New Brunswick is a city of sirens. There are hospitals here, by the seeming score, spiraling outward from the world-famous Robert Wood Johnson, one of the Johnson & Johnson Johnsons, an epicenter of so-called healthcare in the so-called Healthcare City. The frequency of sirens in a place is rarely the function of the number of emergencies in a locale so much as the quantity of people employed in dealing with such emergencies. As a destination for the dead, dying, those in need of repair, New Brunswick takes all manner of boxy windowless vehicles in their quest to deposit their hapless fading contents at the halls of last-ditch recovery.
No one appears to be from here. America is vaunted as a nation of immigrants, but New Brunswick is truly a town of transients, the imported students mixing with the deposited unwell mingling with those who treat them from miles around interspersed with the migrant workers who are just passing through in search of opportunity. Many must be born here with all the hospitals, but who is here to stay? The staff and service providers of the hospitals and schools, one supposes. And indeed, few people are really from any place without a utilitarian purpose for passing through, without getting hung up on the hooks of a place while they’re on their way to somewhere else. Surely between becoming Scarlet Knights or mopping scarlet wounds, many must start to feel a sense of home, an aspect of permanence, a value to their location beyond being a place to hang one’s notepad or scalpel.
The wind blows icily through this village in March, sliding down the unresistant Raritan River and bending off into the crannies between old brick buildings and their comrades made to look old and brick. They’re raising a gargantuan parking structure over the church and the train station, facing it with linoleum-rolled brick facade to soften the starkness of the grand monument to the motor vehicle at rest it will inevitably be. The cranes hold overlarge masses of tools and chains and concrete blocks, hovering in the tilty moving air before being hauled aloft in an infinite skyward arc. Ceaselessly lit police cars block the streets on either side, preventing even the ambulances from passing under the cranes just on the off chance of some mishap that would necessitate the summoning of yet more sirened automobiles. There are cones of orange and signs of red, enforced caution for those who might otherwise throw it windward.
I have all but become David Gray in my sudden success in contests. Counting Crows, long my favorite band still producing music, put out a call for cover art for a new brief solo effort by frontman Adam Duritz, long a kindred spirit and mouthpiece for my pain. While the final 25 are not to be announced till tomorrow, my own cover submission of deep dark red for the work, entitled “All My Bloody Valentines”, has garnered massive attention in the Facebook group and is likely to be selected as a finalist. Like the songs the cover would ultimately adorn, the image is dark and emotional and ultimately plain, honest, and symbolic.
All My Bloody Valentines
“Valentine’s Day”, “O My Sweet Carolina”, and “You Might Think” are particularly recommended.
I wish I could tell you that everything gets easier once you have a dream job fall in your lap. I wish I could tell you that a few things going your way is all that it takes to put you on the mend, on the road to recovery, on the road to something greater than yourself. I wish I could tell you that the personal and the emotional can be subsumed by expenditures of time, that feelings of public affirmation can quiet the whispers of personal condemnation. Of course my wishing won’t make anything so, no matter what seems to go well or turn on a dime. All one can do is try to express, create, reach out, fail to reject. To make contact with the people one has loved and turn cheeks and take it, whatever it may be, in the hopes that by living a life as we know we should will prompt others to follow suit. Knowing, all the while, that such reciprocity is all but undermining of the point of our own often vain effort… that doing it for its own sake is the only sincere, though glass-ridden, path.
There are easier things than backing up a twelve-passenger van designed to seat ten through a pattern of briefly spaced cones in sequential S-turns, snaking through narrowly defined parameters in reverse and knowing the consequences of flattened plastic to be much greater than they appear. There are harder things than the cascade of laughter such efforts create, than the spiraling ability of any close-knit group of young hopefuls to create inside jokes and shared experience like it’s popcorn in a microwave. Somewhere beyond both what is hard and easy is a future that seems both probable and impossible, unimaginable yet underway. Nothing is simple now, nor merely challenging, but everything is either given or out of reach. It is a good time to be learning yoga, to literally be stretching the limits of credulity and muscle flexion, to always be working to adjust to the expectations of the increasingly unfathomable.
Yesterday I smashed my knuckles in the shower door, shaking out the pain as the internal hemorrhages swelled up to meet the indented joints. I thought about crying out, but there was no one to hear. I shook it out and sucked on my fingers and looked at the purpling reddening mess of slightly mangled digits. My mind went back to an Oakland laundromat, to a Philadelphia street, to times when there was comfort and solace. It was a silly thing, the smashing, and a sillier thing to feel lonely over. I have a friend who says that no one will notice if she goes missing for days on end. To her, this fact is unsettling comfort. To me, such reality, though not even precisely true of my own circumstances, speaks like silent condemnation. Like a failure so profound that it makes all the bogeymen of the past – failing out of school or missing a deadline or not securing a job – look like joyous occasions. To feel crazy for being so lonely only underscores the angst. It is the flaming red cape with which the matador taunts the bull: a scarlet cloth to swallow all memory with shades of a life that can only be charged at, but never struck through, a reality whose phantom and transient nature ends in a mouthful of dust and a torso full of swords.