One of the many things that the Internet has changed is what we do with that stretch of time, between roughly two and four in the morning, if we are caught conscious and alone while it happens. There is a tacit curfew, enforced by fairytale logic, that the mind must obey, or face the consequences of violating. If one isn’t asleep before two, one risks being awake until dawn and thinking strange, un-daylit thoughts in those hours. What one did with that forlorn nether-interval, before the Internet came along, was read, watch TV test patterns, drink alone, or drink in public (if one didn’t live out in the Flyover with its 17th century last calls). Now that we have the Internet, we can use this witching hour to Google everyone we’ve ever known instead of drinking. The ramifications of this Googling will vary according to age, of course… and, ah, to be so young that Googling an Ex might lead to ill-considered, immediately-regretted Sex that very evening…
I went on a spate of nocturnal Googling a while back and unearthed the first girlfriend I had in college. Sarah D. Sarah was a tall, pretty, patrician blonde with Doris Day bangs and narrow shoulders and a tight, boyish gait. She wore a buckskin jacket with a fringe to it when I first saw her… although the coonskin cap I’m seeing, as well, cannot be possible, though why, on the other hand, would my (writerly) Imagination fake such a detail for my conscious mind’s amusement?
Sarah D. and I were together for about two weeks before she broke up with me. She attempted to drop the bomb as we were crossing a playing field, my first Autumn at college. I remember that I just kept on walking into the hazy twilight, though Sarah had come to a sudden halt, at the end of a long silence, saying “I think we need to talk about us.” I knew exactly what she was going to say and I knew exactly why she was going to say it. The day before, I’d insisted on playing a cassette of Meet The Beatles during the first and last time we had sex (a mistake I can assure you I never repeated).
“Don’t you want to talk about it?” she called, at my back, as I dwindled toward the other side of the field and the cooling sun, speed constant. “Nope!” I called back. This was long ago. ’77.
At about three o’clock in the morning, two months ago, I had a sudden inspiration and dug up Sarah’s Facebook and immediately found an utterly recognizable picture of her. Here she was, forty years later, wearing the same hair style, and the same tomboyish clothes and, presumably, walking that same strangely inhibited, tight-shouldered walk off-camera. I wondered if I should send a note. Maybe it would seem absurd… or like a trap.
It’s happened before that I’ve contacted old, old friends who are now, sadly, down on their luck, shattered by Time, divorced and unemployed and living through much harsher 2ams than I do, having been not quite as ferally clever in avoiding being a “productive member of society” (which is a long euphemism for the word “cog”) as I was. Or, for example, right after Daughter was born: I was contacted by a forgotten chum from my other High School. Rob P, it turned out, was a divorced, unemployed, alcoholic elevator mechanic who expected a male of his age to be similarly fucked up. He expected me to be eager to commiserate, so he never responded to my upbeat, and therefore grotesquely disappointing, email response. He didn’t want to know about it. So I studied Sarah’s Facebook picture and her details… was she better off than I was and was she, therefore, possibly, contactable? Was she doing as well, at least? She looked healthy.
Then I looked again and saw that this topmost picture of Sarah had been posted in 2014. I Googled deeper and found that Sarah had committed suicide a few months after the picture was taken. “Jesus Fucking Christ,” I said, under my breath, not wanting to wake Wife or Daughter. The late-Boomers are not taking well to Age. I saw that a post-college friend of Sarah’s had posted an affectionate reference, on the online memorial page, to her distinctive gait. That’s the sort of inconsequential trademark that people will tend to remember when you’re gone. Bleak or touching?
Another witching hour of Google on the soul’s Red Eye Express led me to a site maintained by graduates of the High School I attended, for two years, in Las Vegas, before relocating to the college prep in Philly. 1974! I went through a list, on this semi-pathetic site, of all the alumnae who are in contact with the site, saw that my best friend at the time (a physics genius who was working for a research facility/ defense contractor at the age of 15) is nowhere to be found. Vanished. The only picture available is his spectral, grainy, Oswald-in-Cuba-esque yearbook snap among the ferns of the physics club. Perusing another list I learned that 25% of my former classmates, from that middle-to-upper-middle class Vegas class of ’77, are already totally dead.
Among the dead I discovered a notorious bully, Mike B, one of the towel-snapping, head-lock-loving nightmares of the sock-stink dungeon of boyhood’s primal scenes. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am not upset nor disoriented by news of Mike B.’s being in a box in the ground somewhere. To be honest: I laughed out loud to learn of it. But only for a few seconds. (Just try not to think of the people who will laugh, I think, when they hear about… etc…)
I’m already two years older than my father ever got, although, in his case, the active ingredients of his extinction were the Camels he started on when he was young. Or Pall Malls. I don’t remember ever seeing him smoke. I don’t think about Death often, exactly, but it’s no longer as though Death is like Tax Day and this is June 1st, for me. Death is Tax Day but it’s starting to feel a little too much like the first week of January…. then the second… are my papers in order…?
What is to be done about this Loomingly Unpleasant Inevitability? Should I have been working on a Cure, all this time, with the relaxing buffer of decades to think and work calmly within? Because now my work on a Cure (should I start tonight) will tend to feel rushed, sloppy, frantic. I will probably make crucial, though tragically avoidable, errors.
Have I flubbed it? My only chance…?
I am not an aficionado of “The Supernatural” and I neither believe nor disbelieve in time travel, sentient trees or Reincarnation… I just don’t know. All I know is that people who claim to Know are lying. I’m leery of tall tales, being too deeply conversant with a Culture, My Culture, that is nearly nothing but Tall Tales. UFO enthusiasts see UFOs, coincidentally; fame-hungry psychics chat with Robin Williams and David Bowie (they’re both doing fine without Facebook) while devout Catholic Puerto Ricans make French toast featuring Virgin Mary burn patterns: in each and every case, it’s the precondition of a bottomless longing for the desired outcome that undermines the “evidence”. Otherwise reliable friends and relatives claim to have seen ghosts but when pressed for details they go rather… vague. Any white lie is worth it if, in convincing you, they convince themselves. I came along during the advent of the Age of Television and I was a fully formed adult for the Birth of the Internet and my Bullshit Detector is so refined (in terms of parts-per-trillion) that it probably has game-changing military applications. Don’t let me fall into the wrong hands. To call me a Skeptic is to call the Moon lunar.
I have a small story to tell regarding this Death business.
I have a Son (by a scheming then-coed; the scheming coed I met about six months after I took that long walk across that playing field without Sarah D., but that’s another tale). My Son is pushing 40 this year, but, way back and far away when he was a not-quite-toddling creature with many of the delightful attributes of a woodland sprite, though little of the sprite’s mobility, with assistance barely able to walk, not ready to talk, vocabulary consisting of slushy sounds and coo… and blup... I was giving him a bath. My girlfriend (not the coed his mother… my girlfriend) and I were bathing him. We sat tubside and I held Son sitting upright as warmish water splashed in slowly from the old spigot. Son was placid, the fingers of one succulent hand plugging his mouth and half that arm shellacked with drool.
I turned to my girlfriend and made a nothing joke (the context for which I cannot recall) about a “shark” in the water. Remember: my Son couldn’t talk yet. How could he possibly know what a shark was, or what one did and what that meant? But I made this “shark” joke to my girlfriend and my Son’s eyes went wide with sheer terror and he stood straight up, into my arms, trying to scurry out of the tub, shaking convulsively (the sense-memory of him shaking in my arms remains).
Now what does that mean… ?
It’ll be 2am soon and you’ll have time to think about it.