Am I present? I have to think. I’m wanting for a wave of blankness to wash over me, for my mind to tingle and ease, for my eyes and shoulders to give, to accept the everythingness of things. I say this like I’m totally conscious of it, but I’m not – it’s more instinctive, I think. The most conscious part is of time passing.
I’m staring out the window. My eyes are pointed at a tree. Its empty branches sway in the cold wind of this grey winter scene. The color slowly shifts as the sun sneaks out, then darkens again, light flittering. I have anxiety about things, like so many leaves that cover summer trees. This barren tree speaks to me now. I’m not really looking at it, but through it, past its branches. I am a tree that blows in the wind. I am less than that. Nothing. Now I’m loosening. My shoulders relax, my eyes glaze over and my anxiety fades. My ego like scattered sunlight, disappearing. The sky is a blanket. I snuggle into that, just atmosphere, comfy. Oxygen fills my lungs, my head buzzing. I exhale like a wave crashing in slow motion and it hits me: a moment, an orgasm, my self is gone; empty bliss.
Fade to white. Blankness.
There’s nothing but a hum, an innocent tone like the last sound of Radiohead’s Kid A album. I picture a soft light glowing, growing in intensity – it’s the summer light of New York City shining into my bedroom on a Sunday morning. I’m in Brooklyn, in bed with Allison, the soft duvet cozily encapsulating us, my feet peeking out into the still, sedate air, her head tucked into my neck, my skin brushed by her auburn hair and her hands on my chest, each of us between wake and rest.
“What do you feel like doing?” she asks me.
I sigh with content: “Nothing.”
“Great, nothing it is,” she says, and we continually drift in half-sleep.
Now I’m standing here like this is the dream. I’m an apparition. I’m still, barely breathing. I’m not exactly holding my breath, but it’s like I forget to breathe, like I’m resting my lungs or something. I inhale. I see Allison’s porcelain face, her kind eyes opening, her smile growing, in sync with my lungs filling completely. A moment, a memory. Then a sigh – I exhale loudly. The image dissipates. The soft summer light vanishes with it.
Dissolve to black. Now there’s darkness.
My eyes are closed. Slowly, I keep breathing. The light shifts back to the flat greyness of this winter day. The clouds aren’t breaking. The trees aren’t swaying. Nothing’s happening.
There’s a whistle. It’s the kettle: water’s boiling. I open my eyes, unsure of when I closed them exactly.
It’s a Thursday morning. I’m standing in my kitchen, making coffee. I listen to the whistle, roll my neck around my shoulders and listen to the cracking of muscles. My back hurts. I pour hot water into the French press on the counter and stir the coffee carefully. Everything feels slow, intended. The radiator crackles. The clock ticks. The city carries on in the distance.
I’m relaxed but I can sense my anxieties bubbling just under the surface, like a zit you just know will soon ruin a day. No steady money. No prospects. No solid career path. A weak résumé. And all these plans for a trip, so precarious… Is this sustainable? Am I making smart decisions? Who am I and what have I done with my life? I don’t actually want to be thinking this.
I turn back to the window. The coffee steeps. I look at the large courtyard, intrigued by the layout of old buildings, the architecture very European. That makes sense – I’m in Berlin, Germany. There are lots of similarities between here and Brooklyn, but also lots of differences. None of my close friends or family are here, for instance. No stability. No Allison.
I hum to myself, hearing music in my head: the soft synthetic beat and dancing melody of the song “Bored Games” by Wild Nothing:
♬ Where are you going? Can I go with you? I don’t feel right when you’re not here… ♬
I just want to be in a song.
I breathe, straighten my back, listen now to the clock. The seconds tick. I pay attention to the space between each tick and everything in it: countless fractions of slivers, small infinities. Again and again, with every passing second, infinities of nothing.
It’s funny how it’s called a second. I read that it’s because it’s the second division of the hour, the first divisible unit being the minute. But why is the hour the thing to be divided? Shouldn’t it be the day that we’re dividing? The first division is really the hour – and it’s the first hand on the clock as well. That makes sense. The minute hand, then, is really the second, the second hand really the third. So shouldn’t seconds be called thirds?? It really bothers me, this imperfect system of timekeeping. I wish we could fix it. This is suddenly all I want in life, for this to be right. At least something, then. And why anything.
I sigh, my empty thoughts filled with such banality. My passions awake at the most mundane. I want the time back, in a way. I want time to cease. It’s dumb that such things bothers me, isn’t it? It’s my own mind that bothers me. Let it go, Ethan. Breathe. Lose yourself again. Care less. Just stare at the clock, look at the minute hand vibrating ever so slightly as it ticks. The hour hand moves smoothly forward as well, imperceptibly. I’m watching it… It points close to the 12. Almost noon. After 12 comes 13 – 13:00 in Europe – but 1 on this circle, this cyclical system. 1 and 13 are the same thing, an ace in blackjack is 1 and 11 simultaneously. Does zero equal infinity?
The coffee must be ready. I’m pouring it, watching the steam rise and dissipate. That makes me happy. I pick up the mug and it warms me. Out the window, flakes of frozen precipitation are forming. Interesting weather we’re having. My eyelids fall as gently. The radiator is crackling, the refrigerator is buzzing, the clock is ticking. The universe expands and I’m breathing. Eyes closed, I’m seeing the bright sun, gentle waves at the beach, the sound of water lapping, the infinite sea… I pause, hold this vision in anticipation. I’m going there. I’m returning. My happy place, you could say. I’ve been places. I’ve seen things. All these things that I’ve done, snapshots of my life, real quick, like that, in succession, flashing before my eyes, a slideshow, strobing. Loud light, black and white, rhythmic, and then a bed of pulsing music. It’s building, a textured beat, 60 BPM doubled, then speeding. Life, faster and faster. I’m remembering, fantasizing, dreaming. I’m bobbing my head to this daydream, my body loose, my shoulders light, my hands… warm… This coffee feels nice. I raise it to my face, inhale its aroma and the thought obscures, fades into the background as I breathe. This smell cuts through me. I tilt the mug toward my mouth. I’m going to taste it now. I sip. It’s good. I open my eyes widely. This energy enters my body. It’s in me. There. I’m present I think.