As artists, we have to find the antidote to this darkness right now, to how everything feels so compressed rather than expanded.
I know he’s here somewhere. Somewhere he’s here. I sit and wait for him in a lonely place in a lonely town. Sometimes I go looking for him, but mostly I sit and wait. I’m sitting and waiting. Now. Here. Nowhere.
I have searched a long time for this place. It is a place where the sky is very low. And I go to sit and wait at the point where the sky is lowest in this town where the sky is very low.
I sit and wait on a circular, flat, smooth, white rock that sits on the water as the water sits on him. Waiting.
When I was younger I drowned and lived.
In his childhood he cultivated his hysteria through the terror of the institution called the family vacation. Mornings, alarmed into consciousness by the hiss and stink of his mother’s hairspray, he choked his way awake in some strange, rented, burnt orange bedroom. Night after night, it was always the same bedroom, but it never became familiar. The only thing that was familiar, and that just barely, was his family.
His chin rested on the formica tabletop and he sat eye-to-eye with his breakfast.
“Eat your pancakes like a big boy.”
“Here, honey. Take this.”
“Why doesn’t Billy have to take anything, Mom?”
“Because he doesn’t need medicine.”
“Just because he doesn’t.”
“Why do I?”
“Because the doctor says it’s good for you.”
“Why does the …”
“Son, take it like your mother says. Marie, give him the Lithium. And give him the Dramamine now, too.”
“I hate medicine, Dad.”
“It’ll be good for you, son.”
As long as he lived, he never heard a more ominous phrase.
He passed his family vacations limply propped up in the back seat of the station wagon, a little man, semi-comatose, a tiny replica of his father when his father got drunk on Sunday afternoons watching football games on television and passed out in his armchair.
It was good for both of them.
I have told the tale so many times that I have no experience of it. In my attempt to find it in the telling of it, I have misplaced it. What remains is not it, but the telling of it. It is no more or no less than a story. I’ll tell it once more in yet one more effort to understand it.
Chin on formica, he pouted.
“But why can’t I go swimming?”
“Because you just ate.”
“Don’t get smart-alecky. So you have to wait awhile. Otherwise you’ll get sick. We need to get on the road besides.”
“But I want to go swimming.”
“Too bad. Marie, give him his medicine. Is he full of it today or what.”
“Yuck. I hate medicine. I want to go swimming.”
“Simmer down right now young man. I don’t want to hear anymore about it. Take it. Marie, I’m going over to Triple A to get the revised maps. I’ll …”
“Dad, can I go swimming while you’re at Triple A? Please? Please, Dad?”
“For Christ’s sake, why can’t you be quiet like Billy?”
“Oh alright, if it’ll get you to shut up and stop ding-donging me. It’ll be good for him, Marie. Calm him down. Wait till your mother says it’s okay.”
“Okay. Allll-right. Yay. Yay.”
“See you all back at the room.”
“See you, Dad. Come on Billy. Let’s go. Yaaaaaay.”
“Whoa there, kids.”
“Last one in’s a monkey.”
“Slow down, my little wild Indians.”
“Hurry, Mom. Before Dad comes back.”
“I’m coming, I’m coming. Give your poor old mother time.”
“Yay. Yay. Hurry, Mom.”
“Too bad you can’t clean your room as quickly as you got into that bathing suit. Now don’t you or Billy get in that pool till I come back down. Hear?”
“Okay, Mom. Hurry up. Hurrr-ry.”
First he sat on a deck chair swinging his legs and watching the morning sunlight harden itself on the water into little diamonds. Then he turned toward the hotel room door and, seeing no one, tip-toed to the side of the pool and edged his toes along the white tiles. His big toe fitted over the curl and he squatted down to put his palms on top of the surface. He fell. He fell slowly, floating to the bottom of the deep and then bouncing once, slowly. He was submerged and calling out. He swallowed water the same way the water swallowed his shouts. He tasted chlorine mixed with blood, green and red like Christmas, and he was happy and excited. There was a rectangle like a door or a gate or a present and he opened it. He looked inside. There was a corridor of blinding light and blind darkness. Into the water he cried, “Mommy, Mommy. There’s a light and I’m going toward it.” Into the light came his mother’s face, but she receded so far that he could no longer distinguish her from the rest. He gulped, caught in the jaws of life, prepared to be swallowed. But he swallowed instead and came up choking. He looked up at his mother’s face in the lights. It was as beautiful as the face of an angry and frightened woman can be. He was in a white room. He was crying.
“It’s okay, honey. It’s okay now. You’re in the hospital. Don’t cry now. Big boys don’t cry. Remember?”
Still feeling water, he looked up and saw his father and saw his father’s tears—or something like tears, because his father never cried—and his father’s tears were falling into his own.
Each time I tell the tale I remember it in more detail, but it somehow becomes less specific. It is within my power to recreate the place, but it is the time I seek to recapture.
I have searched for him so much that I have no experience of him, just the experience of the search for him. In looking for him, I’ve lost sight of him. But my vision of him keeps my sights on him.
Searching for him is searching for the light and the water we shared, searching for that light and that water which is him. Here. Now. Nowhere.
When he was a young man, he drowned.
In his childhood his hysteria had been cultivated through his reaction to his father’s version of the natural life. It was an affluent childhood, rooted in one place, lacking only in vacations, medicine, and a swimming pool. So naturally, in his reaction against his father’s version of the natural life, he found allure in that which was lacking. And when he came to the point in his life when he began to decide what he wanted, when he began making decisions on what was lacking in his life, what he decided he wanted was: to sit around in some foreign watering hole taking a lot of drugs.
He was drooped across the dining room table, taking a strand of hair from the back of his head, pulling it forward and down in front of his eyes, watching candle light sprinkle through it. It was Family Discussion Night.
“I really want to go, Dad. Really a lot.”
“It’s not that I don’t think it’s a great opportunity for you, son, it’s just that I don’t know if you can handle it. You’re only 14.”
“That’s right. I’m 14. I can handle it.”
“You seem confident enough. You talk it, but can you walk it, Mr. Big Stuff? It’s a lot of responsibility. What about the rest of you? William? Mary?”
“Yeah, man. Let him go. Then I can sleep in his room.”
“No way, José. I’m not going forever and I don’t want your cooties all over everything when I come back.”
“I don’t think sophisticated international travelers spend a lot of time discussing or worrying about the concept of cooties.”
“Alright, he can stay in my room.”
“What do you think, honey?”
“Since they’ll be traveling in a group I think they’ll be safe. And Tim’s older sister does know her way around. She’s been around the world several times and I think she had trouble only once when she ended up in that Turkish jail. I never did quite understand what that scene was about, but she got out so I’m sure it was just some Kafkaesque bureaucratic hassle. Which makes it no less of a bummer, of course, but does prove that she’s able to handle herself. I think it’d be good for him to see a bit of the world.”
“Yay. Right on, Mom. Way to go.”
“Slow down. The deal isn’t sealed yet.”
“Come on, Dad. Stop messing with my mind.”
“Pulling a head trip am I?”
“Yeah. You are.”
“You’re right. Thanks for calling me on it. And I agree with your mother. I think it’ll be good for you.”
“Alll-right. Oooooo-eeeee. Give me five, little brother. Hot tuna”
I know that it is not that I should not have let him go. I know that even if I had not let him go, I would have had to let him go at one time or another, in one form or another. Of that I am certain. The letting go is done, it is the giving up that remains to be done. And it is that which I seek, that place and that moment of surrender.
I sit and wait for him, here and now and nowhere, in a healing place in a healing town.
He sat with a stick in his hand, surf to his left, a fire encircled by stones to his right.
“Far fucking out, man. I’ve never seen stars like that in a sky like this.”
“Beautiful beach, isn’t it?”
“Sure as shit is. Heh, Tim. Stop hogging the pipe, man. Pass that hash over to me and your sister.”
“Not so loud, guys. Don’t wake the neighbors.”
“Don’t be so paranoid. This is nowheresville. There’s nobody around for miles. Eeeee-ha.”
“Keep it down will you. You’re not home anymore. Just because you don’t see streetlamps or split-levels doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone out here. And even if there isn’t anyone out there, it doesn’t mean they’re not watching. Here.”
“Wha? You’re stoned.”
“True, but it’s still the truth. I know. I’m the one that’s been here before and been hassled before. Remember?”
“Right. I forgot. What kind of shit did you say this was?”
“Strong stuff. Righteous stuff. Tim. Here, man.”
“Hey, listen. Let’s do a little body surfing before we crawl in our bags. Ride a few. I mean look at those riders, man. Just look at those mothers.”
“Alll-right. Let’s go for it. C’mon, Sis.”
“Nope. Too scary. And I don’t think you guys should go out either.”
“Oh, c’mon. Give us a break, Sis. Stop acting like Mom. We were out there all day. We’re pros, man. Rulers of the waves. It’ll be good for us. It’ll be righteous.”
“Well, okay, only if you promise not to go out too far or stay out too long. Keep the fire in sight and come in when I call.”
“Will do, Chief. Over and out. C’mon, Tim. Last one in’s a monkey.”
They kicked up sand as they ran and then water. Then they dove in. He went under and in one quick and clean instant chose to remain, choosing to immerse himself in an endless sea. It was clear to him what he was doing. It was simple for him to do it. He did it.
Tim went back to the fire.
“Tim, where is he?”
“Here. I thought he was here. I thought he came back here.”
“Now? He’s not here now. Where is he?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. He was beside me in the water and then he wasn’t beside me in the water anymore. He was nowhere.”
“He’s not here. He’s nowhere around here.”
“I thought he was here.”
“I’ll keep the fire up. Go along the shore and call for him. Find him.”
After a while, Tim came back from the shore silently and alone and they sat on a stone together and waited. They sat in the darkness, waiting in the darkness, as the water washed his body further and further into that darkness that is light.
I have sat here and waited here in helplessness and hopelessness for a very long time.
It has been my hope that help would come by way of the telling. That, in reliving my death by retelling my death, I would be alive for him and me. That, in reliving his death by retelling his death, he would be alive for him and me. That, in reliving his death, he would live. My death, his death, our deaths.
The pain of the loss is compounded by knowing that the possibility existed, for him as surely as it did for me, of dying and living.
He was the son of a man who had drowned and lived and he was a son who drowned. All that remains is the telling and retelling, the blame of letting him go and the guilt of not being able to give him up.
His body, the body of my son, was never found.
He has been sitting longer than he has ever sat before. He has been sitting here for so long that here is now nowhere.
It is the time that the sun is as far from rising as it is from setting. He has been waiting longer than he has ever waited before. He has been waiting for so long that the now which is here is nowhere.
As he sits alone and waits here and now on a circular, flat, smooth, white rock that is sitting on the water in a healing place in a healing town, he begins breathing. He takes many deep breaths and dilates his body. He takes as many deep breaths as it takes to reach absolute zero and at that point, which is the point at which everything liquefies, he heaves a sigh of release. Nowhere is here now.
Staring into the bottomless deep, he emits a ferocious and subtle wind which pushes the waves back like a curtain. And through the wave of a curtain, there issues a light in which a glimpse of the son is revealed to the father. He is there, floating. Floating in the sea without a tide, in the sea without a shore.
Touched by the vision, the touching enables him to see into the place where we remain untouched.
Now. Here. Nowhere.
His tears—or something like tears because he never cries—fall into that sea, his sea, our sea.
As artists, we have to find the antidote to this darkness right now, to how everything feels so compressed rather than expanded.