Wednesday, May 26, 2010

“You guys go on ahead with me”

 —Billy Pilgrim, Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

I was in the comic book store today and the clerk glanced at me while he was ringing up my order. Our eyes met and the next thing that should have happened is one of us should have said “Hey.” But I just stared at him. After a moment, he began to show signs of feeling awkward but I felt nothing. It was like I was watching a movie that didn’t particularly interest me. He goes, “Uh, hey, how’s it going?” And I know I looked at him and he could see me searching for a reply, but I had nothing. I just kept looking at him, waiting for myself to kick in and have something to say back, but I just didn’t care. Nothing came.

After a moment, he goes, “Hey, you feeling okay?”

Now that’s a red-flag phrase and that almost always gets through. Yeah, I assured him I was fine, just pre-occupied with a move out of state coming up.

Then he said something and I said something back and then our transaction was concluded and I walked out of his store. I think I mustered up a “see you later,” but I couldn’t swear to it.

This life—this part of my life—as Tony Soprano used to say, is dead to me. I’m not gone yet, but it is. Every usual activity or errand is accompanied by a sense of loss of purpose. I don’t really need you, Rite Aid. I’ll be getting my drugs elsewhere soon. Safeway, I’ll see you soon in Boise, I’m sure of it; this isn’t goodbye. Guy who cuts my son’s hair better than anyone, who gave us his card on our last visit, I’ll never use that card. I’ll never call your number. I’m looking at it right now, and the black squiggles on the yellow rectangle might as well be modern art.

I feel like a guy who’s at his own wake. His two-month-long wake. I’m not even gone yet and I can feel my connections to this place dying on the vine. Everything is either a holding action, like the trips to the comic book store and Rite Aid; or else is preparation for the move. Nothing exists for its own purpose anymore. It’s all preamble to that which comes next, or postscript to what came before.

That’s where I am now. The encounter (or lack of same) at the comic book store just crystallizes it; crunches it down to an easily relatable anecdote.

I feel like I’m moving through null space. Like Billy Pilgrim, I feel like I am becoming unstuck in time and am witnessing events as they occur, instead of experiencing them. Like later on, this part of my life won’t have existed. Or it will have existed, but I will have somehow skipped past it to the next thing.

Unlike Billy Pilgrim, however, I don’t have the option of offering to let the other guys go on ahead without me. I happen to need my other guys more than Vonnegut’s protagonist needed his. The Missus is my Montana Wildhack and The Boy is my Constant, the two of them anchoring me as much as possible to this reality—ever-changing as it is, damn it to hell—and without whom I would become unstuck in space as well as time.

So to sum up: Having a lovely time I’m sure, just the same, grateful I couldn’t be here for it.


Blogger Lilian said...

I'm glad your wife linked to this post from hers, it's such a very precise -- and poetic -- description of how one feels before a radical move such as the one your family is going through and ours just did. (Leslie knows a bit about me from my blog -- my husband just got a TT job at a university in Virginia, and we just moved).

I felt the same way you described for a couple of months too -- every thing I did felt like the last thing ever here in PA (I'm back here for a week and it feels even stranger). Anyway, thanks for sharing. I love your sense of humor, BTW. I visited a while back when Leslie linked to the hilarious "controversy" of the before and after photos of your son's head wound. ;-)

12:51 PM


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