“The hardest things to talk about are the ones we ourselves can’t understand.” — Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter
“If I write about the past as I simultaneously dwell in the present, am I still in real time? Perhaps there is no past or future, only the perpetual present that contains this trinity of memory.” — Patti Smith, M Train
New Year’s Day. Or, another Saturday morning in this apartment.
I woke up, early, having spent my rocking New Year’s Eve watching movies — “When Harry Met Sally” and “Don’t Look Up” — and had fallen asleep while the fireworks were still going off just after midnight.
I had a dull headache, leftover from nothing. I was restless, and I had just woken up.
I thought, “Jackson.”
It was his 22nd birthday. Some call it a “heavenly” birthday. I don’t know what I call it. It is and was his birthday and he is not here and he is not 22, not actually. I shared my “after the accident” piece and worried about his brother, my nephew.
I figured Jackson wouldn’t want me to worry and be upset all day. I figured Jackson would have liked to have turned 22.
Enough of this.
I got out of bed.
With a hint of ambition fueled by my refusal to be sad all morning, I finished my first book of the year: I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, and the Music that Shaped the Civil Rights Era.
The book had been a gift, a ‘thinking of you’ of sorts from a friend who had visited this summer and bought it at my local bookstore, but mailed it with the rest of the gift, so the book had gone from Logan Square to Denver and then back again.
The ‘thinking of you’ was because it was the anniversary of Jack’s accident. “Anniversary.” What a stupid term for something so terrible. But I’m at a loss.
The point is, I hadn’t intentionally finished the book on Jackson’s birthday, but it felt like the universe was trying to tell me something. So I answered the call: I put on my Mavis Staples’ record and made some breakfast.
The night before I’d had the intention of writing down my reflections on 2021 in my journal: my accomplishments, my travel, blah blah blah. My journal sat on the couch, open but empty. I heard season 4 Don Draper in my head: “God, I was lazy.”
I took my 2021 wall calendar down and resolved to get out of the apartment as soon as possible. With this new conviction, I bought a movie ticket and got ready to go out into the world. I figured I might as well go to Barnes & Noble first, to get a 2022 calendar and the Haruki Murakami book I wanted to read this January.
The last few years I’ve read a Murakami early in the year — by March, at least. I started this a few years ago when my brother got me Killing Commendatore for Christmas, a 681-page hardback that I very reasonably took on a 2018 end-of-year trip to California, because that’s what I wanted to be reading in California. Goodreads tells me I finished it on January 20, 2019, and gave it only 2 stars! Tough critic.
I was finishing The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on what would be my last business trip in March 2020; Norwegian Wood, February 2021. And then I got ambitious and read A Wild Sheep Chase in September 2021.
Of these, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was my favorite.
Often as I’m reading a Murakami I have absolutely no fucking idea what is going on or if I’m supposed to, but imagine my delight on December 30, just a few days ago, as I was reminded that Patti Smith wrote about The Wind-Up Bird in M Train, and took it with her on a trip to Mexico City! She even had a chapter called “How I Lost the Wind-Up Bird” — spoiler, she left it in a toilet stall in the Houston airport. As Patti wrote, “This was the one that did me in, setting in motion an unstoppable trajectory … I finished it and was immediately obliged to reread it. For one thing I did not wish to exit its atmosphere.”
It started snowing right as I left for my adventure to the bookstore and the movies. I had put on my mother’s red scarf to wear for my outing — she taught Shakespeare and I am certain, in another universe where she had not died, we would have been going to see “The Tragedy of Macbeth” together — so I felt compelled to bring her along with me in some way.
Of course, I bought more than the wall calendar and one Murakami at the bookstore. I also picked up The Lost Daughter to read before I would allow myself to watch the new movie, and The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.
My 2022 Murakami is IQ84. I decided it would be the book I’ll take to Ecuador in two weeks, to continue my very reasonable practice of packing very thick books in my carry-on. I vowed not to leave it in a toilet stall.
“He’s so prolific,” the cashier said to me as she scanned IQ84. We talked briefly about his work, and I felt delighted, as if I’d run into a kindred spirit.
The snow was coming down harder as I exited the bookstore. I put Mavis back on Spotify as I started the car. “You Are Not Alone” came on.
Shortly after, I grinned as I settled in my seat at the movies.
I kept Mom’s scarf on the entire time.
Happy New Year.
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