'round Midnight, filled with vino and nicotine and weird recent dreams and old but vivid memories. Dreams, night after night after night of them lately, dreams that find me walking wild through the old neighborhoods of the city I once lived in, dreams in which I stumble stoned and alone for miles through those streets, as I did more than a decade ago. Dreams of bar scenes and house parties where audiences of drinkers, dopers, gamblers, and other assorted losers look on starry-eyed and grateful as I dispense high humor and deep wisdom. As I take my lunch-time walks through the quiet streets lined with enormous houses occupied only by the obscenely rich in summertime, wisps of those recent dreams dance against memories of an April twenty years gone.
"i was kicking it with cousins.
we were talking about going clubbing.
instead we just started drinking.
i've been straight since the cinco de mayo.
before that i was blotto.
i was blacked out. i was cracked out.
i was caved in."
The Hold Steady, "Hot Soft Light"
Twenty years gone, and the memories if what happened dance with the memories of dreams. Eating a bowl of Cap'n Crunch in the kitchen of the apartment I shared with my boy Dan early on the morning of Wednesday, April 14th, 1993, bursting with anticipation.
Standing at a token booth, asking the woman on the other side if the A-train actually went all the way out to Kennedy.
Brushing my teeth vigorously in the men's room of the British Airways terminal, trying to erase the taste of the cigarette I'd had outside Penn Station.
Looking up at a monitor to see the clock had struck four in the afternoon; looking up at a monitor and seeing that BA182 from Manchester had landed.
Spotting Lauren in the midst of a crowd, in a flowered skirt and a brown hat, walking purposefully through the arrivals gate, with something almost like a grimace on her face, hell-bent on seeing me.
Spotting Lauren as she saw me standing there, in khakis and an old Levi's jean jacket with a blue backpack slung over my left shoulder, the smile that broke across her face. Lord, that girl had a smile that could melt ice.
Telling her I loved her in person for the first time.
The taste of her lips on mine, the feel of her hand in mine as we rode the Carey bus back into the city.
The hot, packed early-evening Amtrak slithering back up to Albany on the tracks lying aside the Hudson.
Giving the taxi driver a ten and telling him to keep the change on a ten dollar fare as he pulled up outside my apartment building, 176 Chestnut Street.
The memories used to bring tears, and now they bring comfort; the dreams bring unease, as though I know they urgently want to tell me something that I desperately need to hear but can't, or won't, and as I walk through my lunch hours, I alternate between indulging in the comfort of the memories and studying the dreams for hints.
Talking about betting horses to a crowd assembled around an old, long bar, in a barroom that looked familiar but one I know I've never been inside of.
Telling jokes to a group of people, some women, some men, one of whom I recognized, the other who looked a little, but not enough, like people I actually know.
Preaching about what it's like to watch the love of your life die in front of your eyes to a group standing in an unfamiliar kitchen, with a woman I've never met on the verge of tears in a corner by a gas stove.
And most of all, walking, walking, walking, alone through the dusk up and down streets that bore a half-hint of recognition; streets that bore a passing resemblance to streets I once walked.
These dreams must be trying to tell me something, I think.
Is my own end near? Should I be doing something differently? Is the past, or the future, trying to point me in some other direction? I feel certain some answer lies out there, for me, a hint or a nudge.
But no answers come.
I feel confused.
Earlier tonight, a friend of mine pointed out that a famous person had died, and I read an essay this famous person had written, entitled, "I Do Not Fear Death."
What a luxury, I think: to not fear death.
I fear death, alright.
My own death, tomorrow, or right now, would echo across generations, for years to come, the way my grandfather's death in this very house sixty-seven years ago still rings loudly through the lives of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Oh, I don't fear Heaven or Hell; both of those exist, right here on Earth, and I've lived through both. Heaven I saw tonight, in the love I made tonight, and in the conversation we wound up having afterwards about an old movie called "The Crying Game." We both remembered seeing it for the first time, her in a theatre in Rochester, me in a theatre in Albany, not long before those April memories of two decades ago. We both remembered being overwhelmed upon seeing the long shot of the Ferris Wheel spinning across an Irish countryside as the tinny sounds of "When A Man Loves A Woman" screeched out across the speakers.
Hell exists, oh that I know, I've been there. You know you're in hell when pain, whether emotional or physical, or both, leaves you writhing in an agony beyond the reach of any relief.
Whether these things exist after we die is up for question.
The dead have spoken to me often enough that I can't rule out anything, though.
And why shouldn't they speak to me.
The blood that courses through my veins belongs not to me; it is merely on loan from my ancestors, and my descendants, for me to use as I walk through the present.
So yes, I fear death, not because I fear what it will do to me, hell, I did my best to spread love and kindness around the world, and if there's a reward for such a thing, between that and what I've suffered, I've earned it. I'll be fine: I'm certain paradise or nothingness will be the only two options I'm left with at the end, and either one will be fine with me. I'm not worried about myself.
No, I fear leaving children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live with my death, the way my grandfather's children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been left to deal with his death, and the way Lauren's children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will deal with her death.
I'm convinced all my recent dreams hold some sort of answer to all this, but, as hard as I look for the answer, I can't find it.