We sat in the basement office of the coffee shop on a rainy October night. We hadn’t talked in many months—maybe years—but it seemed we picked up right where we left off. Emma and I will always be like family to one another. Sometimes I’m embarrassed at how bad I am with the facts.
“So, how long have you been back?”
“I got back from Australia like two years ago, mate.”
How is it that two years in the life of Emma has escaped me? I instantly feel ashamed for being so self absorbed and make up some excuse for my oblivion—I was thinking of one of her holiday trips, I knew it was around that time, gosh how time flies.
She had been spinning all day, and it seemed she was quite used to spinning all day every day.
“So when are you free this week?” I asked.
“I’ve got shifts on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, but I get off around 5. And I have school two nights a week on Saturday and Monday. I’m shooting a film in the West Village every other Wednesday afternoon, but other than that, I’m free.”
My head was spinning. I spent the last four months without a watch, looking at the sun to gauge the amount of daylight left before I had to find shelter. I remember how funny Sissy and I thought our existence had become as we lost track of the days of the week. At one point we walked up to a stranger on the trail and asked, “Excuse me sir, but do you know what day of the week it is?” We filmed this interaction just to prove it really happened. What kinds of people in today’s world are totally unaware of the date and the day of the week? People committed to institutions, ascetic monks and thru-hikers. It was kind of nice actually. I didn’t carry a watch or a phone. I had no need for these things. My life was simple. But now, I had to get re-accustomed to time, if only for the simple task of hanging out with friends.
Although my losing track of time necessitated my escaping time, I learned this is not the only way. I asked Emma what time she got off of work and she said, “Five”.
In my effort to calculate the time I had to kill I said, “Okay, so that’s like three hours”. Her face instantly contorted and in her endearing Australian accent she said, “Oh nauo, nauo, down’t tell me, mate, I down’t woun’t to kneau.”
Oh no! I had placed the concept of time in her head, a concept she was trying all day to forget. A concept that made every movement seem slower, every pleasure farther away. In alerting her to the number of minutes she still owed to this coffee shop I had unintentionally made vivid an idea purposely forgotten. It seems that time is something none of us is really comfortable with. Whether we live in the city or the forest we try to find a way to exist apart from the awareness of the beginning and the end, perhaps for the purpose of existing in the middle.
I became nauseous staring at the passing trees from the window of the train from Hartford to New York City. I’ve often wondered what would happen if you put a person from the fifteenth century in a car on the highway: Would they be comfortable or fearful, astounded or suspicious? Could their bodies handle such velocity if they and their ancestors had lived their whole lives at a quarter the speed (at the most)? I think I now know the answers to these questions; they would be sick and terrified. After only four months away from the speed of modern traveling, my body was shocked and traumatized. I hadn’t gone more than 2 miles per hour and now, suddenly, I was moving through space at 60 or more miles per hour. It’s amazing to me how quickly the body adapts to its environment and how the mind struggles to keep its little head above the turbulent waves of change. But somehow, life accepts, is flexible, amiable.
None of it seemed real–all of the faces, too many to take in. People so interested in each other and yet forced by constant proximity to pretend like they don’t give a damn. Everyone acting like they are their own free agent, like the most pressing concerns concern them and them alone. Life imitating T.V. I know these people are not like this deep down.
In reality we are all suppressing questions we feel we shouldn’t ask, substituting stares of admiration for aloof glances that won’t go too deep. I wanted to look at all the beautiful women in every detail of their hair and clothes, but I had to pretend that I didn’t care. I had to imagine that we were all essentially the same, that American means an absence of place, of belonging to anything that could possibly entrap. Freedom. Freedom from history, context and custom. For the first time in eight years, New York City felt like a very sad place.
We are all so nervous of the exterior. We are all looking through eyes we saw in the mirror this morning, eyes changed by long ago. It doesn’t seem real. And yet we adjust.
Amazingly, we adjust.
Once again I am an outsider at home—a felt wool flapper hat with a curled brim and flat back, earrings, eye-make up and lip pencil. Jeans. Boobs. Am I something else now? Does anyone here know that I can build a campfire, pluck a hawk or hang a bear-bag? People who do these things don’t also wear make-up, right?
Sitting at the same table by the exposed brick wall where Angela and I talked about Sartre six year ago, maybe six year ago today, who knows? There would be no way of knowing. Our lives proceed always in the same slow way—day in, day out; and we are always the same and slightly different.
Who are we when we create our own environment and who are we when we submit to the environment and allow it to create us? How can we know what or who we are until we get out of our comfort zones and learn the extent to which our habits are not our selves? We exist by time in some way or another and yet each of us tries also to forget time in one-way or another. It is a matter of surviving.