One day I may not know you, not know who you are, not as already I don’t know people I have loved who made themselves strangers or whom I made strangers, but as a stranger but not really–the person standing at the platform while your I-can’t-remember-the-word-for-those-underground-cars rushes past after that wind that precedes them and you can’t breathe, someone you knew, someone you take a shine to and would like to have a conversation with, but the car-thingy whatever the word for it is goes on and you think oh it was just my mind, he has been dead for twenty years, or maybe I’m the one who is dead, maybe I’m not the one on the train but the one on the platform oh damn it gets so complicated maybe I’m underneath the fucking train.
One day I may not know you, but I may not know myself either, and if I see you, I’ll have that feeling of standing in the middle of a room and wondering why I came there, that short term memory glitch that seems to be rapidly becoming my only memory–I am a glitch, I am the thing I can’t remember that I came to this room for, but I was thinking about you and I was almost remembering, my friend. If you go this way too, we may meet one day and I will think you are me and I am you, but neither of us will remember who that is, but we will know that forgetting and not remembering are not the same thing.
Maybe there’s a pure kind of not remembering that obliterates the anxiety of not remembering and leaves one in peace. Sometimes I think I am forgetting little things because there’s something else, something more significant that I really need to remember, something that hopes that it can ride into my consciousness in the sidecar of that other lesser thing. The trying to remember is more like listening for something in this kind of caesura, a pause half a beat too long in which a world you could fall into, sometimes even want to fall into, opens up and all the words in your life are sliding down in it like sand in a three-minute glass.
Professor X used to pretend to forget, walking nonchalantly to the classroom window, pausing, staring out, saying where was I now to see if we knew what he was saying about operant conditioning or wherever we were in the land of behaviorism or if instead our minds were still heavy from the groovy mescaline we did the week before or in the case of some of us were doing at that very moment. I said to someone gee he really spaces out sometimes and they cracked up and said he’s not spacing out, it’s a test.
But the pause dogs me now when I’m speaking, I think I may just give up on words, but maybe that’s what I’m listening for, those words that just fly out the window like there’s nothing to keep them anywhere, or maybe they are beckoning me to follow to some place where they’re actually connected to something and someone will actually listen to them. Or it’s just another thing in that endless sequence of things that just happens as everything just happens, and delivers one into what appears to be someone else’s life, this facsimile. William Trevor has said “It kills you in the end, anything you are doing that isn’t just writing. It’s no joke.”
And I can’t remember when I started to give what seems like everything over to those killing things, this one-thing-after-another that impales day after day like done tickets in a diner, thankless work, a bully boss, a home you drive past when you’re going around the block a few times before you give up and go in, though even that will go the way of the specific places that have become generic in my mind—the actual diner that I knew well has suddenly been subsumed in that Hopper painting, what little I can remember of my own life has become what someone else has seen and I’m like in the land of null.
It’s like something was saying to me pay attention over and over in increasingly extravagant ways and I was pulling back to that tiny thing inside that is the last place I can be and I’m that polar bear in that southern zoo in summer swaying back and forth and pacing and pacing and falling into that murky water into which the zoo has thrown huge blocks of ice that will never be huge enough or ice enough for any kind of respite, for any kind of home. Or I’m those polar bears in England who were taking the same three steps forward and backward over and over and the expert called in said “Vary their diets, and give them unbreakable toys.” Or that monkey Nabokov talks about in a zoo in London who was taught to put pencil to paper and scrawled three vertical lines, all he could see of the world he was in, a world that had collapsed down into the size of his cage.
Being inside and being put inside or driven inside are not the same thing. In the forties, there was an asylum—a good word for a bad cage in hell–where the medical center is now, and after church on Sundays, boys would walk along the railroad tracks until they got to the fence where they could peer in and laugh and taunt and throw rocks at the crazy people shuffling around on the one day they were allowed outside. I bet those poor human beings from the asylum were trying to remember something or trying to forget something and forgetting when they wanted to remember and remembering when they wanted to forget or forgetting everything when someone spiked their tender brains. I don’t know how anyone could see the anguish of a person who’s been transformed into an institutional unit and laugh or think there was anything remotely laughable about that. But the boys at the fence, like people at all fences they can walk away from, could have been laughing because they themselves were safely outside, and someone had set up a clear boundary of impeccable differences, at least for as long as that would last.
One may be released from inside that place, but their fence is still between one and the outside world, always the fence, their fence, on the front of one like an oversized grid on a pickup truck, till it begins to feel like some safe front one lives behind, at least one thinks so until one turns around one day.