It’s spring. I love transitional seasons but they also frighten me – they tend to take my mind and moods on random, unpredictable journeys. Existential vertigo, as it were.
I’m sitting here at my desk in my office, ostensibly testing software while I listen to a Schubert violin rondo and sip my Pu-erh tea. It’s dreary out which, I confess, I love. I’d hang myself for sure if I lived in, say, Seattle, but I grew up on a coast and, much as I’d die for my high-plains desert home, I miss the oppression of humidity at times. Overcast sky. Fog you can’t cut through. Mist soaking your clothes, your skin, your soul. I do enjoy these days.
So… geeky, genteel suburbanite. Except for that tickle. The one I got yesterday when I found fresh deer tracks cutting the trail that runs behind my office building. I’ve seen deer here once or twice but always at a distance and there was something about finding only their tracks. That tickle. Visceral. Atavistic. The tracks were deep but widely spaced, so it was velocity rather than weight that made the crater. Small bucks, literally, maybe adult does. The edges of the tracks were sharp, crumbly, not softening back into the earth from the melting snow. I’d missed them by maybe only one or two hours.
I was out again this morning, as soon as I made it in and fired up my computer. Just… you know… to see.
More of them this time. Harder to tell their age since that mist has been hanging around since last night but they weren’t there yesterday. And now… I just keep watching. I start to work. I get involved briefly. And then my eyes drift past my monitor, out the window, down to the path. The small island of woodland that it hugs. Where the tracks were leading. On goes my coat and an old ball cap. Out go I. Just… to see. To follow a little further. Up to the barbed wire fence, clearly labeled with the city ordinance prohibiting trespass on protected land.
I have been many things in my life, many of them conflicting and incongruent. I went from wunderkind to inner-city thug to professional geek to suburbanite husband to hick dad but retained lessons and habits from all of them. There is a line between multifaceted and schizophrenic and I sometimes am unclear on which side I stand. I occasionally make a misstep, a social faux pas, forgetting which world I’m in at the time. Laughing about the – to me – comical and violent demise of another boy during my teen years with over-educated intellectuals who think “ghetto culture is cool” as long as it’s artistic. Discussing weeping at the birth of my child with undereducated men who think having nice handwriting and good grammar make you “queer”. Providing luscious description of the prior day’s excellent lunch as my “status report” at work. Casually producing a pistol from my waistband and doing a chamber-check in the midst of conversation with out-of-town houseguests. I worry that I’ll just leave my desk and come back with a gutted doe. Or not come back at all.
The mist, hushing the sounds of nearby traffic. The dirt, quiet and spongy beneath my feet. The smell of spring in my nose, lush, wet. Pause. Listen for movement, eyes closed. Continue and repeat. Those tantalizing tracks. Maybe I’ll just follow them – just a little bit. Not long. Not far. Just enough to assuage my curiosity. Something primal has stirred.
I’m forty and live in the ‘burbs. I read Dr. Seuss to my daughter and try to teach her how to walk the line between being a good person and being a victim. I blow raspberries on my infant son’s tummy and make him giggle by snuggling into his neck. I garden and mow the yard of my modest cookie-cutter home. I stand aside for the elderly and always open car doors for ladies. When I was fifteen, I shared a drafty bedroom with rats and roaches. I once used a long-handled flashlight to club an auxiliary cop – only a few years older than me, from the looks of him – into semi-consciousness because he was between me and escape at an absurdly botched attempted burglary. I had to be fast before he could get to his radio (auxiliaries weren’t allowed to carry weapons – when I briefly was one, they referred to us as “bodies”).
I have no idea how I got here from there.
I can hear the mist dripping from the branches. Something crackles in the trees. A step? No. Squirrels playing tag. I smile, thinking of my daughter‘s laugh when I feign a speech impediment and quote “Up” – I hate squirrels! The wire fence still holds a chill as I rest my fingers on it, give it a little tug, testing its strength.
I’ve had the pleasure of keeping company with bowhunters who were deadly skilled with a broadhead but I am a “gun guy”. I’ve spent so much time with those tools that they are, in honesty, part of my nature now. And, while I have seen a shaft do the same work up close, there is something about the argument made with one hundred and sixty eight grains of copper-jacketed lead that is a bit more emphatic, especially at distances measured in football fields. I am normally pragmatic about my tools, loading my regular practice rounds within safe and accurate tolerances but, for hunting, it becomes a ritual of consistency and precision. If you’re trying to kill me, I don’t give a tinker’s damn if I take your jaw off instead of putting you down DRT but an animal deserves a death with minimal suffering. It has done me no wrong and will die for no reason but to put meat in my belly. Everything must be as near to perfect as an imperfect creature such as myself can make it. It’s only right. I owe it.
When I was seventeen, an older kid from the neighborhood tried to recruit me and another friend for a robbery. The story kept morphing to the point where I was exceptionally uncomfortable. I met the two other guys who had recruited him and found they were shifty, stoned and stupid. I agreed to check the area out and found it was actually a drug dealer’s house in the middle of a crowded, narrow and crappy block. On three different days, there were guys both up and down the street “working on their cars”, except the toolboxes were never open and they never had grease on their hands. I refused to take part but it never occurred to me to report it to the police – you just didn’t do that. My friend and the guy who had approached us both were unnerved by my confidence in their failure and chickened out before the chosen day but the two original geniuses went ahead anyway. I never saw either of them again. Rumor mill – the precursor to the Internet – had it that no one else ever did either.
Yesterday, I attended a planning meeting in which three men with advanced degrees argued vehemently over whether or not code refactoring needed to be done this sprint or if it could wait until just prior to candidate release. Our test lead joined in the fray, demanding that naming conventions be standardized so her automated scripts would stop breaking every build. I am pleased to report no weapons were produced and no blood was spilled. It was terrifying but I somehow managed to stay awake. All participants are accounted for today.
I really don’t know how I got here from there. Here is better, I know, but… there is something lacking.
I want to indulge myself. Challenge myself. Get back out in the real world, into the wet mist, away from mundane mendacity of my current life, sterile and perfunctory in my technological bubble. Closer to sincerity, to finality, to beauty.
I’ve cycled through Haydn all the way to Cypress Hill. “Insane in the Brain”. Yeah. I can relate. Ah. Shifting gears again – J.S. Bach’s “Keyboard Concerto #5” this time.
When existential questions arise, I tell people that who you “really are” lives in your silences – when the voices in your head stop jabbering. When you are plummeting towards the earth. When you are single-mindedly pursuing on foot with murder in your heart. When that heart pauses in its beating but your oxygenated brain can still process thoughts. When you hold your firstborn child in your arms, fresh from the womb of the woman you have chosen for your mate. When you hear an ER doc use the phrase “overnight for observation” in reference to your infant son who just vomited blood. My problem is that I’ve been in all those situations and “who I was” was different each time yet each one was true. Perplexing.
It’s hard to keep up with my shifts at times, certainly, but I’m somehow still good in my skin. Even a skin full of random shifts… and old scars… and new tickles.
It’s clearing up a little but still overcast and grey. I can’t help but wonder if any of the trail has been washed away. How much may still remain. I’ll just take a little break and check. Not too far, maybe over the fence just a little, where the tree canopy is coming back. A hundred yards… maybe two. Don’t want to get in trouble or anything. Just want… you know… to see.
Ah, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major! I love this rondo more than Schubert’s….