Where You Are
Where we are is never where we are, which is obvious when you think about all the different ways we are moving.
Right now, for example, is no longer right now. It is right then, and we whipped past it at a breakneck speed that would boggle your mind if your mind wasn't already moving faster than that.
How fast do thoughts travel? Not counting how quickly your head moves through three dimensions carrying your thoughts with it, we can focus just on how fast the thought about how fast thoughts move moved through your mind. And what you can know is this: thoughts are not instant. Even the fastest thought takes some time to form, to be sent, to register. The idea that ideas are not instantaneous is something that just now came to you in the past.
This is where you are: all the places you haven't been yet but won't know you've been to until they are gone.
This is what you are: all the people you haven't been yet but won't know you are until you are someone new.
And by the time you figure out who you are and where you stand the person you know is way behind you visible only from the distance of a future that you could only guess at. That future is actually now, though, but you will not realize is now, until it is then.
The future is past because the present doesn't become real to you until you experience it and then it is over. Which means this: by the time you ask her out, her sitting over there looking slightly bored, slightly expectant, her not knowing that she is expecting things that will not be known to her until after she has experienced them, by the time you ask her out you will already have had your answer.
This is where you are: you have walked across the room. It is a library, or a bar, or a dance floor at the VFW hall (it is something different for all of us but for all of us there is a walk across the floor to someone else). You did that a million thoughts ago, each footstep, each breath, each hopeful glance up from your shoes to her eyes a separate thought about what took place just a moment ago in your life now. (You also hurtled through more than the dance floor space and are thousands of miles away from where you were when you stood up and said “I’m going to do it” but let’s not focus on that.) Even now as you walk across the room you are not there anymore. You are in front of her but that too is over before you know it just as all of life is.
All of life is where you are before you know it. If you wonder why summers fling themselves past you, how your kids tore through the layers of their lives infant toddler terrible twos tween teen college married bursting through each before you were ready, it is because you, in your desperate attempt to catch up, to live in now instead of then, begin glossing over the details. You don't look at the leaves in the fall anymore, you don't pay attention as you drive to the grocery store, you only half listen, you mind filling in with broad strokes the details you only think are there based on past experience.
One summer is pretty much like the rest your mind reasons, and so they become that way. Irony: your efforts to catch up to your life, to live in the present instead of your memories, have only resulted in making your life more like the past you didn't realize you were living until it was past.
This, the past, is where you always are. Particularly: you are asking her to dance, you are offering to buy her a drink, you are asking her if she knows that Emily Dickinson handwrote her poems and doodled in the margins, and she is saying yes, yes, yes, and each time she says it, it was a her in the past that agreed, heaving a message in a bottle to the future her, writing a plan to agree with the you that will arrive in that moment just as she says: Yes.
You learned about that after it happened, read it there in your history. Meanwhile, the two of you spun and dove headlong into a future you created in your pasts, fox-trotting and graduating and getting jobs and renting an apartment where you had to hide the dog from the landlord and having first little Tenia, and three years later Jason, and moving to a house that will need a new roof three months after you bought it. You spent some time wishing your threemonthsago past selves had been smarter as more recent past selves set out bowls and pots and pans to catch the drips until you from the future can afford the repairs.
Headlong? Careening! The entire thing flipping by far faster than the 24 frames a second your mind interprets as being alive, so you must not only fill in the gaps but you must refuse to notice almost everything that is new or you will fall further and further behind, go mad with how slow your life progresses amidst all the haste. More and more you will create a life that does not exist now. Or ever. It is a pastiche of things you remember and things you hope and things you did not notice. Where you are is a Potemkin life designed to show you what you hope you saw as you hoped you lived.
Solace: You will not dance enough with each other to create sufficient memories for your minds to stop paying attention to the dance in order to pay attention to something else. The less you do something the more it is noticeable to you each time you do it. You will kiss two hundred thousand times, so that eventually your mind will stop noticing each kiss, will simply log the kiss as having been and then paper it over with generic memories of kissing, but you will dance only a handful of times, leaving each one a carnival barker's oratory of sensation shouting at you, forever hectoring you to come in again and feel it for the first time. They are all there, fresh: that first dance in a dark loud smoky room, the dance at your wedding where she was in white and the dress felt stiff, unfamiliar, only ever to be once-used and hence never not experienced, the dance one night in the living room when Jason has finally fallen asleep, his fever broken, your theater tickets that were a tenth anniversary present to yourself (the distant-past you wanting to give the more recent you a nice night out) forgotten in your coat pocket, that coat forgotten in your car.
That dance, to the song you both love, slow, in the moonlight, in your living room, avoiding the Hot Wheels tracks and magazines still on the floor, that dance is where you are, right then, and in the future, when, unable to catch up, you retreat more and more willingly to the past, remembering how it felt to hold your hand on the small of her back, how her neck smelled like raspberries, how her hair had come undone from the bun and tickled your ear, how her hand in yours was sweaty and a little plump, so different from the skinny, bony, dry, cold hand that you hold now and talk to, pleading with her for one more day, one more night, one more smile.
Just wake up you tell her over and over, your mind trying to count how many times she has woken up before but it is futile: there are so many that they are nothing, now, you have simply created an image of her waking up that represents all of them and is none of them.
This moment, the moment she does not wake up, is just once and will be real forever.
Just wake up and everything will be like it was, you tell her.
It is a lie. Because of us, everything is never exactly like it was. Only little things are always how they are, because that is how life is for us. This moment, sadly, is unique enough to remain unique. But so is that last slow dance, which was so rare that it will remain real.
It is a good thing that good things don’t happen too often.