I was sitting outside on the back deck reading Mario Vargas Llosa's novel The Storyteller. It was early afternoon and I sat in the shade of the house. From time to time I closed my eyes and listened to the world up here -- a cricket's chirp in the stone wall, the drone of a faraway lawn mower, the bottled thrum of the hummingbird's wings as she drank at the feeder I fill with sugar water. There was nothing exceptional going on. We shared the same world. A couple of times I felt my eyelids get heavy and my head begin to nod. I remember shaking myself back to consciousness and reading the same sentences I had just read before. I thought to myself, there is a great benignity to life on a cool clear summer afternoon when all of creation seems to be astir.
I was about halfway into the book -- the narrator writing to his college friend Mascarita from Firenze -- when the drowsiness overtook me for good and I went to sleep. I have no idea how much time passed but it couldn't have been very long before I heard my mother whisper in my ear, "Where have you been? And where are you going, my child?"
My breath caught and my eyes opened wide. My mother died in August of 1974, some thirty-nine years ago. Where did that auditory hallucination come from? I had ceased cultivating my so-called spiritual side for some time, but the world was still very much mysterious. Her words were as clear as day. Why this vexatious awakening?
Earlier that day, I had been immersed in the photos and videos appearing in an article in the online edition of The New York Times called "Gorgeous Glimpses of Calamity." The reading line was "Man-made perils to the universe’s garden of life are evident from space." Pictures of smog and fires, videos of sandstorms and glaciers breaking off Greenland into the ocean. Since my mother died, the population of the earth has more than doubled. Talkin' bout my generation. I spent a good half hour looking at the images and reading the text. My eyes were bleared with tears. And I'm a nobody.
Yesterday my buddy Matty told me how the dinosaurs were wiped off the planet. A big asteroid off Mexico, moisture driven into the atmosphere, a million water rockets landing on the poor cold-blooded beasts. Us? We humans are warm-blooded, thank god.
She once said to me, but it wasn't an injunction, she would never do that, "Don't read too much, it will make you crazy." As though craziness wasn't something I'd inherited. Not the craziness of the rope-walker, just the contrarian craziness of those who find the world too mysterious for human comprehension. Like my old man, who said, "You're not a drunk if you don't drink alone."
Bullshit. There's a limit to one's parent's wisdom, most likely exceeded by the time you reach puberty. Then your very own fucking wisdom takes over. Except that it's the same damn wisdom. You put on your mother's face, or your father's face, and you espouse the same tinny axioms by which to live. What are you gonna do -- spring into the Coliseum from your fat loins like an effin gladiator? No no. That's not an option.
You sit on the back deck. The cricket is trying to reach you. Impute no motives to the mower. The hummingbird is a little vandal. Sit there and listen as though your life depended on it. Your mother is alive somewhere. Find her, you wretch.