|Helena Fitzgerald||May 8, 2018|
Nighttime is different when it’s warm. Everything is still, and ripe, and possible. I can’t hear cicadas here but the weather makes it so I almost think I can, humidity buzzing into the sound of cars and people sorting through trash down on the sidewalk. In the thick air, it might be mistaken for the friction of small legs, the hum of wings. When I first met Thomas and he still lived in Atlanta, he would stand in his driveway and record the sound of cicadas. He’d send me short sound-files, all hushed and buzzing, like the quiet could be louder than noise. The sound was green through the phone, summer nighttime, a green like when the darkness is so thick in summer it seems like it would take all your muscles to move your hand through it. The thing was, though, it wasn’t new to me, even as I acted like it was. A month or two after we met, I moved across the street from the park. Branches scraped my window and on hot nights large bugs got in, trespasser aliens making a wrong turn across the border from the wild to the city. I could hear the sound of cicadas every night and all night. I opened my windows after dark or walked home late down the long avenue empty as a still river at the edge of a town out in nowhere, while the rich houses slept early, and the air buzzed around me, a million tiny legs rubbing and rubbing and rubbing, as though trying to summon luck, or fire. I already had this sound for myself. But I took these gifts of a thing I already had and they still felt like gifts.
Maybe desire is like that, when it comes immediate and strong at first, before happy endings, when it’s a loose firecracker, a lit wire cut in half still plugged into the wall, wildly snaking murderous sparks across the floor. Maybe it’s enough to want something, and to get something, and it doesn’t matter if they match or if the getting actually fills a lack, because everything is a lack where desire is concerned: If I do not consume exactly everything, right now, I will die.
Maybe it was also about wanting to be close to someone, which can be like trying to stand in the exact same spot where someone else is standing. I think he meant these recordings that way; the cicadas were a handprint, a heap of dirt from the place where he stood. The thing about absence is that from within it, you can actually do this. You can stand in the exact spot where someone else is standing. That’s what imagined desire and love mediated by distance is, free of physical reality. In person you each have to keep to your own space, to keep your body your body and your movie your movie, no matter how close you push them up against each other. The cicadas sounded no different than the way it sounded when I took my headphones out of my ears, but when I listened to them, we were imaginatively standing in the space of a single body.
Sometimes love is also just about being sick of ourselves, a relief from our own face and our own thoughts. The heat is the insects, the buzzing that promises that the world does not end at the edges of your body. I used to say that in New York ambulances are the cicadas. Once, in that same apartment across from the park, I watched an ambulance drive down the street with all its sirens going and its lights flaring, at about a leisurely twenty miles an hour. Just like everybody. Well, just like me, at least. The sounds of summer, one long unhurried emergency.
But it’s also that people are boring. We don’t have much to offer one another that we haven’t heard before. Not much is truly novel about any one person. Almost no stories are interesting and almost no jokes are funny. The alchemy of attraction - attraction of any kind - is that the small, stupid details of an individual light up as though they were lined with those tiny neon tubes in art galleries, everything unfairly bright, falsely new. The first shock of attraction is a rebuttal to the monotony of human lives. Even with the people we love best, each day is the same conversation, on the same topics, giddy or obligated, opaque or transparent, again and again like the limited stuck record of a circular clock repeating itself every hour.
Love becomes repetitive quickly. Not just romance, but any kind of love. It doesn’t take long to mostly be able to predict one another, to guess the next step and the one after. I have often been someone who is only good at first impressions. I could amass new friends with relative ease, but keeping them was far more difficult. It’s an attractive proposition, to live this way, sloughing off people every few years or months, so that you’re the only one who knows you’ve been telling the same five stories and three jokes your whole life. Never becoming known means never becoming boring; you can be the best thirty seconds of a song, the kicked-in chorus on a loop.
Sometimes the material for this letter seems embarrassingly thin. In both loving and writing about love, I am merely circling the small territory of one same relationship, one unspectacular collection of events, a handful of uninteresting anecdotes. There is no epic forward-driving plot, no sudden gasping reveals. Life wakes up each morning the same way, the same worries. I used to think the work of knowing people was to locate novelty in one another, that the only way to stay with someone would be to continually seek the unknown in them. But now I think the whole action of knowing people might be in repeating ourselves. Perhaps the work is to fake wonder until it is real, to listen to a recording of somewhere far way that sounds exactly like it sounds where you are already standing, and still find it new and wild. Summer is coming the same way it did last year, the buzzing insect park and the lazy siren emergencies. I clamor for the same stories again and again. Yesterday was five years since Thomas and I met in person for the first time. Anniversaries are holidays about repeating ourselves. It is a way to celebrate not being novel, to insist on something other than seeking newness. You are the repetition I choose, the way I become worn down to soft, familiar.
It gets warm at night, the building saturates. Our downstairs neighbor’s small apartment has five cats; the smell climbs through the banister and soaks the carpet, permeates the building. Some days we fry garlic or forget to take out the trash and our apartment soaks downward by the same means. None of it could reasonably be called pleasant, but at least it’s still very much alive, a reminder, a push forward into the next cycle through the year.
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