I was young, but not so young as to not remember, perhaps 8. It was early evening, but felt like dawn. I clung for dear life, at the edge of my bed, as the room spinned and spiraled around me. Slowly, methodically, I made my way through ice cubes, mouthing one after another, willing the room to stand still. Sometime minutes or hours later, mother opened the door to check my fever – clearly still going strong. I beg her to make the room stop spinning. I cry in confusion, unable to grasp the edge of the bed strong enough to put the world back in place. Mother frowns at another thermometer read over 100 degrees, and tells me I need some rest. She explains the spinning room in terms of fevered dreams, while gently prying my rigid hands from the top of the box spring. She says “See the night light in the corner? Focus your eyes on that little light, and the room will stop.”
It was christmas break, 1999. My girlfriend and I were high school seniors, the so-called class of the 2000. Every waking hour of our better-than-the-rest education had always assured us both that we would somehow change the world, because we were born in the right time, at the right place. Right on the cusp of being grown ups, the world was changing – the year 2000 was mere days away, and christmas had been intense, more-so than previous years. We decided to see a film. We watched as Jim Carrey’s rendition of Andy Kaufman saw his world fade from practical joke to self-parody, with a witch doctor delivering the final irony – new age cancer curing surgery without a single cut. Kaufman sees a bit of chicken in the doctor’s hand before the surgery begins, and begins to laugh – it’s all a joke. Seeing this, I grip my chair, as the room begins to spin. It had been the first in a series of somber christmas breaks, mother’s terminal cancer had just been discovered.
Fall semester, junior year of college – just going through the motions. The girlfriend and I broke with a nasty split a bit before summer, and I had skipped the usual summer family trip – unable to spend a week bouncing off the walls watching our deteriorating mother on what we knew would be her last family vacation. I return from yet another Burden Brothers show, cross the room, and see a message on the answering machine. As I press play, my shitty hand-me-down living room furniture starts to ebb and flow, wiggling in place in the corner of my eye. “Jason, it’s dad. Something bad happened today with Carol, don’t worry, she’s okay, but you need to call me.” I dial, he picks up and the wiggling furniture starts to march. I grab the corner of my computer desk as my knees give way.
Christmas Break, 2003. I walk into her bedroom, and pet my brother’s cat, Sable. The cat had not left her side since the event from September, when mother finally let go. I ask her if she’d like to watch a new movie, promising she will enjoy it. She asks what it’s about. “It’s about a fish who’s lost his son, and lost control of his life.” She does not have the strength to object. As we watch the movie, she smiles an awful lot – much more than she ever did before the event, perhaps more than she had in many years. She’s enraptured, and I just sit and stare, gripping my chair for dear life. The movie finishes, she loves it – like a child. I do not have the heart to tell her it is the fifth time she and I have watched it together.
Three years into my career, I am on top of the world – though I would have preferred it not to spin. There was an engagement ring hidden on the upper shelves of my bedroom closet, and a bucket of ice near me on the bed. 20 years had elapsed since mother told me to focus on the night light, but this time there would be no need. The world around me, though spinning, was understood, simplified, and easy. The moment would pass soon enough, and before I knew it we’d be married, and then, and then, and then. I hastily push my fevered dreams into words on paper, for inclusion in an album my buddy John and I had been working on for a good while.
The lights were dimmed, and the slideshow began. A steady march of images synced to Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism for our first dance. As the song crescendos the images start to wiggle, flashing faster in reverse. As images flicker, they paint her dress, her face. Our family and friends, our world, spins around us and I tighten my grip. Later, my father will hand me a card, a card mother picked for this day, years ago, before she died. Later, I will read my father’s word’s in the card and that night will return in a flash – just keep breathing, keep staring at that little night light, don’t stop staring, just ignore the dancing furniture, ignore the ebb and flow, focus on the light. We spin, the room spins, our friends, our family, the flicker of the projector, the swirling music, until finally, the end. I dip her, and hold onto her for dear life, we kiss and the projector stops on a single image – it paints us in golden light.
I look up from the kiss, and all I see is a bright light in darkness. In a flash, I am 8 years old, bewildered by fevered dreams and staring at a night light. I blink and I’m in the theatre unable to stop the tears. I inhale deeply and I’m with my childlike broken mother, days before she would pass. I pause, staring into the light, and hold my breath for just a moment. I exhale, and look away from the light. I hold her tighter, soaking in her shimmering golden aura, I hold her for dear life, and the world falls in place.
Sept 23, 2013 – 3.45a
Music: Matthew Good – Avalanche (the song)