Some days it won’t be clear, you won’t be sure of the choices you make and ‘sure’ itself is a fallacy, a word invented to give people certainty in something. Control is important to the people you know, and this includes getting a steady grip, having fresh leather folds to keep notes or bills in, giving the impression of clean hands in any situation, and knowing what to do with phone numbers of girls no-one knows the names of.
Eventually, you’re found out, and the identity you built, that took years and pounds and lies, is revealed simply, sandwiched between episodes, a quiet revelation and the other characters expect you slipping simply the way regular cast members have left lately. Except you’re one of them, infiltrated them, know each of their individual secrets and the group ones and where the safety deposit keys are hidden, where the safe is, passwords for tabs and dates of births, and hook ups and dress downs to use at certain restaurants, and within a month they’ll not know how you did it, in fact, they’ll not even notice, but they’ll be pouring you juice and offering you pastries that no-one so skinny would eat, really, but you’ll eat one anyway, because pretense is your game and you fucking invented it
If we took photos the same day each year, one date in August, or March, or July, would the crease in your forehead deepen like a timelapse video, and your eye colour fade, your sclera look sticky the longer we left? What else would we learn, besides that we were almost together, but it took ten years of skirting photographs, sitting one seat off the other, speaking online alternate months if there was something to say. And I’d invent things, but lies are all in delivery and, even typed, mine wobble, are the bridge that shouldn’t swing but does.
Our history is not the sort of thing you compile into a line like, “We poked on Facebook,” or, “We met on Match,” or, “We were on the same bus once.” All I can say is, “I made decisions. I re-made them. We saw the Star Wars re-release together and dated more than twice. Saw Radiohead. Slept in hostels. Moved in then out then in. I hope we’re not a series of snapshots, near misses, catalogued in a book, designed to make you cry on screen. I want a fatter history than that.”
In five years we’ll be different ages. Your haircut will be exactly the same. We’ll have appetisers before meals. We’ll switch our cartoon character cereal to bran and prunes and we’ll dial back the fruit juice and take up jogging and what bores us now will bore us more, the same way the stuff of our twenties irks us: Coldplay and Sideways and Ricky Gervais.
In ten years we’ll be dead or we won’t but people we know will be. I make you watch sad films for this reason. When we were kids you predicted me dying my hair yellow, that I’d end up liking Nirvana. On Ouija boards and off of them I spell messages for you that you’re still solving and one day you’ll have learnt enough to decipher them. I might die before you.
In twenty years we’ll hold CDs up in shaky hands and declare them music. We’ll ask kids if they remember VHS or a time before mobiles existed, and they’ll look at us the way we looked at our parents when they talked about Betamax, when they described gramophones. We’ll try to trace paths with movies and books and advert jingles back to the time this started but everything’s so referential, retro, throwing back to two other times at least, we can’t get a clean path, we won’t. I’ll ask, “Remember when we watched New Girl?” and you’ll say, Jack will, “We never fucking watched that. I’m not senile yet.”
I thought you’d look good with a gun, you’d hold one like it was ______, and you’d know exactly what to do. After two sessions training I saw you shoot someone’s heart three times, lying on your side, arms not particularly steady. But you nailed it. You’ve been a bridesmaid 27 times, you can really commit to something.
Once, I held a pillow in a hospital bed and I thought she might come back and I would move in again and I thought about mothers behind curtains in communal rooms cradling their just washed babies and I knew I’d never own anything and that societal standards aren’t guarantees you’re born with and why would they be? Synthetics buckle to wrists and grips and arms that lifted weights once at the gym but fabric is not skin and pillows are not people (although you can marry them in some countries).
He looked like he was in Weezer so I assumed he’d heard of them. Turns out there’s no correlation between who you are and who you look like, no psychic links, ley lines, blood relations buried by badly cultivated family trees.
I recited the lyrics to Tired of Sex and he looked at me funny. I replicated his look later in my mirror but couldn’t, was a shade off – magnolia and eggshell are different ponies – and I asked for his number and he never answered and I left him songs as voicemail and I forgot his real name, only have his doppelgänger to go on and you can’t exactly say to a famous person, “I met this guy who looked just like you in Gateshead. Do you know him?”
When it rains it’s good to have umbrellas, jackets and waterproofed shoes. Jack would tell you, “Boots. You need Wellingtons,” and, “If it rains, if it starts raining, stop camping, don’t chance it.” Some people resent authority so Jack is not saying any of this to you exactly. The sorts of advice we can offer is weather-based and totally optional, like sunscreen or underwear.
If you set up camp in a pit, be aware of the problems you may encounter. Nothing is definite or fixed the way books make you think. In fact, everything spirals. Think of a Radiohead song. But it’s good to be sure of what to expect in any given situation, if you’re able to suspend your beliefs for a second and assert ‘sure’ as a workable concept.
1. There will be other people. There always are.
2. Fabric wears. A sixty quid tent will unravel like designer clothes you can find on the high street: simply, and within a few months.
3. Food struggles in sand but some months the ground’s cold enough to fridge things. You’re close to cryogenic.
4. You’ll hear traffic. You’ll remember house sounds and slip them in the landscape. You’ll ache for footsteps on the synthetic roof, traffic coming into earshot and going again, instead of swirling.
5. Pity is hard to come by in certain financial climates.
6. There’s no rent if the land’s fair game and no electricity either.
7. Your ex-girlfriend won’t care like she should or she might or you’d expect in a romantic comedy.
8. You’ll have a lot of floor space. Jack says, “That’s site-specific.”
When you went missing, I didn’t wait the prescribed hours the police station asks you wait before you report it. I couldn’t when I knew, the way my feet sense snow, or you second guess endings half way through films. I felt it like a yogic moment, when the cool down sends you to sleep, and the sound that wakes you back up defines the dream you were having, and I dreamt the door locks undid themselves and I couldn’t find the faces of anyone entering, but the murmurs were the voices of reporters playing in the background of other TV shows, signal interrupted, overlapping like crudely stuck collages, photo albums.
When you went missing I imagined the scenarios I’d seen in films: planes crashing, kidnappings, other families with your name over them, tied to me like the branches of ancestors we never logged, didn’t type up on our internet trees or add on Facebook. I pictured you falling in shops in ice cream aisles or fridged food sections, clutching arms and outsides of hearts or appendixes. I tried your phone three times each minute, redialing before I could leave messages, my mind empty like our vows which didn’t need saying and the thought of forcing them was the remaking of a hit TV show in another language, not entirely true.
When you went missing I criticised your upbringing and mine and the links we had in the years leading to it felt less solid like chocolate full of air holes, worth half the money. I sent out prayers even though they’re easy to ignore like email, and I wished on cookies, upholstery, park benches. I pinched salt like seasoning might save you. Eventually, the candle vigils I labeled hopeful were a peace offering to gods or spirits I’d seen through and angered for it. And the two sounds that could make a day matter: keys dropping on kitchen tables, the ringtone for your number.
Jack says, “Portland’s a city in the Pacific Northwest, near Willamette, the Columbia river,” and I ask, “Why are you telling me? Are we going?” and Jack says, “No, I just thought you were interested,” and I reply, “I’m interested in places I might get to, not ones far fetched, that I haven’t heard of or much about.” I see the page scroll, hoping for answers that won’t come, and Jack’s reading’s a silent process like bots checking language or people guessing passwords from other sections on globes.
But I know Portland. Haven’t been there but if meeting people counts, I’ve mapped it’s uneven outline. It’s sprawling, or your topography is, and I’m inexperienced at socials, being part of a club, or the other half of an entirely different person. You may think this is some regretful bullshit post-failure making up for it with the content of Wikipedia articles, but pick me to believe when you’re choosing a church, an organisation, a human or book. I’ll be consistent and textual. I’ll be your charismatic worship. I’m prophetic: I sensed Lava Field before I saw it, and knew you had potential to melt.
I love the fact that you’re landlocked and that Gus Van Sant is from you. Take me to Satyricon and teach me about Sleater-Kinney.