at the end of 'The Empire Strikes Back'. But instead of a look of horror his face is peaceful, like asleep. The vision didn't last long, but your mother says it was very vivid, very startling. She's seeing Arnie for a rieki session tomorrow, it freaked her out so much. And then this letter arriving today, post-marked at the beginning of the week from Montreal. It's freezing cold in Montreal right now, and this is when she realizes the letter and the vision are connected."
"Why didn't she call me?"
Your father's voice falters for a moment. "To be honest, kiddo, she said he looked dead. It really freaked her out. That's not the sort of thing you want to tell your son. Don't be hard on her for not calling herself. She's afraid she might be right is all."
"She's wrong." You say sharply. "J. is not dead and if he's in Canada then he's probably just visiting friends, getting some time alone, enjoying the snow." Silence from the other end of the line. "Do you hear me, Old Man? Forget about Momma's visions. All of that is nonsense. I've always thought that and I still do." Air is moving faster through your nose, you feel is forcing open your nostrils. You catch yourself squeezing the phone tight as if making a fist, as if trying to crush the silicone chips into dust.
"Son, you need to do something. J. isn't dead, you're right, but something in him is dying, and if it does then it will be like all of him dies. Ice is only water, boychick, but water that can't move any more. If you ask me, it's like he's trapped. Somethings frozen him up. Maybe he left to try to get movement back, to heat-up a little bit. If he's even gone, that is."
"No," you sigh, "he's gone. I need to think. Will you send me those letter, Old Man?"
"Of course, kiddo." He pauses, trying to think of just the right words. "I don't know what to say, son."
"I don't know what I want to hear, so it's alright. I guess we're both at a loss."
"Yeah. I'll tell you're mother you're ok. I don't want her to worry."
"Thanks, Old Man."


The pre-Socratic philosopher Thales the whole of the cosmos was composed of water. Your students always laughed at this idea, and there was always one in every class that demanded I justify this "patent waste of time!" That was your favorite student, as it turned out. Crass, overly-confident, and strikingly handsome Jonah had never failed to take a course you offered since you had him for your "Foundations: The Philosophy of the Polis" when he was a freshman. You quickly grew grateful for his acerbic presence in the classroom, especially on days when one one else had done the readings. Those classes became conversations the two of you would have while a room full of bored students watched or checked their email.
It was easier to contextualize Thales within the history of philosophy, to see him as the decisive break with mythologizing the natural world to account for its cycles. But now, after your father's reminder you thought more and more about water, about Thales, and Heraclitus. If everything was water for Thales, then that water was always on the move for Heraclitus: you never step in the same river twice. You never kissed J. twice. We are always changing, shedding skin, memories, orgasms, friends, pieces of clothing that don't fit or have been worn thread-bare. In the face of this you wrote a journal, had filled seven since you started in earnest the year before you started your doctoral studies. You kept yourself consistent by exporting your history into the folds of the pages you filled with the events that composed your life.
You wanted, now, to write. What you didn't know, but something. Anything. Just so long as you could see yourself materialize on the page, your words, the pronoun "I" designating you, a you that you can repeatedly return to for the simple comfort of recognizing the author of that "I" as yourself.
But it was only ten in the morning and you never wrote before the sun went down. The day was for absorption--the sun's rays, food, lectures, and texts. You read while the sun lit the page so that the full light could catch the winding movements of an argument. The night was for writing. Schubert's piano sonata in B Flat (960) at four am, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, fresh rolling tobacco--then nicotine gum--and an argument you needed to dissect. The stillness of the world at that hour enabled you to lose yourself in the mood of the music, to channel the melancholy of those forceful chords into the paper you wrote. Your fingers clattered against the keys of your laptop as Clifford Curzon's fingers pounded the keys of his grand piano with hypnotic insistence.
You were midway through a collection of Ferenczi's essays, the correspondence between Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy, and Updike's "Centaur," reading them all on parallel paths, as if the three texts were somehow related. None grabbed your interest at the moment.

It was cold outside. The look of the sky said as much, even though I hadn't bothered to turn on the radio to find out for certain or even step outside to check, I knew. Overcast and hard, the wind moved with hostility through the barren branches of trees moving them like mourning Greek widow in "Hecuba". I would have class again tomorrow, Monday. The time seemed to disappear into a slip-stream of days spent in bed, letting my beard grow, not bothering to match socks with the shoes you wore. I hadn't ventured too far from the apartment because it had been brutally cold since J. had left. The sky itself seemed to know to punish the city, and me in it, for his disappearance. Even the coat I had bought the first winter of our relationship, a thick, insulated pea-coat, wasn't warm enough.
I also must have looked terrible. The regularity of seeing my own reflection in the mirror made it impossible to notice any changes. You never see your own face. Ever.

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