A Time in New Jersey


I lived in a small town in New Jersey. Four years of life went by; then suddenly gone. I lived with an old friend and her two dogs; there were also a lot of squirrels and birds and even the occasional possum. A lot of laughter, love, a few shouts and some endless stupidity.
I was employed some distance away and was gone most of the day. She was alone with the dogs and squirrels and some stuffed bears. And her crafts. So allowing for sleep-time we only ever had a few hours a day to be with each other. Odd considering we’d left other lives so we could be together. And then we grew farther apart. How could I return each evening and not loose the distance of the day?

The details of the days of living do not need repeating as they are generally unseen anyway. Much like the blocks and mortar are unmentioned when discussing the Taj or you don’t speak of the glass when viewing a fine view though a window. But it is the view, the scene, the sum of days, the essence of life that we recall. How can so much time go by and so little be remembered? It is not the dinner parties, the drinks, the movies seen, the friends with whom you dined. A glowing moment of solitude on a sandy beach, each in our own thoughts, the air, the light and breezes perfect. Those moments of sweet intense passion in the dark of ourselves. Two entities resonating. Glittering gems, so rare but only highlights and not the sum and substance of it all. They are the grist, the walls, the fabric of a life, the gown which cloths the beauty. So after the dressings are peeled away, what is left? What is the quintessence of a relationship? What is that spark and flame and how does it go out?
Can lives so hungry for love make light and fire where none really exist?

We knew the power of conversation but would not talk; we knew the power of being naked but would never allow total exposure: we starved while sitting at a table of bountiful harvest. The squirrels and birds were well fed and provided flashes of joy, warmth and humor. The teddy bears were where happily ensconced on their shelves and looked on in great amazement. Some told jokes and danced, but mysteriously the message was lost in the distance between us all. Teddy bear love is a tricky thing you know; with all that messy unconditionality…
How does one learn not-love? To love safely, to live with an emotional condom worn at all times, a net always beneath the thin wire of relationship. It would seem to be unnatural to be so defensive, so protective, so isolated. Love is so pure and innocent. How do we pervert such a simple thing? Those past events, subtle thieves of our sensitivity, so deft at their trade leave us safe and secure. Nothing again will penetrate! So safe. Like a cement block is safe from melting in the rain.

Do my failures mark the time? Are they inch-marks on some strange ruler to measure the days of living? She made requests I didn’t feel like filling. Who knows why? I’m sure at the time denial was most justifiable. In the compression of retrospect it all seems so inconsequential. What in Gods name was I protecting my self from? And she herself? In some dark Id-corner there lives a creature who knows but has no voice.

The autumn brought special times; in winter the snow was a novelty for a while. The beauty of fall and the sweet smell of leaves rotting to make rich earth, the changing light and air, the geese in transit: all make a special time. And of course the intense colors. The colors! But still we saw it all through protective slits in our collective armor. Little felt, (or at least revealed) correct words of recognition mouthed.

We decided life would be better apart and so she left and I remained.

There was endless details of trucks and boxes, dates and distant arrangements. All so matter of fact. It was all coming undone and she was amazed that I’d bought a new charcoal grill: it was for the next life (which would never come) and hid the emotion of the one ending: Denial at it’s finest hour.
Soon the moving date arrived and on a rainy morning we set out to get the truck. Is this what it is like on death row when they go out to get the coffin prior to the execution? All matter of fact. Light packing had been going on — stuff you don’t normally see; things in the attic and personal boxes. Up to this point the house looked fairly normal. Today the dismantlement of a life began in earnest. First the bed came apart and was swallowed by the truck. Next the dresser, next boxes. Soon the bedroom was hollow and echoed strangely; warmth gone. For many hours the boxes and parts and pieces of one half of a life were force-fed to the hungry maw of the truck. It said nothing. The rain persisted. A dear friend of hers stopped by to wish god-speed. What does one say at these times? The feeding of the truck continued into the night. An old girl friend had graciously volunteered to help with the drive south. She arrived on a late plane around midnight. The truck was safely locked and she soon repaired to the pull-out bed in the loft and we to air-mattress’ and sheets on the living room floor. The last night we would ever lie side by side. Last anything’s are always so profound and yet simple. There comes a point when our ability to feel emotion is much too small a pipe to handle the gusher lurking deep beneath.

Morning came. There was coffee and coffee cake and idle chat. All was done, all was packed, the life was all but erased. There was nothing left but to not be together any more. And so on a cold November day she left. A brief kiss to seal the end of four years, (anything stronger would have been unbearable). An overfilled truck lumbers out of the drive, turns right and heads down the lane. I see it pause at the stop sign — a disembodied arm appears out a window to adjust the rearview mirror. Another right turn and it is gone.

So that is it. So much for a life. A time.
The honey-thick silence began pouring through the house like lava engulfing a countryside; unrelenting, unforgiving.

So now what? I begin to wander down the hall to end up in the bedroom. Now a hollow cave holding only my reading chair and a bookcase, once stuffed with teddy bears (They left on the last truck out), it too is nearly empty holding only my stereo. These pieces look so odd, now huddling in the corner of this large and empty room. Is this what it is like when explorers open an ancient tomb? Up and down the hallway I wander, an unnamable sorrow begins to well up, still not allowed out. Back to the kitchen. Mindless chores to complete. The coffee cake box, the coffee cups partially full. But it still was not time to touch them. The dishes of a last quick bite before the road… they are still of that other time… the very last seconds of a universe now gone, imploding. The coffee cake a perfect circle with a chunk cut out–what metaphor is that? I can’t sit still, have to move. Up and down the hall, up and down, up and down. Suddenly I can’t see, tears flooding, and there is this awful moan of sadness breaking through where my voice should have been. It has finally come undone; all withheld is now released, the proverbial dam has broken, the tsunami of pain washes me up and down the hallway. This is primal pain, no control, just raw anguish venting. The loss of love, the loss of hope and possibility, betrayal of friends, loss of what might have been, the dream, knowing I must too must soon leave this place. All these things float about me like jetsam fills the waves after a monster storm tears the beach. I see the little dog’s bed left where it has been for the last four years, now so empty in another room so empty. More tidal waves rip at the beach. I stagger up and down the hallway, lurching side to side, drunk on pain and still wailing, the vent still pouring forth its flow of loss. The voice of a wounded soul comes from the sounds of the wind tormenting the water on the far North Sea. Sounds made in darkness when no human, no life is present to hear or witness. Sounds of such deep pain was never meant for man to hear or feel. But even this seclusion will pass.

After some time I go to the empty living room and fall on the couch. The room is not quite as empty as I; the couch and a stereo remain. I’m drained. The TV of my mind is only showing snow. Music from the cable hookup is playing gentle music. Tunes I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Now it fills the voids.

Late afternoon. I’m watching the blue November sky through the glass doors to the patio she kept so beautifully. Her beloved squirrels are showing up and looking for peanuts. How will they know? Did the teddy bears say anything of the impending changes? The dead leaves have begun to take over the patio, swirling around a knocked down table leaning against the tree, making it look even more desolate.
Now feeling a bit stronger I return to the kitchen to clean up. The coffee cake can go and the cups can be cleaned. The oyster has begun to build it’s pearl. Nearly anything can be done now, or so I think. During the course of the day we make brief contacts via cell phone to check of her progress. No long conversations, just quick reports. There is nothing left for more. Later I return to the couch. I notice the sunlight from the windows in the loft is lighting the high brick wall of the fireplace. The bright afternoon sunlight, floating on the music from the stereo, forms a patch of bright wall and dark wall, the line forming a diagonal. I doze a bit, exhausted. As the day wears on I watch the bright section on the brick wall grow smaller, inch by inch; the room darkening. Out through the glass doors, high above the patio I can see the upper reaches of the pine trees growing redder, darker as the sun dips and the day and a life slide silently beneath the horizon.