The Idea That I Have
Is that when you’ve been in the same place for a long time, you stick there. Listen: Picture your park. Everyone has one. You went on the swings there, didn’t you? You squatted in the mud near the slide and cut up worms—separated their many hearts.
The park is kelly green because it’s summer. The air presses tenderly on your bare arms, dusts them with humidity—the stars like gold-painted plastic toys. It is nighttime, and the spring peepers have clawed themselves out of the mud. They sing so loudly that part of your own thoughts is only their trilling.
Find a bench—one that is shaded, even in the darkness. Sit there—on this certain bench in this certain park. Can you feel that pricking on the back of your neck—a tiny, clean needle? A long time ago an earlier you sat here, made an impression of their body on the cheesecloth of time. There you are, here. Both of you, layered on top of each other—like tracing paper over the thing you’re trying to trace.
I had my park—the place behind the brown, sticky dumpster where my best friend smashed a duck’s egg. (The slick yellow embryo sliding over the asphalt.) I am stuck there, just as some unrecoverable part of me is suspended in every place I have ever been webbed up.
I feel the strings of yarn unraveling from my head and into the skyline. I try to go back, to cover the memories with my living body. I can’t. Maybe this will be enough.
The Backyard of the Neighbors’ House
It was a cut-through.
School wasn’t very far away—only a couple of blocks—but the Lexapro woke me up later, and pulled me under a navy haze. I took a shortcut through the neighbor’s backyard, even though it only saved me about a half a minute.
Their yard was shallower than mine, knotty with tree roots. Something inside me was jealous. The broad, thin-haired dad put up string lights around the trees in summer, and a metal, above-ground barbecue pit in the middle of the lawn. I watched from the sidewalk at night sometimes—watched flickers of faces lit up by the glinting of metal marshmallow roasters, the reflection of orange fire on teeth.
He was a broad man with three daughters, two of them like branches.
All of them were blonde. They pulled their straightened hair into ponytails that were too heavy to stream out behind them when they ran. I played with them in the weak strip of woods behind our houses. We called it a forest, but the line of trees faded into a cornfield.
I panted hard over fallen trees and puddles. They were much faster than me, and I tried to gather sticks to turn something about me into a necessary object. Sometimes I lost them in the dense leaves.
In high school, they left. A van pulled up to the house, my mother told me, in the middle of the day. They were gone, she said. Just gone. I heard things through walls, from phone conversations. Foreclosed. It was a red word.
In the backyard, I sat on the lawn, relishing how it belonged to nobody. There had once been parties, lawnmowers, sneakers—now only my bug-bitten legs, crisscrossed with red lines where my nails had dug into scabs. The big glass window into the family room shone with afternoon light—reflected some of it back into my eyes. It was stripped bare. The light fixtures hung lonely in the middle of the yellowish rooms.
I pictured the girls stepping around the wood planks carefully, living their lives in silent mime-form, set to one-point-five speed. They scrambled in front of the window to get ready for school, ate plates of eggs, checked the snowfall outside. They washed the dishes, their stomachs rumbling, their hands slick with soap. I tugged at the thread of time and felt my lips curl slowly into a smile—spit-slick. Tree roots twisted up through the ground and wound around me. I stood before the house at night, when the ghosts of lights made it easy to see inside.
A Quick Ghost Story
(I can’t remember where I heard this story. It might have been in a magazine or on television late at night. Either way, this probably isn’t true, unless you believe in ghosts. In that case, it is.)
In ancient times, they built their own roads. And then, in our times, we built our roads on top of theirs. The ground is higher in cities now, or so they must have said. Because someone once saw a group of soldiers marching by them one night, in the dark—Roman soldiers. They looked straight ahead and did not notice the person who noticed them.
The person who noticed them noticed that the soldiers were cut off at the knees—in other words, that they marched, but as if through knee-deep black water.
In high school, I cried. I picked at my skin with the sharp edges of plastic folders. I cleaned the dirt out from under my nails and kept it ground into dirty notebook papers. Oh yes, depression yet to be diagnosed. Oh yes, OCD, yet to be diagnosed. Bipolar disorder. Anxiety disorder. Oh yes. Oh yes.
The school was well-funded, well-regarded, well-polished. The teachers were paid enough to try to make friends with the students. On Fridays, the kids painted their faces white and green and stood on metal bleachers and screamed.
The guidance counselor was not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a therapist. He was a football coach. I fell asleep in class, drooling on the desk, and walked to his office. I had disrupted and disturbed and concerned.
The room was small—only room enough for his big shoulders. Above his desk was a picture of his son the football player. He had pennants for all the colleges of his towering boys.
Sometimes I would beg him to take tests there. He would leave, his fan blowing cold on my face. There was a timer set, and, as I sat there, no answers unknotting themselves, I watched him move around through the narrow window on the door.
While I was in school, something very bad happened at another school.
I went back to his office, and the narrow window was covered in paper—covered in Xeroxed smiling faces—baby faces. Dead kid faces. He pointed at his collage.
“Do you know who they are? That’s what you should be crying about.”
The Stone Tape Theory
“The Stone Tape theory is the speculation that ghosts and hauntings are analogous to tape recordings, and that mental impressions during emotional or traumatic events can be projected in the form of energy, ‘recorded’ onto rocks and other items and ‘replayed’ under certain conditions.”
The Cornfield Behind My Parents’ House
Was not my parents’ cornfield. It belonged to the farmer.
He lived in the small house on the other side of its vast openness, where, sometimes in the winter, smoke would lizard its way into the sky above his chimney. He only seeded the land every other year. One year for corn—tall green and then brittle, waving dangerously. One year for flowers. Queen Anne’s lace and clovers, buttercups and milkweed.
Once, a friend came trudging over his side of the woods, weaving through the grass of the odd-year. We were trespassers, but we knew the land wouldn’t tell. The semi-dark held us, rocked us in its low sound. He had a sweater on, too tight for his tall, thin body. His cigarette wafted over his face, his sweaty forehead.
“My dad wanted me to wear this for the interview,” he said. (I think it was an interview, but it also might have been court.)
I was sitting in my pink soft dress, my only red lipstick, in the crabgrass. It poked into my thighs, my dough. I had spent an hour putting myself together. Picking out clothes and then taking them off and trying again. I smiled a placating smile, and his face crumpled.
“I know,” he said. “I probably look like a little boy. I probably look terrible to you.”
He sat down next to me and hung his head between his knees, the cigarette running itself close to his fingers. I held his hand. Oh no, I thought. Oh, no, no, no.
Google Searches I Did
Google Search: FEELING STUCK IN MEMRIES
People also ask:
What does it mean to be stuck in the past?
What causes nostalgia?
Google Search: how to get out of the past
People also ask:
How can I stop being stuck in the past?
How do you forgive yourself for past mistakes?
How do you make regrets go away?
Google Search: why are some memories so vivid
People also ask:
Why do we remember traumatic events more vividly?
Are flashbulb memories more accurate?
What is it called when you only remember the bad?
Every Thursday my mother drove me to see a boy who was an impatient inpatient for almost a whole year.
He lived in a facility for mental health purposes, painted in beiges and browns that glowed dirty under the yellow lights. The patients washed dishes in the kitchen and watched him draw in the rec room—pictures of cats with lady arms, with bright lips and purses.
I cried when I went there—saw him sitting in the room in his smoky button-up, crosslegged on the floor. I held him and held him, but it never felt like we touched.
Sometimes we went to the screened-in smoking porch, where the patients only had as much time until someone told them to leave, so he only smoked a couple of cigarettes at a time. You could see the sunset through the screen, and the parking lot, and the exhaust of the parking lot. I wondered if people smoked just to see.
I smoked, too, sometimes. Other times we sat in the rec room and drew on paper or laid on the ground together, and, once, a nurse came in and told us we were too close.
Wikipedia says that the name of this kind of photography comes from a man named Semyon Kirlian, who discovered it. Images are produced by a short but complicated series of techniques I do not understand, but the important thing is that the image comes out like this: a ghostly leaf or another thing—maybe purple—surrounded by a glowing, crackling aura of itself. It reminds me of something I already know I’m forgetting.
I always put my latex swim cap on in front of a mirror. That way, I could see the strands still poking out.
The locker room was forever damp and smelled blue. I stared at myself in the mirror—my face planetary, so full—the cap scrunching my forehead down like Play-Doh. One of my hands had lines like tigery stripes of scabs running from my thumb to my pinkie—marks from scratching at the skin with mechanical pencils.
In the mirror, there was a boy with thick eyebrows. We stared at each other, and I touched his jaw. It was smooth like mine. Our ears stuck out—the light dusting of hair across our upper lips the same image.
My frown softened, and I touched him on the cheek. It was velvety soft, even through the chemicals.
The Back Room of Dunkin’ Donuts
When I found out that the inpatient had died, I was counting my change for the cash drawer. The white polo I had to wear was stained with sugar, and it looked like streaks of cum. There was a message on my phone from his sister.
The tubes of cleaning fluid to fill up mopping buckets lay like dead snakes, patient and waiting. They were so bright, green and blue.
I kept counting the change, and it fell through my shaking fingers. The smell of copper, but not blood. The tears were not yet brewed enough to come. Someone asked me what happened, and I said my friend was dead.
July 4 railroad death ———
A ——— resident was killed ——— at 10:53 p.m. Saturday by a passing train ———
Jonathan ——— 19, ——— was found ——— near mile post ——————
——— He was pronounced dead ——————————————————
The death is ——— a suicide.
————————————————————————————————————————————–He was not found at his apartment ————————— the search was expanded to the nearby woods—————————————————————
—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————— they heard the train come by ——— heard the emergency brakes kick ———. The actual time was 10:53 ————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————– the train’s conductor attempted to stop ——————————————— The train was traveling ——————————————– toward New Castle, Pa.
“All they can do is hit the emergency brakes and go along,” ———————————————————————————————————————————————–
“There wasn’t anything to indicate —————————————————————————————————————————————– there was anybody with him,” ———
Age sixteen, the morning before a chemistry test, I carried myself and a kitchen knife, dulled with so many dinners, out to the chilled cornfield. I sat on the ground and tried to work up the courage to bring from the ground something like ash.
My mother drove me to the hospital. There, they put me into a room with a television housed in glass, playing the golf channel.
I thought about going home. The way my bed was made into a nest of dried water and computer heat. The way I would thrash to death. I can’t remember what I said. In the ambulance, I was strapped in like in a car seat and heaved up, and I prayed I wouldn’t break the stretcher. Two men wheeled me into the back of it, waiting, and I felt the night air pass us like a stream.
I watched as the road sped out behind us like an unraveling piece of cloth, the stars poking themselves in and out of our vision. I watched the other cars passing by and wondered if they thought I was dying.
Age twenty-one, I was in New York City to work at a magazine. My roommates were nice but they were also girls who went to Harvard and Northwestern and who took sunny pictures of themselves at baseball games. I stayed up too late; I came home too drunk. I watched documentaries on Courtney Love and smeared my lipstick.
Once, when I lost my keys, I banged my head against the wall. I screamed into my arms. I bashed my hands against my eyes. The roommates called the police.
Two paramedics came—one of them had the kind of face that sinks into nothing-sand, erased from memory in a day. The other one had good eyes. One of them asked me why they had been called, and I told him it was all under control. I needed it to be. The roommates knew it was not.
One of the paramedics joked with me in the ambulance. He said I seemed calm, and that maybe I didn’t need to be going where I was going. But those are the breaks. He asked if anyone had come down to ride with me, and I paused. “Maybe,” I told him. We waited. No one came down.
It was hot in New York. The inside of the ambulance glowed bioluminescent with levers and buttons and machines, and we drove to a big New York hospital with a thousand windows.
“You don’t have to talk to them,” the paramedic said, and looked as if he was considering something.
I looked back, and considered, too. “Thank you,” I said.
The doctor came in and asked what my name was, and I said nothing. He looked me up and down. “Okay,” he said. “Well, probably smart. We would have had to give you a social worker.”
I walked out of the big hospital, and the paramedics were gone. The street was as quiet as it could be in that place. Maybe the wind carried a plastic bag by my feet. Maybe I looked up and couldn’t see any guiding stars.
No one had followed, and my cellphone was dead. You can underestimate the safety of someone who has just outsmarted themselves. You can underestimate the way your muscles take you home.
More on the Stone Tape Theory
“A ‘theory’ in science is not a guess or a supposition. A theory is a well-tested model of the way something in nature works. Therefore, the ‘stone tape theory’ (STT) isn’t a theory at all in a scientific sense, it’s speculation. Basic questions about the premise include:
How do things get recorded?
What gets recorded and what doesn’t?
How to preserve it?
How to play it back?”
The Stairwell of the Demolished Art Building at a State College
I was not good at getting along with roommates, but then there was her.
She took many pills which helped her and made her half of the room into a nest of television monitors and cocoon comforters. My side was bare—a thin bed topper covered in sheets I hardly ever changed.
She was my roommate for two years, and also a hall monitor. I drank packs of Corona Lime in the room and took NyQuil by the whole sheet to watch Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. We got along. She got me to go with her to smoke hookah, to walk baked through a neon mirror maze, to go outside.
I downloaded an app to help me find somebody who might love me, which was embarrassing. She watched me as I texted.
“He told me he wanted to meet up tonight, but I’m gonna bail.”
She shook her head. “No.”
I shook my head. “Yes.”
“You have to,” she said. “I’m making you.”
I didn’t believe her. And then I was walking through the dead campus, the dead dying air. The street lamps cast ghostly light under the new winter branches. On the app, we messaged back and forth.
Are you coming?
Where do you want to meet?
How about the back of the art building?
Sit under the floodlight.
I climbed past a hill that rose dangerously from the ground, half-drunk, and clung to the trees. One of them was long and rose wonderfully—a navy stained trunk fading into the navy strainer of the sky. I stumbled, grabbed onto it like a hug. Imagined it was someone I missed.
Okay, I’m here.
I could see the back of the building, and I walked carefully towards it on the thatched straw of my toes. My body was still lights out, just out of reach of the circle of warmish electricity.
Turn around and close your eyes.
I watched as he turned in the chair under the yellow-paneled building and faced the wall. I waited for a minute—waited for him to turn back around, to get up and walk away through the marshy grass. The night was still, winter-dead. No noises. He faced the wall.
Slowly, I walked out of the tree-shadow and toward him.
“Is that you?”
I didn’t say anything back, but I flared. There was there something wrong with the way I walked. I was ugly or plain or too brash or too innocent. He did not move.
My hair fell long and tangled down my back, past the army fatigue jacket. I swallowed hard. The back of his head was still, and his arms were, too.
I waited for something to move—him or me or the air. Nothing did. The moon was half-blocked by clouds, and the branches did not rustle.
I was there, and I was not. My insides spread thin—so much of me caught power lines of cornfields and yards and buildings. How much of this soft body, this heavy brain would come to him? No bird or owl swooped low to layer meaning over me. We were only two points—two smudges of life.
I lived there, suspended in the moment before I chose to move. And still, I am here in this half-place. I am waiting for something to change. To show me I am wrong. I am staring out across the dead grass. I see myself framed in the flood of darkness cast out by the things behind me—him in the stage-lamp circle. Me in the umbra.
“Okay,” I say, slowly. “You can look at me.”
Rumpus original art by David Dodd Lee.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential crisis counseling twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. You don’t have to be suicidal to call (1-800-273-8255). The Lifeline also offers services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing (1-800-799-4889) and people who speak Spanish (en español: 1-888-628-9454). People who are transgender can also call the Trans Lifeline (U.S.: 877-565-8860; Canada: 877-330-6366). – Ed.