Walking home after a lecture by MG…
R and I linger in the building to be a surface for one another’s ideas that must be out, ricochet after the reading. His composition of peripheries. A process, a method of memory and history. “A force captured by juxtaposition.”
I remember this building, on 280 S. Columbus, that I first came to in 1991, summer, a junior seeking refuge from high school, taking a class called Mixed Media. All manner of material was made available in a vast room with stained floors and scuffed walls, appearances unimportant in a place devoted to making things. This was a refuge from suburbs of slipcovers and lemon-scented pledge. It’s curious what becomes memorable. A vast room with stained floors where anything was possible. We were told to make whatever we wanted. Everything was possible. There was no stipulation for form or content.
I spent the summer hammering nails into a board because that was my only reference point for making things. The last time I had hammered nails into a board was 1979 or 80, in a basement, in a suburb called Justice, with my dad, making bookshelves. Not meant to endure, those shelves or this memory, flimsy and yet I took them for myself when I moved away from the suburbs in 1996. And the seven different apartments I would have in the city.
And two in Providence. Providence, winter 2001, sleeping next to them full of books. The overpowering presence of them, the reason I was there and J was elsewhere. The audacity of hope that brought me there. The phone call that would be received in 2000, spring. It was just a message, J wrote down some numbers for me to return, but we knew. We knew that this was would be an offer that I couldn’t let go. It would make us leave Chicago.
The message of some numbers I don’t remember. When I wasn’t home. When I was working. At the Art Institute, mounting and masking slides for one of its libraries. The overpowering presence of books, being a whole wall of a little room, where I felt small against the miles between a place I called home and there. It became too much. I had to mask them too. My extra set of sheets, black, fit them perfectly, held at the top by some sort of end I don’t remember and draping resolutely to the floor. Those bookshelves the size and shape of a bed.
R and I walk out into the night, briefly warm before the next cold front due soon, rain turning to snow and back to rain again in the minutes we linger before parting ways at the corner. I open my umbrella that fits both of us. She remarks on its preposterous size. I know, I say. It was bought for two. On a day that J and I walked the streets of Evanston in a heavy rain looking for an apartment for him the year we would spend apart. It would be 2001-2002. A courtyard building, an English Garden unit, almost as much as we had paid for an entire coach house for ourselves and full of instruments a year before. English Garden here denotes a sunless basement rampant with centipedes and anchored on either side by retirement communities. Big enough for one person and a few instruments, but instruments that had to be quiet. Like the accordion with moth-eaten bellows. It would be three blocks from where he would go to school. 846 miles from where I went to school. “History is the history of possession, as survival seeks to possess life.” We had planned to see more of each other, but those plans were made before September 11.
I leave R off at Jackson and walk south on Columbus. I don’t pass a single other person the entire way home. The floodlights on the ridiculous volleyball fields are staging some sort of precipitation. Rain, snow. Across the street down a slight hill are the softball fields featured prominently in the brat pack vehicle “About Last Night.” This was one of the first R rated films I ever saw. I would see it on cable late at night, curiously, because I was at an age without an inkling about sex. Movies like this fascinated me because something was happening just below the surface of what I could directly understand. This generic word was an unseen force that made people nice to each other and then angry. It made things indecent. “Some people would want to put pants on a horse.” It submerged a language I thought I understood. Insinuation, innuendo, curse words—all made possible. A language I thought I understood. It made people move out of perfectly nice apartments. Learning the mechanics of it all, the health books, the urban legends told at recess, caused a disappearance. How long –several years- before I’d realize I would miss this.
This is the feeling, that something is just below a veil, more perceptible really with the imagination than with actual data, that I still relish in as many other places I can find it. It makes me a little cautious about knowledge. Like the double edge of any pregnancy, whether thought or flesh. That which is conceived is also given mortality. With experience comes memory. With memory comes the possibility of forgetting.