When I was about seventeen years old I met myself in a downtown park sitting alone on a concrete bench in a small amphitheater. I was not skipping school—I did not do that kind of thing. And anyway, it was summertime. It was an ordinary summer day with oxygen blue sky vibrant behind the office towers with revivifying sunlight. The few trees were green, the leaves glossy and stiff with chlorophyll-rich fibers respiring life. Either side the park, steady sparse traffic rolled by in opposite directions on one-way streets. When I came upon him there, I did not recognize the man life had made of me. I was about thirty years old in that malingering guise. My seventeen-year-old self was with a friend and nor did he recognize me. But I may be forgetting, I am grown older … Even I, who saw so clearly, have become confused about what is what and contradict myself at every turn; at every remove, remove myself further from myself. Soon I will be unable to return to who or what I always was, and my dissolution will be complete, as is the way of all flesh; as is the way of all that may be said to exist. Do not believe me, see for yourself. It’s more miraculous than ever you might imagine. What is more miraculous than anybody could ever imagine? What is? Exactly!
What I had to say to young me (did thirtysomething me know I was addressing my apprentice self?), the brief circumstantial liberal bonafides that I detailed—a truncated history—made a little but lasting impression. I never forgot that man, qua man—stranger that he was to me and, much the same, remains—that impossibly unfortunate man who was my senior entering the middle of life without momentous event, without having reached any peak experience or shifting gears to climb to any new heights or best any obstacles; there were none not my own self-afflicting ones. How could a guy be so unlucky? I had desultorily wondered, almost indifferent to that nowhere man, that impossibly unfortunate guy on the leaf-strewn, empty amphitheater bench; how could somebody let himself get in that shape? (What was wrong with him? I never asked myself that. I had never since childhood, never believed in the autonomy of will but in destiny and doom alone.) I had criticized, yes, in my mother’s interior voice. It should have been impossible for a person ever to get in the condition he was in. Thirty-year-old me was jobless and on welfare, while I was on the way up; I was going somewhere—I did not know to what place or how; I had no plans per se. But it was somewhere to be reckoned with. There, I’d be valued for all that I would be (was already—unshakeable thought): an educated man, a man wise beyond education, a congenitally shrewd character, enlightened by daring to believe in destiny, for all I intended to be in the world, in history, to posterity—The future was a special place for someone special, like seventeen-year-old me. If necessary, I’d dive in above my depth and sink or swim find doom or destiny. But that was then, this is now.
Dostoievski did not write this one. My bowels do not burn with spleen, nor my cranium light up with electrochemical epileptic auras and visions, nor my analytic heart exhort me repent with fiery doctrine. At this point, I’m tired, and though late in middle age nearly an old man. A tired man. A man consumed. I lived too distensively an aggravated and agitated life, not to say a thrilling one; but beyond my capacity for recuperation, I exhausted my elasticity. I don’t care—or hardly—whether I should succeed in anything or pass idly into anonymous oblivion, as the all-but-complete percentage of most of the human mass do. I won’t be remembered for anything, nor does my vanity require it. I am like a remaindered book. I have never renounced my vanity, but the energy has leached away. No more than a splinter, a trickle, whatever, of ponderously soon forgotten pangs remain. I remember I wanted to be somebody, but I cannot care anymore—or hardly. I don’t care. A very little envy is an ingredient, like saffron—very little of which can color a vast volume of clear water (character, personality), most of which, it has been said, is submerged in a deep ocean of darkness—that remains in me, a very little.
What I told myself that day, though several lifetimes ago, comes again without much trying. There was so little of it and it was so simply put that I do not have to think about it. Which is good because I do not want to, am not capable anymore of thinking about much of anything. He said, “I don’t work, I have not had a job in years. I’m on welfare. I don’t do anything at all. And I don’t even want to.”
I remember being a little incredulous but not because I did not believe him, only what he was saying was outside my experience. He seemed—I, as he, seemed—the commonest person in the world, or rather the most mundane, a prototypical person; though I’d never met another like that before. His clothes were plain: white T-shirt and tan pants and white sneakers. No combat boots or Doc Martens; no green army jacket. This man was not in rebellion against anything. He was up against it. This was Poe, not Baudelaire. The man in the park wasn’t making any fashion statements. Of style, took no thought; what happened? I came to be there because I was skateboarding with my friend; he came to be there because he was jobless and on welfare, and so nothing was up. He wasn’t waiting to score drugs or sneaking drinks from a paper bag. He was just sitting on a step in the morning after everyone else had gone to work. Because he could not see any reason to work; there was nothing he was interested in but sitting in the community park of a summer morning doing nothing, talking to some kid who happened to be his strict antecedent.
The memory of the man—even as I experienced his being there as uncanny—is like the memory of an inserted and not an authentic experience, but an experience written and informed to inculcate something in me alone: this man I must meet who is me, years hence, and by whom I am not so much to learn any lesson as to be transformed, to be altered fundamentally and irrevocably; as a later work in a canon (of music or literature, say) is said not only to alter that which is contemporaneous and what comes later but must necessarily reorganize the entire canon thereby altering what came before. I mean the simultaneity of time and experience—no distance and no durance. No beginning and no end. Impossible? Yes, indeed! I am not calling on the fashion that says that all experience is a simulated one, and that this is a simulated universe. The solecism multiple universes is a ridiculous cacology, an oxymoronic contradiction that is not to be taken seriously by any but the benighted logician. No, reality is one—and free will a fiction. That’s a personal grouse, I won’t argue the point. Nobody will believe it. I’m not a professional philosopher; I was never a good debater. I wear my heart on my sleeve and my self-esteem was never very good; which fact led me in the past to defend myself too vehemently, sometimes when no defense was even necessary to protest too much, I think. The fact that this must seem impossible to reason means nothing, but that reason is insufficient to comprehend what is and makes a tautology of everything by confusing paradox and enantiodromia. The fact is that life is impossible; yet impossibility and not matter proves to be the veriest stuff of life. We are already ourselves—our whole person—at every moment of every moment of our incarnate lives. Which is always to be every person at every moment of every moment of every life, past and yet to come. The quotidian mundanity of revelation is the hallmark—the regular trademark—of reality. Nothing special is what we are when we are what we are in proper relation to all that is, momentously; that is to say in the here and now, any given here and now, as it arises—(what it is we shall never know; which shall be the most difficult thing to come to terms with outside the security of revelation)—we rise in our steadfast way with the ordinary explication of ordinary life. Nothing of the sort of mystical experience is inferred to have happened to me that day, and yet, retrospectively, the engram is undeniable. And the mystics were right: all is well.
Intelligent, alert, present, matter-of-factly I spoke to my younger self—as one who might expect nothing to surprise him—without affect and with good grace, in good faith, my bonafides. The youthful me could not understand what I was or why I had addressed him; I did not know myself. Or that there really is no cause, no why. Yet I did impart what was ours to transmit and to receive, and in a way that was not threatening. But my protege self was not more than a little curious. Being seventeen, his thoughts were preponderantly of sex. Perhaps I fit, or almost fit, a fashion that had intrigued him but not more than that. There was nothing mystical or in any sense metaphysical about our meeting—the one self meeting as we were two; neither fully integrated nor separate, neither exalted; neither altogether mature; not the two of us apart or together totaling a monad, nor more nor less than that. While this miraculous incongruity was unfolding, young me wished someway in the back of my mind that I had a different girl, for I was not happy with my tweedy English girlfriend. Which puts me in mind of another day at the park, and of another girl; an even more gloriously beautiful day, but not more beautiful girl, than the former.
A ginger-haired, flat chested girl I once knew, had dated three times—whose body, whose ass especially, I, two years previously as a high school junior, had ached to palpate, to percuss, to probe and penetrate; had suffered the only case of blue-balls over ever in my life after necking hours on the couch in her house trailer when we could have been fecundating for a couple minutes of eternity in her bedroom—worked in the newspaper office only a block away. A year after meeting myself in the city park, I would find myself there again, this time waiting for her on the retaining wall between amphitheater and sidewalk beside the same tree-lined street, after, while driving the forty-three miles to community college in a nearby township, the thought occurred to me that I might see her again—the tart that I might have fucked in eleventh grade and didn’t because I was “not that kind of guy”—and did see her again. The quizzical look, suspicious and abashed, on her relatively unchanged face when she saw me sitting there, as she walked by with a coworker in the morning on her way to the office, told me that my presence was strange to her; and that I was out of order. She had been right, of course. Subsequent experience would substantiate that; and I must admit now that on that summer day a year after having met myself in the park, I had been stalking her; my intentions were to somehow intervene in her life, to fulfil the promise of release, and to redeem what I could not accomplish two years previously. But that’s all of that, you really can’t get it back. The past is done—the praxis of the past is done. I do not contradict myself. For all intents and purposes, common sense is the best sense available to us. That ass is gone forever. Information is not matter.
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