Thursday, November 8, 2012

Left behind

When it comes down to a matter of life and death there is no trick that works, no trick at all. Look around arsehole. You wait for something to grab a hold of, but there are no handles. There’s nothing to grab. A wall of water, a gust of wind, the wrong side of the street. A wrong guess -- to stay rather than go. Or to go rather than stay. These are not decisions -- these are actions born of impulses. You guess wrong, you guess right, you do your best with the information you’re given. You remember stories that you read when you were a boy. The Sign of the Four. Treasure Island. Typhoon. You walk around your fears, looking for others worse off than you are. Don't worry. They're here, just around the corner, sitting on the curb, surrounded by trash bags. You see them on their phones, crying. I don’t know how I’m going to survive. They’re looking for someplace to go, to go right away but they can’t find a way out. They're looking to get out of the present.

You listen -- it’s impossible not to -- but you have nothing to give them. You’re nothing but a tourist. If you look at them directly, they turn away. Maybe everything they own is in that backpack. You don’t know. You don't know a fucking thing. They’re scared shitless. They can’t get to work -- they figure now they’ll be fired. The boss certainly isn’t going to pay them. They have no money. The PATH trains are wrecked, it will take weeks for them to come back. The lines for the buses are endless. The supermarkets -- the few that have re-opened -- are out of essentials. And the goddamn garbage trucks haven’t picked up all the trash that’s been piling up on the sidewalks outside the broken homes and flooded basements. There are piles of shit all over the place. It smells dirty and wet. The city looks like shit.

Clusters of men in weighted-down pickups come and go through the trash. They take away some of the things that can be fixed. Furniture, box springs, lamps, exercise bicycles. You see them rooting through the big red dumpsters. The things that can’t be fixed are tossed aside. No one wants this shit any more. No one wants to look at it and make a decision. People are tired of deciding.

You think of how long you’ve lived here -- thirty-three years in Jersey. Thirty-three years is nothing. Call it Christ's lifetime. Before that Long Island, upstate by the Finger Lakes, the gray dormitories of New York. There have been storms, floods, beach erosion, lost days, and bloody dark nights when nothing worked. You’ve been in snow so thick it erased the border between night and day, wind that took a sixty-foot silver maple and threw it onto your roof like a piece of stick, rain that coursed down Breakneck Road in a violent torrent that tore out the bridge, and ice that bent the forsythia’s branches down until they rested in the stream. You watched the world change. Bridges out, roadways altered, buildings torn down, once fertile farmland paved over. The world you were born into is no more.

The world you were born into is long gang, has hurtled away, shot off into the memory sphere, and it’s not to be found on this earth any more. Look for it, go ahead and look for it. Jackass. You’ve been back over lost ground so many times and each time you meet less of what you’d expected. The neighborhood is different. The region no longer works the way it did. The fucking sea has eaten away a big part of the past. The dead -- where are their bones? You know those big cemeteries out on the Island. Has the sea washed over the graves of your mother, your father, and your long-dead little brother? You don’t want to know what the sea has done. They’re not there any more. They're in your mind, and when you die, they'll be truly dead.

Your childish belief in permanence, any sort of permanence. The sun, the night sky, the contours of the land. All of it is older than you but not permanent. None of it. You live with your belief for years and then something happens -- floodgates open, the Hudson breaks through the wall -- and your belief is shot dead. It happens quickly. And thoroughly. So you put your head between your legs -- you look like a goddamn puppet, something that doesn't belong in this world of sea-water and violent wind -- and weep and gnash your teeth. Predictable grief, big emotions coming in right on time. Your childish belief in the preeminence of the things human beings do. The world is too busy to laugh. The world is leaving you behind.

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