Most days, the past seems a million miles gone. Many people have come into my life, meant something, then disappeared. Migrating according to an unknown pattern, scattering across various cities and continents. Connection between people lost slowly over time and distance. I know the pull of the same migration. I have drifted across the great plains, the great lakes, the Atlantic seaboard, the Pacific coast, these last ten years.
The constant rearrangement of persons and places feels like being born and dying many times in the mere space of a few years. In parts, the everchanging pace is exhilarating. I imagine something akin to what an arachnid may feel shedding skin. Instead of an exoskeleton, for many of us it is a system of jobs, relationships, locations that is outgrown every other year.
Yet part of modern life is also a sense of social dysphoria. Communities are created then broken so quickly. Friendships are forged then abandoned in an instant. Everyone knows the feeling of not wanting to leave someone, or something, in the past, but being forced to by shifting circumstances — jobs, school, family upheaval.
A strange, paradoxical form of isolation plagues modern life. Everyone you ever met is a click of button away online, only a couple digits on a phone apart. Yet somehow, often utterly unreachable, impossibly distant, an unspoken, unseen gulf of communication that nothing can cross between you.
Looking back, the persons of yester year remind me of those who get off a bus in the middle of the night in some far gone town. At first, you can see them clearly. Then with speed and distance, everything about them distorts. Finally, they blur into phantoms. I barely recall the voices of some who meant the world to me at one point.
The other day, driving a dirt reservation backroad, for a brief moment, I remembered everyone. Something about the darkness, the barbed wire, the moon in her gown of clouds, causes something to rustle.
Fog was seeping from the English channel, crawling down the mouths of train tunnels. The stadium for the 2012 London Olympics had just began construction. Tangerine streetlight halos were shrouded by mist. An odd sprawl of urbanity and rustic artifacts broke through the rain. 18th century merchant houses sat across the street from McDonalds and Tesco stores. Medieval cathedral spires competed for the skyline with massive panes of reflective glass. It was my first time outside the US. I sat in the shadow of Stonehenge. I looked down a crumbling privy shaft of Old Sarum castle. I watched the sun go down over the English Channel in Lowestoft. I waved goodbye to a woman in the London airport.
A particular shade of cerulean is native to the Iowa sky. I have never seen that hue replicated anyplace else. I walked a lot, to get away from a place I never truly belonged in. I stood in the park, with a styrofoam plate from a taco stand, passing the hours. I strolled among the endless corn fields flanking the town. I learned in Iowa there were social glass ceilings, in addition to the ones that stifle careers. I could talk with men and women from privilege, with lives so different from mine. I could take classes with them. I could share a beer with them, or meet them for coffee. I could outwrite them. I was a better academic than many of them. Yet certain doors would always be closed to me. I could never be part of that world of privilege, no matter what accolades I might accrue. I would never fit in because of the glass ceiling of class and race. I was a talking dog to many of them. A novelty, a source of amusement, but not quite human. Not quite worthy of human consideration. Not quite an equal with full rights of citizenship to the human race. Just a dog granted temporary residency on the outskirts of someone’s strange vision of utopia.
I was shivering against a Michigan overpass. The ache of many miles burning in my calves. A dumb idea. No skills, no education, just 22 years old, looking for work in the worst recession in the history of the state. I would ask convenience stores for job applications, and get stories instead. About how the store would be gone soon, because all its clientele worked in closing factories, and were losing their homes, moving away to cheaper accommodations. I lived in a meth swamped area of town. A door with deadbolts typically found in bank vaults separated me from the nightly cacophony of police sirens and red and blue lights. There was no fridge, or stove. I spent my last dollar on a burger at a truckstop next door.
I was playing guitar on the veranda of an ancient Massachusetts mansion. A highway to Boston above the embankment never slept. The drone of cars faintly reverberated across the pond all day long. Headlights cut through closed curtains at night. I often wondered, who all those people were. I was always aware of their presence, yet never saw a single one of their faces. People lived with me. Yet I rarely spoke to them. I read, dozens of books. As if I exited the world around me, and entered a hall where philosophers from Plato to Spinoza reposed. Even if I never spoke a word, I was in dialogue with the intellects of the dead all day.
I was sitting on a bus somewhere in the Washington rain forest near Seattle. Mount Rainier stretched above the treeline. The gloom was beautiful. Rain enveloped the road. Rain enveloped the trees. I thought about what the canoes would have looked like, before the gentrification of the landscape. The Puget Sound was visible sometimes through the pine valleys. I was taking a risk, nervous as the rain brought me closer. Watching the ferns blur was the last time I would be at peace for the next six months.
I was looking on fancy ranch houses down a dirt road in South Dakota. A woman rode with me. We were actors, waiting for an evening show. We killed dead hours taking a cruise to nowhere in specific. Sometimes we’d take pictures, of ancient planes, of sand dunes in the badlands. It was simple, yet, meant a lot.
Vague snippets of life like these haunt my solitary drives. They well up with the full moon down lonesome dusty backroads. I never speak much on this. I find it hard to talk about the past to people who were not there. I might as well be speaking about another life, a life of someone they did not know.
Yet I find it important to reflect in writing for a moment. If nothing else, to proclaim to the universe: I remember. I remember everyone.