I am floating beneath the surface of a dimly lit pool. The water is several degrees cooler than the average body temperature, but it is still warm enough to feel comfortably embryonic. I close my eyes and allow my self to sink deeper, feeling the gentle pressure of the universe. But I bear no weight. Under the water it is warm. It is silent. I don’t need to breathe because I don’t need to speak. I have nothing to say.
The weight of silence sits like a cruel beast upon my chest. Alice’s head rests against the passenger side window, her fingers curled into a fist resting against her mouth as if to punctuate the chain of interrogative sentences she has just wrenched from her lips.
“What the fuck happened?” is the only one I’ve managed to catch. A two yearsilence looms in the cabin of my Toyota Camry.
A lot has happened. Or actually, nothing has happened. And that is what brings me here to the gravel parking lot next to her neighborhood tennis court, headlights shining through the mid-October air onto the green cement slab.
I’m sitting her silently chewing the inside of my cheek, trying to figure out how I should tell my girlfriend that an accumulation of gruelingly dull math classes had led me to daydreams of the awe-inspiring, all-American liberty of bachelorhood. And that I can pinpoint the exact moment when-halfway through Professor Grodek’s last period lecture on the Order of Operations, 2:56pm Wednesday, October 8th 2008-I decided I was being oppressed by the nightly two hour phone conversations from College. She’s just beginning a new chapter in her life. She should be free to enjoy it. I just need time “for me”.
This is the quiet of anticipated disorder. This is the silence felt before slipping into anesthetic sleep, before teeth are cut out, gums are sewn shut, and you wake up with gauze in your mouth tasting copper blood.
“The opposite of love,” We learn in acting class, “is not hate. It is indifference.” Every interaction is a struggle for power. Power means you get what you want by controlling the actions of another. Power is a game, and silence is a weapon.
Dan’s chronic stutter feels like drowning. This is how he describes it. He remembers how to swim well enough until he meets an impassable B or hard K sound. Because of this, he has developed an extensive arsenal of alternate words to use in place of the ones he means to say. When he can do this, or when someone finishes a word for him, or when he finally, after several tries, manages to spit the right word out, he feels like he can breathe again. He is given a new chance at life.
Dan tells me all of this as we drive West on Route 66. The sky is grey as we hurdle into the mountains. He is my best friend. Our goal is the caverns, and we finish the drive in silence. We don’t need to speak. We are weightless. We can breathe.
Sarah has mastered the art of the French inhale. She lets every milky breath of smoke melt gently upwards into her nostrils and back into her lungs. The trick is easy enough to fake, but to truly perfect it requires the circular breathing technique of a jazz trumpeter, or at least a didgeridoo enthusiast. I am impressed.
I stand outside on the apartment balcony with my sweater sleeves pulled over my hands, shivering, uncertain. Sarah’s cigarette burns down to the butt in the wind and we both forget what we were talking about, and I leave it be. We just look for a moment. The weight builds second by second. And then she raises her left eyebrow just a perfect little bit. She leans to me. And we kiss.
We explore the subterranean landscape in the caverns with a group of Tiger Scouts from Front Royal. Dan stoops beneath stalactites, a lanky six foot two. We are too old for this. The cavern walls are lit with amber and red lights and interspersed signs warn against touching any rock formations, so as not to stunt their growth. “I’m re-reading The Unbearable Lightness of B-b-b”
“Being?” I finish.
“Yeah. That one.”
We inspect chandelier Anthrodite clusters thoughtfully, and gaze across the surface of an underground lake, unable to gauge the distance between us and the other side.
“If the world was ending tonight, this is where I would want to be.” Dan whispers in the cherry red glow of my basement bedroom. The string of Christmas lights on the wall burn in and out, a slow-fade between oblivion darkness, a U-boat ambiance. We lie quietly on the floor staring up at the topography of the stippled ceiling. My eyes burn from the cloud of incense that hangs above the room, drifting in circles with nowhere to go. The record hisses and snaps like fireworks.
I close my eyes and dream of distant mountaintops, neon sunsets and a gentle breeze.
“Yeah,” I say “me too.”
“I fucked everything up, Dan.”
“If you don’t love her, you don’t love her. People change, it’s not your fault.”
In the melancholy of suburban midnight, I’m crying into Dan’s chest thinking about eternal return and the fractal geometry of life. I trace patterns in my own behavior, and think of the millions of ways I am doomed to repeat them, how my life might eventually repeat itself the exact same way it is occurring now. I think of all the girls I’ve kissed. Time is an endlessly recurring cycle.
“I’m going to treat the people who love me like shit for the rest of my life.”
“It doesn’t work like that.” Dan says, “You’re not tethered to any absolutes. There’s no such thing. We live our lives and that’s it, that’s the only thing we can be certain of. We don’t mean anything more than that. The weight of the past is meaningless. It’s gone. The future is never coming, and what we decide now is ins-s-s-“