A great, tender melancholy settled over me this morning as I drove the kids to school through the snow covered millyard. The lights on the brick buildings twinkled against the gray December sky and the whole thing looked like a prop from a train set and I felt the rush of years that brought me from childhood to gray-haired fifty as swiftly as though they had been compressed to model railroad scale. The rush of mawkish sentimentality, native to drunks and Christmas movies, put me in the mood to write, though I’ve been avoiding the page for some weeks now. It is the only thing on my regular list of daily to-dos, my “virtuous” habits, that I have not done. It pulls at me, but pushes me away with even greater force. The compulsion to tell good, honest stories, to say something meaningful, useful, is at war with the compulsion to avoid delving too deeply into the mines and awaking things there better left sleeping. Maybe? None of that is conscious, of course. Consciously, I’m all for digging down into the grit. And yet, I go to extreme lengths to avoid it. Unclogging drains. Cleaning toilets. Running ten miles in the freezing rain. Hanging Christmas lights.
It is the kind of mood in which you want to reach out to people who have had an indelible effect on your life and are now, for whatever reason, no longer a part of it. Those lost to us by the collapse of friendships, the dissolution of marriages, the stony finality of death. It is the December-morning, over-caffeinated equivalent of the impulse to drunk dialing.
I resist it, for the most part, though a few of you may have received notes before I got myself in hand.
Instead I’m sitting with it, the feeling. And I realize what the heart of the sensation is: I am absolutely sure that I am only an instant away from every other moment in my life. Right now, ten years old is an instant away, building tunnels in the snowbanks of the house in Vermont with my sister Ana, pretending to be the cops from Adam 12, who I think we meanly called Dick and Fat Face, and college is an instant away, in the filthy kitchen of my apartment with Jim, getting drunk after seeing Naked Lunch at the art house theatre, and him coming out to me and how moved I felt at his trust, or the first dance in the Orangie after Kristen and I got married at Tower Hill, or the Palm Sunday, April Fool’s morning Isobel was born and how I took the other kids to Mass after and fell asleep in the pew, or, or, or… None of these lost or distant. All having just happened and so fresh they warm me and lash me simultaneously.
In this short drive along the highway through the millyard I have been cast out of the proper linear stream of time and am existing outside of time, or in all times at once. I get my kids to their respective schools, noting that if nothing else, the pandemic certainly has made dropoffs faster. The lines are very short. That’s a dark thought. I imagine the great empty stretches of Europe after the plagues, North America decimated after the arrival of Pilgrim disease. Unworthy, I think. Low humor. But that’s part of me. I tell them I love them as they each disembark, more fervently perhaps than they expect, but I don’t see startlement.
I get to the office early and find that the payoff for this disorientation, this dislocation from linear chronology, this melancholy, this maudlin seasonal sorrow, is 600 words. I check “write” off in my habit tracking app. (It is distinct from “journal,” which I seem to have no problem doing daily, though I can’t explain why.) I open email, attempt to wedge myself back into time, convinced I now better understand the association of the Christmas season and ghost stories.