There are borders between our world and the others. You feel the edges all the time — when you step through a doorway and suddenly can’t remember why you’d entered, when your skin stipples for no reason and you shiver like some future generation just stepped on your grave. Beautiful singing can break down the border like an operatic high note shattering glass.
My voice isnt beautiful, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been trying to talk to her, to get beyond the border, passed the edge. That fall afternoon, light felt like it had been filtered through a pilsner. Golden. And I was thinking about her. The quiet stillness of her house. Everything just so. I craved that stillness now, even though as a kid I resented it.
There must be something happening in a kid’s mind that needs constant banging and crashing and beeping maelstroms in order to quash the wildness, keep it manageable. Call it animal instinct, as a five year old thrashes against the confines of what you’re supposed to be like, as a human. Be kind, be thoughtful, be giving. Don’t be loud, don’t be too fast, don’t take unneccessary risks, don’t hurt yourself.
I guess I’m headed to the ocean. It’s the only way to deal when I’m like this.
The ocean is one of the skinniest borders. It’s why sailors see mermaids and mythical creatures in the depths, it’s why ships get crewed by ghosts. Nothing’s better than constant water and salt crashing against one another to drown out the rest, to erode at the edges and make hard lines into sketches.
Suddenly I felt stricken. If I was going to actually talk to her, what would I say? That I took talking to her for granted? That I wish I’d learned how to watercolor alongside her? If that were true, I would have just done it. Why pretend towards idealism at my age? That banging noise in my head is always too loud for splotching water and ink onto a canvas. At this point, only walking is going to drown out the cacophony.
I want to know when the switch got flipped, and the noise in my head no longer needed noise in kind to keep it at bay. I can’t remember. All I know is, sometimes on the walk I find stillness. Even in the city, even on a street. The closest car will be at least a quarter mile away and all the walls of all the houses are doing their job containing the people within, so it’s like I’m the only one left. At the top of the hill, looking down toward the ocean, I can see it glittering there but I don’t want to leave this bubble of peace I’ve found.
Then a truck sounds its horn and I get moving.
Down at the ocean, the sun is setting but without any pink and orange fanfare. Or maybe I missed it.
I’m thinking about a time she and I went for a walk. She was looking frail until she got going, and then she was the same as she ever was, pointing out the birds she knew the names of (all of them) and the flowers (most). I should have been paying more attention, probably, but I suppose if my memory of her is in tact, even though the names of the birds and flowers are lost to the sands of time, I was probably paying attention to what was really important.
Maybe she’s the one who flipped the switch.
After our walk, back at her house, we sit down and she pulls out a book and so do I, and usually that would also mean I need some music on, the window open for some street sound, a snack within arm’s reach so that I don’t think I will have to get up. But we don’t have any of that. I can’t hear anything. Not inside, not out. The nubby carpet absorbs any sound except the scratchy whir of a page turn. I see the words on the page, until I’m actually lost in the world on the page.
There’s nobody on the shoreline, so I start to sing. It isn’t a song that I’ve heard before or one that I know, it’s just a little dirge that comes to me in concert with the ocean. No words, just humming and note making, oohs and dadums. The city winks and twinkles with light across the bay, the wind is picking up. And a blue tendril of brightness swirls along the breath from my melody.
It sounds silly. I almost laugh. But it’s like I can smell her perfume, or feel her hand in mine as we navigate a weird part of the hike we’re on, or both.
But I came here to talk to her.
“You always liked stillness. Is it calm wherever you are?”
It hasn’t stopped feeling silly.
She doesn’t answer.
The wind whips, the tendril of light dissolves. But it doesn’t feel like loss, not like it used to feel. It feels like awe.
My mind is quiet on the shore. Another gift from her to me. What I want is for her to open the door and welcome me to the other side, but I know it’s not the right time for something like that. I certainly wouldn’t want her back on this side of things. Especially not on this beach, where the rocks are sharp and it’s no longer satisfyingly bracing out, but bitterly cold.
Back up on the road, away from the ocean, I wonder about borders. I don’t want to spend too much time there, it can make a person strange to spend life on the outskirts, the tendrils of countless beings that are actually looking to make their way here nipping at your heels. I still might go back tomorrow. It was nice to sing to her, for my voice to be carried away into the ether.