I bought this book yesterday – the new Haruki Murakami, ‘After Dark’ (sorry, anyone who read this before that phrase’s grammar was amended. I have not started speaking like a Norwegian on their virgin English voyage). Bookstores are an evil institution designed and implemented to confuse my sensibilities. Whoever has it out for me is very smart. Books are most certainly my kryptonite. The reason I’m sure of this preposterous postulation is, I already have that book. I had completely forgotten its purchase two weeks ago. This happened to me once before a couple years back. I had read about a book by Douglas Coupland whose premise I actually didn’t hate but forgot the title. Around this same time, someone mentioned having read ‘Generation X’ and lauded its loser literature to me. So I head to my local Barnes n’ Noble (my honest to goodness ‘hangout’ while living on the island) to pick up two books by Mr. Coupland: the one I’d read about and thought I’d know immediately if only I were to glimpse it, and the other as recommended. I pore over all his goofy covers and cannot, for the life of me, find one that resembles the blurb I’d read. I couldn’t even remember where I’d read it at that point. I give up and pick the prettiest copy of ‘Generation X’, some Eddings nonsense and head to the cash. I still have my employee code at this point, even though I’ve long since quit and so, I buy a lot of books. Anyway, while in line listening to the drone of the lights, the high-pressured noise of the espresso machine (which, personally, I think should be defined as ‘squitchy’), the book club milfs burbling bollocks ’bout their latest lady book, etc., I read the inside jacket of ‘Generation X’. I blush to myself here, because this is the book I was interested in getting. Cue my stunted chortle aloud here, prompting one of the young wives (whom I am sure is called ‘Lynnie’) to wheel around and leer at me in her Burberry separates.
That is when I first knew something wasn’t right with bookstores. ‘Specially when I think about sniffing newly-bound books while I’m in there.
I forgot my gosh darn journal this morning, so I think my title was wittier while walking to the streetcar stop. I was so thrilled to sit down and knock it out in black ink. No dice.
My mind has been racing for days.
That familiar rippling under my skin has surfaced, almost with the changing of the wind. The chill on this august morning almost served as a slap to my cheek, shaking me into lucidity. My wanderlust returns.
From my seventeenth year, I have moved somewhere or another every 1.5 – 2.5 years. Over the span of a fairly adventitious decade I have lived in more places than most, in the U.S. and Canada. The first move was against my will, but, it was one of those things that happen to you in life; like a kid tossed off the dock into the freezing cold abyss of lake water and told to ‘swim’! Some things, you approach with caution (a practice much more prevalent in adult life) and some are hurled at you by strong men on unicycles that you must catch whilst, yourself, juggling batons on fire and riding a pogo stick. Hilarity ensues.
For me, moving to South Carolina seemed ultimately unfair. It was hot, there were accents, there were bugs (have you heard of chiggers? they burrow under your skin and lay eggs), there were strip malls and golf courses and face-lifts and bigots. I have always been a little too bohemian for my family, and it is always a struggle for me to feel like I fit in. There are things I can do I don’t think twice about: ski, play tennis, drive a boat. They are all things that are a part of my character and, while eternally grateful for all opportunities allowed me, I do feel sometimes like they are the ghostly abilities of somebody else; grafted to my personality and seamlessly incorporated into my nervous system. It always seemed like a double life.
But the island is the place I learned how to truly feel alive. Specifically out on the beach, in the laconic lull of the witching hour. I would sneak out into that solid, iron-curtain; the space just ahead of me so devoid of light; above me, the grinning gibbous moon close and confident; so many stars, the sky seemed a perforated confection that heaved and sighed along with each of my breaths. Which, incidentally, I could hear so clearly I would think someone was following me for the first few walks. I brought a flashlight, but didn’t turn it on. I remember the first walk, my mind was racing much as it is now, and I kept thinking of the flashlight as a ‘torch’ – the Queen’s English for ‘flashlight’. Somehow, it seemed wrong to torch this sort of darkness. Humid always, my skin bristled with the feeling of millions of hot finger grips and I imagined the heat to be a great collective of fiery faeries: illuminating my journey to the water’s edge by heightening my other senses.
Sand has a peculiar quality at night in that climate. Its cool, rhythmic surface stills you when dry; a faint, residual heat coming up from somewhere in its core. When wet, the grains separate and coalesce around your feet and between your toes; sending a shiver or two up your spinal column. Smelling the soothing salt on the air pulled my feet toward it. As though the desire within me was so great, the response of the sea so sympathetic so as to wrap itself ’round my very atoms and saturate my innocence with sensations that were, to me, previously a mystery. (I have only shared this environ with one other person and, it was not quite the same.) There are two ways to get to the salt and the sand (more than that, but this is a journal, not a travel essay): one is a straight line from my parents’ house, through a ‘beachwalk’ which is comprised of mulch and pine straw and more fist-sized june bugs than you care to think about. The moon alights that path in an exceptionally awe-inspiring line of silver; a thread upon which to tightrope-walk your way to your destination. Alternately, one may turn left at the end of Sovereign, as I often did. Along this route, one is afforded the slow rustle of Spanish Moss overhead, the historic first free African American settler’s site (complete with still-live cannonballs underground), the ruins of the original Port Royal which are protected by the most beautiful live-oak angel tree I have ever seen. The live oaks of the south grow to enormous sizes and, the weight of their branches become so great, their desire to touch the rich earth so compelling that they finally give in and sprawl their aching arms along the ground. Most say it’s because of the weight of angels sitting amongst the foliage, hence ‘angel tree’.
When I left the island for college, I felt as though I’d been one of those lucky myths: sitting on an oak branch, listening to the roar of the waves, trying to get closer to an already enormous moon (almost seemed as though it would fall out of the sky, some nights) and then, without warning, was torn from my perch; bits of my skin still sticking to its own bark. I knew then that there were so many places I longed to leave DNA on. It sounds a silly statement, I know. But the particles of the planet are my own skin, and I intend to reunite them. Next time: Bubble and Squeak: I Cried in Front of Stonehenge, and He Didn’t Mind.