Summer. During a string of lazy, discombobulated days, when I find myself melancholy and alone in my apartment in the afternoon, either procrastinating or in between tasks or just plain not doing anything — I practice discerning a type of time that’s far beyond the billions of little details and distractions of everyday life. This epic, slow time fills up the background like a glacier moving between two mountains. I turn the music off and listen to the hard-working hums of the refrigerator and A/C, and beyond that the cars passing on the street, (each one making a click-CLACK as they hit that weird little bump in the asphalt).
As I sink deeper into stillness, I focus my listening further and further out…to the birds chirping and the fainter swish of passing cars on the intersection a few blocks away, all the way out to the hum and occasional belching bass of trucks on the highway overpass about a mile past that. Once I’m there, if I can stay focused and wait, I eventually hear the bell at the distant train crossing. It goes on and on, as though calling from another century with a warning at once plain and urgent. I picture myself standing at that crossing, smoking a mapacho as the last train car passes with a loud clatter and the bell suddenly stops, its absence abruptly filling the intersection with space, like a film strip snapping off mid-frame. The highway drones on above me, a constant exhalation of commuters and commerce, with each shiny little box adding to the unbearable heat that presses down from the sky like an invisible mountain. The massive green painted metal girders of the overpass form a secret language in silhouette against the hazy sunlight being filtered through smears of pink and purple toxins.
Meanwhile, the click-clack of cars in front of my apartment quickens to the beat of a racing heart as I realize that whole weeks — maybe even months — have gone by in which I’ve never stopped to listen hard enough to hear that train bell. Is it because I’m so busy? With what? Staring at my phone? Scribbling in my Moleskine? Scrolling through the NetFlix menu?
Of course it’s possible to go even further. Past the train crossing and its bell, past more highways dotted with shopping malls and billboards and airports…further still past the glowing factories and the bright green slopes of the landfills, until I can hear the vibrating bell shape of the atmosphere itself as time moves across the earth in huge bands encompassing whole eras. I fall through the seemingly bottomless chasm of mountain and canyon time. My thoughts are spread out in dark pink layers of rock. Everything I’ve ever done and ever will do is the tiniest pebble being gently filed into smoothness. Meanwhile, far up above there’s the thunder of a military jet breaking the sound barrier. In contrast to being embedded in the earth down here, time moves fast for this silver ghost, forever zig-zagging towards wars and the dissolution of entire ways of life. The Angel of History herself hovers in front of a technology that’s able to erase millions of stories in seconds. My seemingly infinite existence is written into the details of a flight map outlined in white chalk against the blue sky.
Up and down…fast and slow…I can feel the vibration of the warp strings through which our lives are woven humming like a gently plucked bass. Night and day breathing in and out, over and over on time lapse film… As I go deeper, I eventually experience a blurring of the boundary between inside and outside. It’s at once jarring, lovely and confusing. I think of my life and the people I love and lost. The connections fold into a larger story in which the sharp points of the feelings no longer matter. Are they really gone — or are they merely embedded and smoothed out in time? I find myself clinging to the silly fierceness of those tiny moments, scribbling them down before I forget the way I always do. It feels important. But for what? For whom?
We do years at the office, we do years waiting in traffic…the days are slow, and the weeks fly by. All the while I’m in this dark corner, the carpet patterned with vacuum trails. I’ve been here forever, staring at my phone, trying to locate a text from someone who broke my heart, my fingers tracing the track of what felt like a never-ending storm, but turned out to be only one tiny swirl of a much larger story.
I look down as my open notebook decays back into pulpy pre-soil. The ink turns into large purple welts as someone out on the outer edge of my time band is given their daily beating.