Past and Future Past

He lay in bed, in the semi darkness, the room only illuminated by the soft green glow of the stereo dial. The volume was turned down so the room was silent save for the occasional, quiet passing of other students in the hall. Janice, who was starting to become a thing, had knocked softly on his door, whispering “are you in there?” He could have invited her in but was deep within himself and wanted to stay there. They had good conversations, and would have stayed up long into the night. Normally he would enjoy that, but not tonight. Too many things to open up, clean up or toss out.

He heard her footsteps retreating back to her room a few doors down, soft, barefoot. She’d go to bed and would be asleep soon. The opportunity lost. Still, it didn’t matter. She’d come through his cafeteria line at breakfast, nail him down and make sure there was no repeat tomorrow night. He liked that about her. She didn’t make him chase.

After her door clicked shut he let himself focus on the ceiling, barely visible. His hearing was thus the only sense fully engaged and he became aware of the gentle whoosh- bump of his heartbeat. Barely detectable at first, eventually growing louder, crowding his thoughts until they WERE his thoughts. Then slowly, as in a song where the bass line starts first, they became the steady accompaniment to his reverie.

He wondered about how many he had expended and how many more he had left. He tried building a time line, running the math in his head first to get oriented. Sixty times sixty times twenty four times three hundred and sixty five equals what? He had to run it a couple of different times until he could remember all the results: thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six thousand per year. He sacrificed accuracy for convenience and decided there were thirty million per year.

He started kindergarten at one hundred and fifty million. Started college at roughly half a billion. Had his first real girlfriend at six hundred million. And now here he was, in graduate school at close to seven hundred million. He thought ahead and figured if he was lucky he would have about 2.4 billion. Then, as is usually the case with reveries, he lost interest and his mind drifted to something else.

Despite himself, he thought about Janice, and wished he had let her in. But then he refocused and started taking apart what and who had brought him to this place. There were memories, some so delicious he marked them, playing the mind trick that insured they would be stored in long term memory. There were others that made him groan and he determined he could go without ever revisiting those. And then there was the trauma.

You can’t just push trauma away. Sure you can try burying it but then it springs forth at the worst possible time, wrecking relationships, and wrecking your day or days or weeks or even months. He always thought the best way to deal with it was to take it out and play with it once and awhile…not to wallow mind you, but rather to acknowledge and feel the pain. To look it straight in the eye, then tell it to fuck off and put it away.

And so he laid there. Thinking about muggings, near misses with perverts, abandonment, mobsters, and kind, very kind people that left him too soon. Left him when he needed them most. He thought about his aunt named Evangeline and about the poem and how it was no coincidence. He thought about the long history of his mother’s side. Things he could pick up a book and read about. Things he wasn’t allowed to talk about. Things he still didn’t talk about.

Then he thought about Julie, he always thought about Julie. How he had read her last letter, a letter asking him to be something that he wasn’t nor never would be. He kept the letter but never answered it.

Letting go of Julie, of the idea of Julie, was a cathartic fracture between two lives. He focused on the new one. The one where he could afford to have a family, and a house and everything he never had growing up.

He threw off the self-indulgent all-night poetry sessions. He threw off the self-righteous tongue clicking twits he knew from college. He threw off trying to read impenetrable literature just to sound (and feel) smart. He threw off the months of comfortable, self coddling depression. It was a long road he had started down. He kept moving forward.

His heartbeat rose again, coming in heavy against the fading cacophony of his thoughts and signaling with a crescendo the end of his reflections.

He leaned over and hit the play button on his stereo and the tape started in with a Joni Mitchell song. Joni’s voice was soft, lilting, “Down at the Chinese Cafe…Oh my love, my darling.” Goddamnit. He wished Janice was there. But before he knew it he drifted off into a deep sleep, at the last, vaguely aware of Joni, singing in the background:

"We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look
Behind from where we came"

© Glenn R Keller 2023, All Rights Reserved

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