Perhaps I was merely unobservant; certainly, a number of surprises that shouldn't have been now litter that past. Some are quite painful: wasted time, thoughtless comments thrown vacantly down, vindictive moods allowed to topple intimate monuments. I cannot remember why we fought, and I cannot remember when we were done, but later, years later, I can tease from my memory slivers of regret so fine, so sharp, they slide in effortlessly between the bricks in the wall of my narcissism, to penetrate the desperate, nostalgic core of sorrow that seems to keep growing just slightly as I get older.
I know my regret, but I can barely recall the circumstance that created it. Intimacy is effortless when the light is fall light, which always makes you swoon. In New England, when you are still so young that you smell only good things, like the wax of burning candles and the thick, sweet musk of fallen leaves, when you are as light and pure on the earth as that, then the fall is so powerful, it can swallow you whole. It is dangerous, and there is nothing to do but fall in love, and no one to do it with but a lover.
I spent that fall in her room, which had large windows and hardly any light and a cantankerous, overeager radiator. Her room smelled very strange indeed, like century-old cloth, or a grandmother's attic, but the smell soothed me and made me feel confused and a bit languid. We ate nothing at all, except cigarettes, which we smoked constantly, and we always drank whiskey.
We drank whiskey and danced constantly. I was, and remain, an exquisite dancer. My legs are broken and nimble, and I have some of the Shaker in me: When I dance, I am a dervish, and I sweat and vibrate. She had a large red comforter on the futon which lay on her floor. We would dance on the bed and jump up and down to the best music ever made: the Jam, the Gun Club, ABBA, X, New Order, the Cramps, and just everyone. Time would stop, and my hair would be wet with perspiration, and I would drink whiskey and smoke, and look through her record collection for more music. It was not a waste of time.
I was drunk as a fish one of the last times I remember dancing in her room. It was cold, cold, and I opened the windows as wide as they could go. The sharpness of the air outside felt clean in my nose, and I leaned out the window and looked at yellow lights sparkling down the hill. I think now about what I must have thought then: that the world would go on forever, that time moved at just the right pace, and that the manic embrace of a perfect life lay just around the corner. I don't know if I thought those things at the time, or if I am only now trying to force an impossible revelation onto the mute form of my past, trying to build a backward narrative for the disordered sequence of definitive moments that has led me here.
I know that my intuition was strong, and that I didn't think about anything. I looked through her records and found a copy of the very first record by Throwing Muses and put on the third song, "Hate My Way," which remains, to my mind, their finest hour. I had never heard it before, and we let it play 20 times in a row, until someone asked us four times in a row to have mercy. We imagined kicking his teeth in and kept playing it, over and over.
I was so drunk I couldn't see, but I felt as if I were 10 feet over the tops of the trees, almost angelic, like I could see into the sweet heart of life and know it wasn't lying to me. Cruel objects dissolved, and the hollow religion of damaged ideas began to break apart and fly away. The room was freezing cold, and I could see my breath and hear Kristin Hersh's voice piercing through a voluptuous night as she towered 10 feet under salvation, wailing against tort- ure, refusing suicide, shaking and resolving to the majestic summit of her disarming will. She built a cathedral in the room, and wondered why her pillow screams and how they kill children. And at the end, she literally reached out and stopped time with her small hands, and sang: "They can no longer move; I can no longer be still."
Much later, and the world has cracked and there are no songs so strong that they can hold it back. Throwing Muses ended in some small bitterness, and not that many people ever really bought their records anyway. Much later, and I have almost stopped smoking, and whiskey keeps me awake at night, and we haven't spoken for eight years, because the last time we did, we weren't really anyway. At some point, my intuition failed me, and all the forces that were supposed to stay away have settled in, and there are too many worlds to contemplate, and the lure of something being new forever seems false and impossible. I am at the mercy of machines now; I cannot bear to wear a watch because the noise it makes reminds me of death.
I was looking for records last year, and by chance I noticed a 1999 reissue of that first Throwing Muses record. It was expensive, but I bought it, and when I put on the only song that I care about, the third song on the record, I could feel how far from 10 years ago I am now. And only now do I feel sorrow for then: The past has taken that song from me, and no matter how hard I may try, the bliss, the strength, the rapture of hearing it over and over again for the first time will never quite return. She and that feeling are both far behind me: Only now does it make me sad.