That moment when you’re in a restaurant, one where the decor is repurposed and the second story window looks out to nothing really, the ocean being the other direction; that place where kale is on the menu–Brussels and pork belly too–because they go well with antiqued bannisters, and the menus are paper throwaways and the charcuterie plate features pickled shoshitos. That moment when you talk a lot about your kids even though you’re on a date, and when you try not to–though not diligently–because your kid kicked a goal in soccer yesterday (on his birthday even!) and had his best birthday party ever even though it was at a bowling alley in a not so favorite part of town. That moment when you’re remarking a Castelvetrano olive and noting it most certainly had to have been marinated in orange juice and fennel seed–you say so even–before realizing you’ve probably broken some social code, that you’re probably a jerk for knowing what a Castelvetrano olive is in the first place, show-off; that moment when it doesn’t matter because in sharing bites off each other’s plates, your song suddenly comes on–that song, the one you fell in love to–plays over the restaurant speakers. It could be salmon belly or burger on your fork, but it’s a nice moment when the tines pause midways to your mouth and your mouth just smiles instead.
I’ll be fine. I just need to make it through the morning, by which I mean the whole of the ante meridiem, lunchtime too, and probably that post-gustatory time spent swimming in a glycemic haze. Then the day will be agreeable so long as it as it promises the comfortable future of a more twilit hour, when light fades and the succor of night-blooming flowers properly signals day’s end.
That’s when I’ll park the car solidly in the driveway, somewhere come 6 o’clock, and I’ll remark the jasmine that’s forced it’s way over the garage eaves. With the ignition switched off, and head-beams extinguished, I’ll once again collect the clumsy assortment of bags from the front seat to finally just be home.
My wife–she’ll be inside. There’ll be beer in the fridge.
Tonight the overgrown jasmine aside the house seems to threaten the Bird-of-Paradise. If, in the language of flowers, menace exists, here then is this tumult of white blossoms spilling into a bladed nest of orange and purple blooms. The jasmine grows in tendrils, the birds in sharpened exclamation points. Beneath the soil, their roots are certainly drawing up agreements. Roots speak to one another in a particularly subterranean manner, an ongoing conference delivered in sub-sonic intones. It’s something of science: one root upsets a crumb of soil and the other root hears it. They decide to either grow together or grow apart and the underground becomes something of gnarly and ganglionic complication. Above the earth, of course, there are simply flowers. Also the fair disguise of perfume.
I set my bags down in the kitchen. The nook is glowing brighter than usual by virtue of a mismatched light bulb. I think to the morning, which was invariably unkind. It involved waking up.
Awakening is always a questionable proposition, and often feels the unfavorable choice. On my anxious days, I fall upwards and out of sleep, the adrenal surge something electric—like the existential equivalent of touching a bare wire while standing ankle-deep in water. 5 a.m.: I’m on the ceiling and there are pangs of panic. Sometimes the panic is sourceless, only condensing into anything specific when my head begins its usual litany of cockcrow questions. The questions can be categorized tidily beneath one of two headings: ‘What did I do wrong yesterday?’ else, ‘How will I fuck up today?’
The adrenal response is a doozy, epinephrine filling the neural floodplains and testing the dams. How is it that people want this rush, the uncontrollable surge that pulses the body and unpins the pupils? Some people jump out of airplanes for fun. I simply hit the snooze button. Falling, it seems, is something relative, and recreation a matter of semantics.
To wit: the last time I jumped from an airplane was never but the last time I felt as such requires me having checked my watch.
I’m on a bridge today, and traffic is stalled. Exactly thirty-seven cars travel eastbound on a spectacularly lit underpass. I am counting for no reason—I just count—and the cars pass, the sun miniaturized perfectly in thirty-seven exact refractions of light.
They’re like neural flashes, scattered, a fairly weak but synaptic something. The world moves in its measured pulses and today it’s in the form of Nissan. Anonymous gray cars reflecting the sun in brief brilliance, becoming grey again in concrete shadow, slogging home beneath the underpasses toward what I imagine are unremarkable driveways and similarly unremarkable houses.
The bridge, meanwhile, is hedged in tall rusty latticework. Signs contribute to the idea that this is like a community pool. There is no diving allowed. I’m in a car, therefore I’m safe. Falling on purpose is a pedestrian exercise.
There’s safety in cars, after all—just ask a Volvo.
The view remains fantastic. Nothing bad can be said about the skyline. The Coronado Bridge bends to the southwest, stubbornly blue by means of constant maintenance, a constant deploy of painters on cabled rigs painting sky onto the bridge’s sides and pediments. Mexico remains its own planet in the distance. Mexico’s geography is unique with buttes and mesas on the horizon, features which don’t have geographical repeat this side of the border. Ramshackle zoning codes have houses spilling down Tijuana hillsides in the near view, so windows and corrugate shanties catch light from nineteen different directions. It’s a firefly show in tin-can architecture. Meanwhile, the Santa Ana winds have pushed all of San Diego’s smog past the ocean horizon.
Optics dictate that the horizon is only one mile away, so I imagine there’s a gyre of pollution sitting out there just out of view, waiting for the Santa Anas to cease and desist before making a return appearance. The horizon will be brown again come Tuesday—just wait—but things are currently crystal and the Coronado Islands are in view. This is paradise.
Traffic moves again and it’s a bodily relief. I hate being trapped behind someone else’s taillights—I want to be the pilot—and sometimes I drive three times the distance required to get home. This is all in avoidance of other people’s cars, other commuters’ lack of urgency. It takes me in interesting directions, and I’ve discovered shortcuts as well as longcuts. I play music in the interim and the combination of momentum and music has me thinking in long spooling sentences, sentences I may not ever put down on paper but which are there, constant and agreeable. Thoughts are less kind when stagnation is involved.
I had this art professor in college. He was Finnish, like those luge-runners you see every four years on TV. Scandinavian in every detail, yet he wore a Yankees ball cap for American affect. He taught illustration as something pretend-static. ‘Lines are always moving, perspective is a constant shift’, he insisted. As assignment, he once asked us to leave the drawing room and simply walk for two hours. ‘Watch as angles change once you approach them. Look at buildings, especially. Develop a language of lines. Come back in two hours.’
I was a bad student. I didn’t go back. Then again, I didn’t need the two hours to understand what he was teaching.
I’m driving home. The freeway arteries have unclogged and the capillaries that tendril into residential areas have straightened into avenues, series of right-cornered angles and intersections. GPS has perfected the two-dimensional, and navigation is now easy having been reduced to blue dots coursing a simple map. Up through Golden Hill there are scripted lawns and pink buildings roseate in the setting sun. Shadows are a calculus, lengthening into things scalene. The sidewalks turn amber. Stop signs fairly ruin everything because the shadows are changing fast and lines are rearranging into new patterns. Momentum seems to be the important thing here, to be that shining blue dot in direct relationship to this now and present map.
A bicyclist stops at the apex of a hill and, inexpertly turns a wheel outwards in front of my car. His spokes are illumined and for a second the wheel looks to be turning backwards. I seize up and there’s that surge again, the electric overcompensation in an anxious and adrenal moment. Suddenly I feel as I did when I woke up this morning, having looked out the window to see one of my porch plants leaves crisping. A fight-or-flight reaction was unnecessary, but it produced itself anyways, me naked and on my way to the shower. The simple fact of a yellowed leaf, something slipping my control (and the plant now something I’ll probably avoid until it’s dead and skeletal) forwarding an electric shiver. The feeling’s there in equal proportion when the bicyclist foots the curb to stay his bike, when momentum stops.
I finish the drive home anxious. Chemicals are at play: cortisol, beta-endorphins, prolactin, adrenaline, dimethyltriptamine. There’s something pineal at play, too, for there’s a strange out-of-bodyness to acute anxiety. The pineal gland is the pinecone shaped conning tower helming any navigation outside yourself. Dreams, near-death experiences, those minutes when either you shake God’s hand or you recess six inches back behind your eyeballs: they belong to this gland which rests amid grey matter but isn’t actually an organ of the brain. It’s the only unpaired structure within the skull, birthed from the fetal mouth, and later emigrant to the mid-cerebrum. That it forms in the mouth is of no surprise to me. It’s a short ride from mouth to stomach and it’s the stomach–nervous or anxious or irritable–that lends us gut feelings, feelings that are both in- and outside of ourselves. There’s also the Vagus nerve running brain to stomach in this incessant biofeedback loop. Sometimes I just can’t tell what pilots anxiety, whether the gut is informing the mind or vice-versa. How is it I’m so goddamn hot all the time? Why am I shaking? How is it I can I feel chemicals in my viscera take a splenic turn on their way past the liver, influencing it a second time? Who’s driving the goddamn car? This car is definitely crashing.
I pull into the driveway. I collect my bags. Walking the thirty steps to the door is like not falling thirty times in a row. I set my bags in the kitchen and there are those mismatched light bulbs ensuring the kitchen is yellow and the nook some other shade of incandescence. I scan the counter-tops for unwanted obstacles: spare cups, unwashed frying pans, keys not on their proper shelf. I need a clean kitchen with an unobstructed view else this anxiety will just burrow deeper. If I’m good, within an hour there will be asparagus cooked neatly, a perfectly browned steak, and a Mornay sauce worthy of report. I’ll serotonin up. With precise knives and thirty-seven exact steps, all should be fine. I’ll try and ignore the yellowed leaf I passed on the way in.
I lean against the countertop and exhale, pour a drink. I actually did good today at work, but that’s just something real versus the unreal-ness of my head. Or my gut. I can’t tell the difference. The scent of jasmine floats through the kitchen window and it’s something of an anchor. It’s springtime, after all, and it’s nice that renewal has a signature scent, even if you yourself can’t wear it.
Jenn appears from the back room, wearing my favorite black dress. She has her head cocked to the side with hair in a leftwards tumble. She is un-painting her face with a towelette, and is talking about her day. Un-painting her eyelids and smiling and I don’t hear her words exactly. I won’t probably cook tonight after all. My day is done. She un-paints her face and there is the perfume of jasmine. I like the ruche of her dress. I’ll be fine.