It’s finals week my second semester of college and I’ve been walking around in a sleepless daze for four days, hopped up on LSD, questing for you and your wisdom. Suffice to say, school is not going well. My first philosophy test earlier this year was a mess of useless ink. I suspect sabotage. It was probably the mushrooms. Every question seemed so profound, every answer so insignificant and ineffective. Every punctuation mark so final. I dropped the course. Where are you when I need your mind? Walking around your own college campus, after you were done with school, philosophizing to the wind.
You never talk to other people like you talk to the wind. That’s why I haunt campus, pacing around these concrete paths, divided from the students with physical destinations by more than these sunglasses. You’re the reason solitude and I have been having regular pajama parties for two semesters. You’re the reason my current best friend’s an intellectual also named Jeremy. We always go looking for the missing pieces of ourselves in our friends, for those cosmic clues about us. He wouldn’t believe you exist if I told him. Quantum physics and energy discoveries are moving too slowly: He just wouldn’t.
Now I’m a sophomore and your soft-spoken ways have enveloped me to the point I’ve forgotten how to romp around, yell, and raise a ruckus. Two students streaked the terracing outside my dorm and I thought about how that would have, could have, should have been me. But I have locked myself away inside this body, searching for answers. Stopped dating, stopped caring about who I sleep with. I nearly fucked a guy named Boner, for crying out loud. Life ain’t for real no more. It’s a movie playing all around me, telling me to shush. A friend thinks me a nihilist. He doesn’t grok being torn between intellect and intuition. Others find me repellent. I’m scaring the living shit out of poor, faithful Jeremy.
Connecting with your problems began with the poetry readings. I had to use our voice. There’s no getting around that bit at a poetry reading. I checked. When I was a kid and had to give book reports and the like in front of people, I’d often slip into a British accent. We first connected that way, via your enervating English energy in the face of great nervousness and people. My mother and the drama and music teachers were forever telling me to speak up, to enunciate, to use my diaphragm. Not everyone’s supposed to be an opera singer, you know? (You know.) But, lying in bed and staring at the moonlit stucco ceiling, I have given great oratories to crowds of thousands. We persuaded the whole world to be pro-choice when we were just ten. What an evolutionary accomplishment. Well done, us.
I don’t know how I forgot about our voice for so long. Was it when I dropped out and the weight of our WASP sense of failure crushed me? The hundred shit jobs I worked while trying to remember who I am? Late in 2003, I screamed into someone’s phone one night erratically to reclaim it. He hadn’t raped me, but he had met the one who had. The one who had confirmed that my voice was irrelevant. That choice wasn’t on the menu. Since every time I spoke up or fought back he only sunk the hooks in deeper and harder, purging my life of a rapist and a stalker was quiet work at first. But screaming turned out to be the beginning of the deepest, truest pleasure I’ve ever known. It turned us both around.
Anger sparked actions to overcome fears, one by one, and to only grow my voice into the most natural extension of myself without anyone ever asking me to speak up again—unless they were deaf. Or I don’t like them. You don’t have this problem anymore, either. You affect the world around you just fine, too. That’s the thing that I’ve lost, a bit. I’ve been holding you at arm’s length for too long, always a bit fearful that I am too smart for my own good. Balance between body, mind, and spirit requires mastery. Too often I’ve gone straight to the gray matter for answers when what I really needed was to run. It’s there in the balance where we reconnect, I’ll bet. You’re much better at that than me. Also well done.
Challenges are what I think of when I think of you. Some were easy. It’s not hard to speak up on a stage surrounded by scenery and other actors, spouting another writer’s words. But to get up behind a podium and speak my mind and my heart—that took guts. We built a decent student newspaper, you and I. We made one half-decent short film, too, organizing those around us with a certain, rewarding grace. Then came the failure to follow through fully on a second film, and I went a little cold on ideas. I sense that I have pushed you away. Whisper to me your final challenge, Professor J. I’m open-hearted; listening.
Every time the wind whistles through this shotgun shack alley or I feel its fullness in my face, I’ll think of you until you remember that we’re not finished with each other yet. Then I’ll roll up my sleeves and get to work on whatever project walks you all the way home, your books tucked under my arm.