And it’s Fall again, and these memories come back to me, some gently, some harshly and abruptly without much notice, whirling back into my consciousness. Last night the clocks went back an hour and I found myself falling back with them, reminiscing with a tear in my eye. Her name was dropped into a conversation last night and I couldn’t help but stop and feel overwhelmed at what time had done to my memories of her.
“Jesus, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I think I have, I said.
And these are the nights in which ghosts can be seen in trees on the fringes of the city, out on the dirt roads where the dust plays with innocent eyes. Fall time.
How’s she doing, I asked.
“Oh you know how she is. I really don’t talk to her much. She’s got this new boyfriend.”
She’s seeing someone?
“Yeah, his name’s Dayton…like the city in Ohio. Which is great, how often do you get to say you were screwed by a city?” She laughed and I forced a chuckle out, but I really wanted to say, Have you ever lived in New York City?
Last night I took to my room, a sublet basement space with white concrete walls, and listened to Gershwin until I was falling back to Chicago last March looking up at the city from the pier holding onto what little nerve I had left in my cold bones.
I need to get over her, right? I say this to my companion, wacky from years of self-interest.
“Yeah, man, whatever you need to do,” he says nibbling his hair, “What a beautiful city, right?”
You said it, one of kind.
On the steps of the Art Institute I call her and leave a message, I’m on the steps of the Art Institute and I thought of you. I’m really loving this city, Jane, I really am. I hope New York’s treating you well, and don’t do anything rash. Give me a call.
“Didn’t you tell her not to go?” he asks, staring at me through his sunglasses, which he really doesn’t need, it’s damned near the gloomiest kind of day you could have in Chicago, “I mean didn’t you tell her not to go to New York City?”
Something tells me I’m never going to talk to that girl again.
He shrugs with a nonchalance that tells me that although he cares, in the grand scheme of things he really doesn’t give a damn and neither should I.
Falling back to the cold January night outside of the park in the back of my car, windows all steamed, an accomplishment for any male. She stops with the lips and teeth and tongue for a moment to pull back and smile at me.
What is it?
“You know,” she says with a big sad grin on her face, “I feel like I’m kissing your writing.”
Well, try not to get paper cuts.
She laughs and pulls me back in.
The next morning I find the bows she took out of her hair on my dashboard.
Falling back to Chicago, where I fall often, looking out of the Congress hotel with my book of recently bothersome poetry next to my side. My wacked out companion left to pick up Chinese for dinner. I flop my body on the hard mattress and dial her number again hoping she’ll pick up. Hey, it’s me again, just looking out at Grant Park from my hotel, and I gotta tell you it’s an amazing view. Of course, made me think of you. This obsessive thinking of mine… I thought I saw you in the city today, so I followed you and you led me to this little bookstore. I didn’t go in though, I just watched you make your way through the piles of books, until you found what you were looking for…Bukowski, of course. Call me soon.
Falling back to when she says, “No one really knows you, do they?”
“You’re not like this around other people.”
Who do you consider people? There’s a lot of things I consider, but that doesn’t mean I consider them worth a damn. I think being worth a damn is important, don’t you?
She laughs and scrunches up her face. “What in the hell is wrong with me?”
You’re asking me?
“Because I’m going to ruin you, I’m going to hurt you, you’ll never be able to get past this.”
At least you have the ego to admit it. I love that.
“No because this is so idealistic, you know? No one really knows about this, we can keep it to ourselves, but once this is over, how are you going to move on?”
I’ll probably just write a play about it.
“Oh yeah? Do you think that’ll do it?”
No, but it’ll be one helluva a story.
Last night the clocks fell back an hour and it sent me tumbling through a whirlwind of sights and sounds. All I got was an hour though, an hour to reconcile six years of longing and nostalgic self-torture.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you nostalgia is harmless, it’s the most harmful thing out there, but it is also the most magical, and for those without religious doctrines to adhere to, the most spiritual. It can conjure up some of the strongest feelings one will ever have and for that I love it, and for that I hate it.
Be careful when clocks fall back.
Falling back to Chicago underneath The El, a bag lady hands me a newspaper and asks for donations. I ask if she can break a ten. She looks at me like I’m the dumbest shit she’s ever seen, and I might as well be. You don’t ask the homeless if they can break a ten.
“Wanna get lunch man? I’m hungry.”
I just gave that lady a ten. I don’t have any more money. We’ll have to go back to the hotel.
“I’m not walking back to the hotel…man, look at the ass on that girl, the blonde.”
He nods to this dazzling blonde in front of us, and he’s right, she’s a piece of work, or just another piece of meat - in the animalistic food chain sensibility that us men love to notoriously live by.
“Makes you kind of hopeful doesn’t it,” my wacked out companion says this licking his chops, like a sly, doped up wolf.
No, it just reminds me where all the shit in this world comes from.
Falling back to the middle of the night at the end of January, here I am cuddled up in my bed with the phone nuzzled up against my numb face and shoulder for six hours.
You know, I always knew this would come about, you and me, all these years something in me wouldn’t let go of you. All the time you were in New York City I had this reoccurring dream.
We’d be in this one room apartment with a huge glass window watching the city move, like a current of hard bodies, but above, the buildings, the sky, they didn’t budge, they served as this effervescent backdrop for these crazy lives.
“That’s what I love about the city, how it changes, yet on the surface always remains the same.”
That’s right! You know, these past few years while you’ve gone in Manhattan, I knew your fate, I knew your story.
I knew what kind of woman you were. You and the older man with a long time girlfriend, practically his wife, the love affair, the horrible stint with drugs, the city caving in upon you…I already knew it, you didn’t have to say a word. It’s just that up to now it was only fiction.
“Jesus, what are we going to do?”
You know what I say, Jane? Whatever the hell we want to.
Falling back to Chicago in a pizzeria downtown, our fifteenth day here, my wacked out companion has his chin on the table as he rearranges the salt and peppershakers in ways that make him smirk.
Take your goddamned sunglasses off, we’re in a restaurant for Christ’s sake.
“We’re in a pizzeria. It’s an entirely different atmosphere.”
What does that mean to me? We’re in an eating establishment so take your fucking sunglasses off.
“You need to get laid. You’re uptight, tempered, ill at ease.”
Oh, don’t tell me about needing to get laid.
“I’m just saying…”
He takes his knife and fork, neatly arranges them on the table, he stuffs his napkin clumsily into his t-shirt and stares at me with a blank look on his face. He doesn’t say a word, or move a muscle, he just stares at me, with his long brown hair draping over his unshaven, peach-fuzzed face, his fat lips pursed out like some British butler off of the BBC. Why in the hell did I bring him to Chicago with me?
That’s it, take the fucking sunglasses off.
When falling back you have an urge to make phone calls, which is not a wise choice, especially at two in the morning. When falling back you have visions of people you wish you could have talked sense into, you recognize choices you could have made differently, you see loose ends that could have been tied and still, potentially, can be tied. If you have the urge to dial the number of that loose end - don’t - it will only complicate the matter.
It will likely go something like this:
Hey, you know I really wish we could’ve ended on some kind of conclusive ground, because all these months, I’ve just been thinking about it.
Which isn’t true at all, you’ve only just fallen back and are now realizing the journey you’ve made without a conclusion for “all these months.”
I just want to see how you were doing, see what time has done, you know?
And all you’ll get is that dull electric vibration the phone company kindly puts on the wires for moments just like this, for moments when you loose your grounding and fall back.
Be careful when you fall back, some loose end might receive an unexpected and extremely awkward phone call.
Falling back to the night on the couch, she says, “I think I’m going to New York over spring break, what do you think?”
Jane, I don’t think you’re ready for it. Honestly, emotionally, I don’t think you can handle it. It’s all still there to haunt you, the men, the ecstasy, the city…it hasn’t been long enough.
“But if I don’t go, I’ll feel like I’m letting them down, I mean, all my friends up there.”
Are they really your friends?
“Gee, dad, I dunno!”
Listen, I’ll cancel my trip to Chicago, I mean I’m just going up there to visit a few colleges and take the city in. But I’m not going to let you go up there alone, you’re extremely fragile right now and I’m not gonna let you do this to yourself.
“I gotta go.”
No, Jane, no, you do not have to go. I’m giving you the choice not to go. Come to Chicago with me.
“I thought- I thought what’s-his-name was going with you?”
What’s-his-name won’t know the difference. Please, come to Chicago, we’ll go to the Sears Tower and the Art Institute, and the aquarium, we’ll kiss by the Buckingham Fountain, it’ll be romantic, the city will be ours. Huh? What do you say? You just can’t go to New York yet, you know you don’t have to.
She looks up at me, with her hand on my cheek and says, “Yes, yes I do.” She kisses me, more like a mother, and I know things have changed.
Falling back to Chicago, sitting on the Buckingham Fountain with my wacked out companion.
You know I was going to bring Jane instead of you.
“This reminds of some kind of horror movie.”
“Like the fog, it’s very…cinematic, like vampires or something coming out of the grave.”
In Chicago, Illinois?
“I don’t know, anywhere.”
I’d like to see that, vampires rampage in Chicago. Jesus Christ, I wish you’d shut the hell up sometimes.
“Shit man, that’s your problem.”
What’s my problem?
“These cities…these women.”
My wacked out companion sucks on a lollipop, the bright red candy-colored saliva rolls down the white stick hanging out of his mouth, and he stares at the drizzled sky with his sunglasses.
I want to strangle him.
“You can’t live where you are, man, you’re always living here in Chicago, or in New York or with some beautiful woman like J. I mean, she’s great, she’s the best, I mean, I’m jealous man, she’s hot and she’s beautiful and she’s got this great bitched out attitude and she’s smart and sensual, fuck – you know? But, it’s over.”
How in the hell would you know?
“Because I know you, man. You’re never where you are; you’re always someplace else. Living it up in some big city, making love to beautiful women, greeting fans at the opening of your new artsy fartsy little film in black and white, because it’s more realistic that way. What the fuck do you know?”
Where in the hell do you get off saying this?
“I don’t get off saying it, trust me, you’ll bitch and moan for months. I just thought I should let you know.”
My wacked out companion stands up from the fountain and strolls off towards the pier, the wind blows his long hair against his face and under his sunglasses. He looks strong though against the wind, tough and resilient. Not at all like me. I: slumped up against this fountain, one hundred and fifteen pounds, pink shirt and corduroys, more weathered than any seventeen-year-old should be.
I think it’s time to head back home.
Last night on the phone, my father calls, choked up in tears and snot clotted in the back of his throat, barely able to force a word out, says he realized suddenly how soon I was going to be gone.
“Next year you’re going to be gone and I won’t see you, hardly at all, not like I see your brother and sister now-a-days. I just want to spend more time with you son.”
I want to sympathize. But what my father doesn’t realize is that I’ve been gone for over six months now. My father doesn’t know his son was left in Chicago last March by the Buckingham Fountain, out by the pier, on the ledge of a window in the Congress hotel, on the steps of the Art Institute. That’s where his son is, haunting these ghost ridden October days, where leaves plays tricks with wetted eyes.
Don’t worry, Dad, we can spend time together.
“How about this, every Saturday from now on we’ll do breakfast, huh?”
“Great…well, listen, I’ll talk to you soon. I love you son.”
I love you too, dad.
“And don’t forget to turn back the clocks tonight…we’re falling back.”
I know dad, we all fall back.
Adam R. Burnett