Hard drive woes force me to stumble upon a forgotten photo, a picture taken maybe eight years ago.
A car parked by the side of the road at night. A street lamp supernova, a midnight sunburst. In the muddy fields of north central Pennsylvania, another chain link fence and facade looks like Angkor Wat.
Just another photograph, something instinctual, something bestial and thoughtless. And soon discarded, in favor of other photos that night and in the days after – ones more immediately gratifying. Ones looking better, more aesthetically pleasing.
A lot of people aspire to take a pretty picture.
But some lives are like one outtake after another, a tapestry played out on a screen inside your head, like a silent movie, and you keep going ‘round and ‘round, and getting no younger.
Sometimes I ask myself: what is it I really want to tell people?
But the truth is, I spend most days in silence, and I don’t even mind that. The truth is, I kind of enjoy having nothing to say. To quote the Dao, “To use but few words is natural.”
And if that’s who I am, nothing to say, nothing to voice, then what kind of message could I possibly have?
I don’t want it spelled out anymore. I don’t want the dichotomy, the binary, of black and white. I like my shades of gray. And the feeling that everything is the way it is, and I’ve always been as much a part of the problem as I will ever be part of a solution.
A message. I hate it when people ask for that. When they want me to refer to myself as something important, so I can have a message. There ain’t no message, just pain, and words I’m trying to get out, to exorcise that pain. The rest is meaningless, because there is no meaning. I’m crazy and the people who read or listen along are probably crazy, too.
I always felt like the King of Rejects when I was younger. Exceptional in my differences, that left me apart from almost everyone, except people like myself. Now I feel like I’m always on the outside, and everyone else is on the other side of the glass. I know I’m not that distant, but sometimes I fool myself into thinking it all the same.
Now I know, nothing is exceptional.
I watch Sami walk into view almost by mistake. And she doesn’t see me. I barely realize it’s her before she’s gone.
For a split second, I think about calling out and greeting her. And even then, it’s less of a thought and more of a reflex, welling up from my chest.
But I close my mouth, and watch in silence as she walks in front of me, and disappears into a parking lot.
And I go to a deli and grab coffee so I can wake up and stop being stupid.
And on the way to work, I think about sending her flowers and writing her poetry.
And then I resolve to double down and continue to fast, continue to trim away, continue to find every excuse not to talk, and not to return phone calls, and not remember to keep in touch, and drift away from everyone I can.
Fold away into thin air.
Probably forgotten now, anyway – about loving and poetry. I don’t know anything about those things anymore. All that’s left is silence.
Just one Outtake Thought after another, footpaths leading nowhere, and one potential future after another, rejected in favor of that old, familiar, inescapable road.
It’s a certain kind of crazy that sees you happier with losing more and keeping less.
And it’s a certain kind of photograph that stands the test of time, shorn of its surroundings, and standing alone, and still meaning something unspoken and unspeakable.
Can you feel it?