I wrote an essay. I wrote it on a Sunday morning. It is about counting. It is also about meditation and, in a secret way, it is about my politics. In a not-so-secret way, it is about the time my friend raped my friend. In the least secret way of all, it is about clocks and watches.
I titled this essay
by tim rogers
I asked my mom and dad to buy me a watch for my sixth birthday.
I wanted a specific watch. I wanted a Timex watch with a black face, white numerals, and an orange second hand. Its strap was nylon and black, with a wide gray racing stripe down the middle and a narrow gray racing stripe running down each side. The top of the watch was hard plastic. I saw the watch in the Montgomery Ward department store at Town East Mall in Wichita, Kansas. I described the watch to my mom. I wrote the description on a sheet of paper. The watch was nineteen dollars.
My mom presented me the watch in the courtyard behind our townhouse at just after ten in the morning on Friday, June 7th, 1985. School was out for the summer. Kansas was hot. The grass of the courtyard was dark green and in wild clumps. The clouds were big. Possessive of a present-day aptitude for connecting accurate numerals to air temperatures, I am re-remembering this birthday at this living adult moment, twenty-nine years later. On this occasion, I award that day with an air temperature of eighty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. I live now on what we might consider a different planet from the planet I was on when I received that watch. Here in 2014, I can type “temperature Wichita Kansas June 7th 1985”, and my computer tells me that the high temperature that day was 91.9 degrees Fahrenheit. My computer does not tell me the humidity: my memory tells me it was between twelve and twenty percent.
A six-year-old child with a highly superior autobiographical memory probably shouldn’t own a watch. A watch attaches new contexts to moments which upon birth by nature possess a destiny to attract obsession. Constant awareness of a time of day gave me yet another categorization metric for stacking and connecting the blocks of my near-touchably reliveable hologram of an up-to-the-minute life history.
A six-year-old child in 1985 of course also receives “Star Wars” action figures for his birthday. I enjoyed those “Star Wars” action figures. I can remember the days they acquired dents in their plastic and nicks in their paint. Sometimes they’d acquire nicks in their paint while I wasn’t touching or looking at them. I’d consult my two-years-older brother’s identical “Star Wars” action figure collection, and usually I’d find a paint-nick-free clone of that action figure. I never said anything. Sometimes I switched the figures. Well, usually I did.
I say “usually” out of reflex: I’m trying to sound relatable. I learned this conversational reflex over the course of decades. I’m trying to unlearn it, in the interest of transparency. So I can be less relatable, if I’m honest: five out of the six times, I switched the figures back.
My new Timex watch was better than any toy. I liked its design. I liked the stripes of its strap. I appreciated the typeface of the numerals. My dad showed me how to wind the watch the night I got it. He came home from work. He saw me with the watch on my wrist. My dad was wearing his officer’s uniform and his dad’s old gold watch. He took his watch off his wrist. He said, “Like this.” He wound the watch. I took off my watch. I wound my watch. He told me I had to wind the watch often to keep it running. I enjoyed the tactile feel of winding the watch.
I stared at my watch often. I liked watching the second hand go around. It occurred to me that I could learn the exact length of a minute. I stared at the watch for many hours of my first few months owning it. I memorized the length of a second. I memorized the length of a minute. I committed the length of a minute to sensory memory. I designed an obsessive compulsion to look at the watch only as the second hand crossed the twelve. If I looked at the watch and the second hand was more than five seconds on either side of the twelve, I stared at the watch until the second hand touched the twelve, and then I looked away. By September of 1985 I had mastered the skill of catching the second hand within three seconds of the twelve.
Every glance at the watch in September of 1985 brought me a pain which was not tiny: across the center of the plastic watch dome was a deepish Y-shaped crack-like scratch. The watch had acquired this scratch in August (well: August 17th), when a bigger neighborhood kid threw a basketball at my head and I fell onto pavement on an insect-loud day where the temperature was at least 96 degrees (I just checked: it was 95.5).
By February of 1986 I had polished my hour-feeling ability to within a minute of accuracy. One hour was the length of the soap operas my mom watched. It was one-seventh the length of a day of the first grade. By way of frequent glances at my watch, I built a clock inside my head. I turned it on. I kept it on. I earned concentration behind the counting of rhythm-perfect seconds. I pushed the clock into the background. At home after school, at exactly four fifty-nine, I took my watch off. I looked at it. I let the second hand touch the twelve. I flipped the watch over. After more than thirty days, I finally flipped the watch over exactly one hour later, just as the second hand touched the twelve. I only managed this once. Every time before (and after), the second hand had been between one and fourteen seconds on either side of the twelve.
I was eight years old when I first encountered a persistent inability to sleep. This was when I began developing the sleep exercises I conduct even today. One of these was to count backwards from 3600 on one track while counting forward from 3600 on the other track. On each track I visualized a hand (right and left) drawing the numbers as they counted up or down. The visualization of the hands took up a majority portion of my mental processing power. I drew the numbers from the left with my left hand, and from the right with my right hand. I maintained perfect virtual speed and kerning, so that the edge of the last digit on the left came together perfectly with the first digit on the left. I adjusted the spacing of the numbers as they grew in digits. I drew exactly one number per second with each imaginary hand: in my imagination, I could write much faster by hand than I could in reality.
This was an elementary exercise. It kept my brain quiet. As I (and my memories) age, I develop more philosophically complex (yet less mechanical) exercises.
I aged. I pulled the length of a second away from the sensation of a heartbeat. I grew. I learned to feel the length of a silent minute. I pulled the length of a minute apart from the sensation of the length of sixty seconds. I was a teenager. I was working a part-time job. I pulled the sensation of the length of fifteen minutes apart from my old need to count seconds or minutes. I could not see my clock: I could not locate its alarm settings buttons: I could not wind its crown. It wound itself.
I have owned five watches in my life. I’ve already told you about the first one.
The second watch was a calculator watch. I got this watch for my tenth birthday. My big brother got one as well. Calculator watches were a big deal in the 1980s. Kids loved them. Elementary school teachers hated them, because they’d let kids cheat on math tests. My teacher banned them from our class. I wore my old Timex watch instead.
At age fourteen, I bought a Timex Ironman watch at Target. I weighed around two hundred pounds and was around five feet tall. I was not an iron sort of person. I liked the watch because of its Velcro strap and its yellow buttons. I liked its stopwatch: I could time things to the thousandth of a second. I disliked the action of the buttons — they were too high and mushy — so I ended up not using the stopwatch function as much as I’d liked. I can hardly articulate what my plans were for the stopwatch: I wanted to know exact intervals of time for various real-world events. I wanted to time particular mechanical happenings in NBA basketball games, for example.
In my first year of high school, despite my height and weight impairments, I elected to take two semesters of gym class. We needed two semesters of gym class in order to graduate from my high school. I wanted to get it out of the way. Looking back on it now, I realize that as talented as I was for looking back and measuring days and weeks of my past, I had no skill for evaluating my future: at two hundred pounds heavy and five feet tall, it never occurred to me that in just three years I might lose seventy pounds and grow a foot taller. My inability to predict the future is a source of recurring grief whenever I consider my past.
I was fat and short and in gym class. This was in Indiana, so “gym class” meant “basketball class”. I liked basketball a lot. It was my favorite sport. Of course, I had no delusions about ever being able to play it. The other guys excluded me from their basketball teams. I sat on the sidelines. The coach yelled at me a lot for not just getting in there and playing. This guy was the coach of the school basketball team. Two of the guys in my gym class were on the basketball team. I thought the coach was being a jerk when he told me to just get in there and play. Now that I look back at it, I realize that he was actually being pretty cool. He didn’t care if one team had six players. He just wanted to see that everyone was involved. All I could see in those moments was that the coach was a big dumb guy and that the other kids were mean.
By the second semester, I was fatter and still as short. The coach called attendance on the first day. Then he said he was going to read off some names. If he called our name, we had to step forward. My name was one of the names he called. He told all of us who had stepped forward that we were going to be swimming until midterms. The swim coach came in. She took us to the pool.
I was too short for a large bathing suit and too fat for a small. I wore a medium. I looked disgusting. I hated myself. It turned out I could swim fairly well.
One day, someone stole the Ironman watch from my locker. They also stole my shirt and pants. I was a mute at this time. It was difficult communicating that something had gone wrong. I began to panic. I knew I would have to talk to someone — the coach, for example — to report my things stolen. The locker room was emptying out. I searched the bathroom stalls. I searched the shower. My pants and shirt were on the floor of the shower. They were soaked. I wrung them out. I put them on. I went to math class. No one said anything about my wet clothes. No one said anything about my anything.
My fourth watch was a gift from my first girlfriend. She’d bought it for me when she was in Japan for two weeks during the summer.
I was a student at Indiana University at this time. I needed a watch so I could be on time to my classes. I was living in a dormitory at this time. I had friends. I used to play videogames in my neighbor Keith’s room all night. I’d slide my twenty-five-inch television into his room and we’d both power-level our characters in Final Fantasy VII while talking about literature, philosophy, politics, and girls we thought were sexy. My sleep schedule got weird. I needed an alarm to wake me up.
The watch was a Casio G-Shock. It was huge, black, gray, and blue. It lit up with a good strong blue. Its stopwatch buttons had the perfect clicky action. I wore the watch even when I was asleep. I wore it in class. Its user interface was smooth compared to my previous digital watch: I could disable the hourly chime in mere seconds before every class, and turn it back on just as easily afterward. I liked having the hourly chime on. I played a tiny game with my brain. I told myself I’d look at the watch as little as possible, so that I could look at it exactly as my watch’s hourly chime went off. Mastering this technique so that I could see “:59:59” roll over to “:00:00” six hours in a row alongside a celebratory double beep six hours in a row was rewarding in a way my six-year-old self would enjoy.
I found out my girlfriend was married. I told her. She broke up with me. I felt bad about finding out she was married. I’m sure she also felt bad about my finding out she was married. I kept the watch. I didn’t hear anything from her for six weeks, when she called me and threatened to commit suicide. Then I never heard anything from her again, because she had committed suicide. I can’t prove feelings with math or science, though I can assure you that I remember this every day of my life.
In the six weeks between my girlfriend breaking up with me because I found out she was married and my girlfriend calling me to tell me she was going to kill herself, I made a friend. My dorm floor was the only male floor in an all-female dorm. We were part of some PhD candidate’s research. We had a sister floor — the third floor. Our room keys worked to unlock the third floor’s stairwell entrance, and their keys worked to unlock ours. The resident assistants encouraged us to mingle. One guy, who went by the nickname “K”, happened to be from Los Angeles, so the other meek midwestern boys on our floor took his word for it when, following our first expedition to the third floor, he dubbed the place “The Virgin Vault”.
We were, of course, a floor of male honor students.
I made two friends on the third floor. One was a Chinese girl who barely spoke any English. She was also about four and a half feet tall. I spoke Chinese to her within two seconds of detecting her accent. She latched onto me. I helped her get by socially for her first few months. She picked English up with terrific efficiency. We had a lot of weird aggressive excellent sex a couple years later, when her boyfriend in China called her and told her he was marrying someone else.
The other friend I made on the third floor was a girl named Alison. Alison had blonde hair and blue eyes. She was from Virginia. She stopped me in the hall as I was headed to the stairs.
“Hey, you’re a guy, right?”
I turned around.
“What? Uh, yeah.”
“Can you help me with something?”
She was wearing flip-flops, a small T-shirt, and panties. My eyes leapt right up into the vortex of her panty-crotch.
I followed her into the bathroom. A beautiful French horn was lying in a bathtub.
“I’m trying to get this valve off,” she said. “I’m going to turn this water on. I’ll hold the French horn — like this — and we’ll let a little hot water run on it, and then you just grab this valve and yank it. Do you think you can do that?”
“I know how to grab and yank, yeah,” I said.
She had an impish smile. “Well, hopefully you’ll learn something new from this.”
The floor got a little wet. Alison’s foot slipped. Her bare thigh collided with my jeans at one point. Her heels had lifted off from the surface of her flip-flops. I couldn’t help following her leg up to the shape of her buttocks. She had a good volume of muscle. It took a while to get the valve off the horn.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’m Alison.”
She invited me into her room for a drink. She poured herself some vodka. She asked if I wanted some.
“I don’t drink,” I said.
“Oh. Why not?”
I shrugged. “It’s dumb.”
“Oh. Is it?”
“I mean, no offense.”
Her roommate came back from dinner. Her roommate’s name was Meredith. Meredith was a half-goth. I told her she should change her name to Mary Death. She thought that was funny. People started calling her Mary Death. She loved it. She often forwarded me emails full of jokes.
Alison had a boyfriend in Virginia. Alison drank whatever liquor anyone gave her. She and Mary Death bought an inflatable sofa at the mall. Mary Death liked a guy who lived in the other tower of our dorm complex. She hung out in his room maybe every night. Alison called my room phone just about every night and asked if I wanted to come sit on her inflatable sofa, watch VHS tapes, and talk. She was always drunk when I got there. She was studying pre-med, on a French horn scholarship. I helped her cram for her physiology quizzes. I’d already taken a couple of physiology classes. I’d also been taking some law classes. I was considering being a doctor or a lawyer (I’d decide closer to graduation, I told everyone), until I realized I was going to work for the CIA. I’m looking at my old conversations with Alison, right now, and I’m thinking about how much more of my life didn’t happen than did. Oh, well.
One night, Alison was drunk, and she told me she thought her boyfriend was cheating on her. I told her I thought my girlfriend was married. A few days later, I knew my girlfriend was married, and Alison knew her boyfriend was cheating on her. It turned out Alison’s boyfriend was gay. She broke up with him. My girlfriend broke up with me. I watched VHS tapes with Alison while she got drunk every night. She fell asleep with her head on my shoulder four nights in a row. I woke her up and told her to go to bed. One night, she kissed me. I kissed her back. This went on for seven minutes. I squeezed her thigh. I put my right hand down the back of her sweatpants. I put my left hand under the back of her sweatshirt. I pushed her back toward me. I scissor-squeezed her from two angles. I put my right hand under her panties. I could feel her pubic hair at my fingertips. It was so soft.
“Hey, hey,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. I let go of her.
“Can we, um, do this later?”
“Sure,” I said. “Sure.”
“I mean, let’s do this later.”
“Yeah, let’s do it later.”
“I mean, I really want to,” she said. She was looking me in the eye. Her eyes were wide. “I really, really want to.”
“I know,” I said. I don’t know what I meant I knew. “I want to do it . . . too.”
“Let’s do it later.”
“Yeah! Maybe let’s do it tomorrow.”
“Alright. Maybe tomorrow.”
We didn’t do it tomorrow. Tomorrow was Wednesday. The day after tomorrow was Thursday, October 28th, 1999. “K”, being from Los Angeles, had established himself as our floor’s resident cool guy. He encouraged us to consider every Thursday “Thirsty Thursday”, because that’s what his Persian brothers in Los Angeles called it. Now two months into the semester, everyone was in love with Thirsty Thursday. “K” had a fake ID, and I had a car. I drove him to the liquor store on Thursday afternoon. He bought a bunch of beers and some vodka. He offered to give me one of the six-packs of Corona for free, as a “token of gratitude” for driving him. I told him, for the fourth time that semester, that I didn’t drink and didn’t plan to start. He laughed at the explanation. He told me “It’s only a matter of time, bro”.
Being the sixth full-blown Thirsty Thursday on the fourth floor, it was the biggest one yet. Most of our sister floor had heard of Thirsty Thursday at this point. Most of them wandered up. Alison wasn’t one of them. It was near eight PM. I went downstairs to talk to Alison. The Chinese girl stopped me. I talked to her for a half an hour. She was lonely. The Amish guy who lived in the dorm room next to mine had taken her roommate out to dinner at some restaurant downtown. The Amish guy liked the Chinese girl’s roommate; the Chinese girl’s roommate didn’t like the Amish guy. Neither her roommate nor the Amish guy talked to the Chinese girl. She intuited all of this from their body languages. She said that they made her sad. She said she was sad that her roommate was out eating dinner with a guy she didn’t even like. She said she was sure her roommate had a boyfriend somewhere. “She falls asleep with the phone in the bed every night,” the Chinese girl told me. “My dad calls me all the time. Because of the time zone difference, that means the phone rings at sometimes six in the morning. She answers the phone on the first ring. Then she just jabs the phone into my skull to wake me up.”
We talked this over for a while. She told me about her boyfriend in China. He was studying medicine. He was three years older than her. He was very tall and very handsome. She told me she had a picture of him. She wanted to show me the picture. I looked at it. She wasn’t in the photo. He was standing alone in a tuxedo. “This is him at his brother’s wedding.” Without her standing next to him, I couldn’t tell how tall he was. Unable to rule on his height then, today I am unable to rule on his handsomeness.
I went to Alison’s room. The door was wide open. Mary Death was alone. She was lying on her top bunk with her hands folded on her stomach. Her eyes were wide open. I knocked my knuckles on the open door.
“Hey Mary Death,” I said.
“Hey,” she said. “Alison’s taking a shower.”
It turned out that the guy she liked didn’t like her.
“Have you fucked Alison yet?” Mary Death asked me.
“No, not yet.”
“You need to get up in there ASAP,” Mary Death said.
“Oh. What, really?”
“She’s got the hunger.”
“She’s horny as hell. She’s hot like Georgia asphalt.”
I’m looking at this conversation right now, and wondering why an eighteen-year-old freckly girl from Milwaukee was talking like that.
“Well, I mean, I mean.”
“She’s like totally in love with you, you know.”
“Oh—oh. Is she?”
“She said you guys almost did it the other night and then you chickened out.”
“Whoa! Really. She said that?”
“Don’t tell her I told you. She’d kill me.”
Alison walked into the room. She was wearing a fuzzy bathrobe and pink flip-flops. Her shoulder-length blonde hair was wet. She was rubbing at it with a towel.
“Hey, what’s going on on your floor tonight?”
“It’s Thirsty Thursday, duh!” Mary Death said. “They’ve got like gallons of booze up there.”
“Huh. So that’s why everyone went up there, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I said.
“Are you going up there Mary Death?” Alison asked her roommate.
“No. I’m going to lie here in my own shame.”
“If you guys want to sixty-nine or something just do it on your bunk.”
“If you go up there, bring me down a screwdriver?”
“What’s a screwdriver?”
“That’s orange juice and vodka,” I told Alison.
“Hey, that sounds good.”
“Hey — how do you know anything about alcohol?” Mary Death asked me. “I thought you were all straight edge and shit.”
“I’m not a straight edge,” I said. “It’s just, uh, Ordell Robbie drinks screwdrivers in ‘Jackie Brown’.”
“What a nerd. Alison, are you going up there?”
“Hmm. Maybe.” She wrapped the towel around her head. “Hey, I’ll dry my hair and then maybe we can go upstairs and hang out for a little bit?”
“Alright,” I said. I sat on the inflatable sofa. “Beetlejuice” was playing on the tiny television. It was Mary Death’s favorite movie. Alison dried her hair. She painted her toenails. I blew on her toenails for her. She was really cute. She had a good body. She’d been a gymnast in high school. My fingertips can recall the tension of her skin even today. She was so sexy. I wanted to have sex with her. I wanted to go down on her the way my girlfriend had taught me to go down on her. I wanted to do a lot of stuff to her. Also, she was nice. Also, she was smart, and she was going to be a doctor, and she played the French horn.
Alison’s hair dried. We went upstairs. We said hi to my neighbor Keith. His Korean roommate was out with the Korean girls from the 8th floor. Keith was drinking a bottle of beer and playing Final Fantasy. We talked to him for a little bit. We went to K’s room. K and his roommate Jake and my roommate Strange — his last name was Strange, so we called him “Strange” — were busy getting drunk with Keith’s other neighbor Nick. Everyone said hi to me. They all liked me. I helped them write papers and I helped them talk to girls. In return, they burned CDs for me and spoke highly of me in the company of new people and girls.
I didn’t know Nick very well. He came over to my room sometimes to hand me burned CDs I didn’t want. He had attached himself to me and Keith’s pastime of speaking in Scottish accents. Me and Keith’s accents were believable. That was the whole point of us doing them. We’d watched “Trainspotting” a lot. Nick would come up to us in cafeterias and start screeching out “Aye there laddies”, just blowing a mile-wide hole in our cover. We didn’t like him. I think he knew we didn’t like him. He definitely knew that the three all-American blonde third-floor freshman girls who hung around his dorm room all the time asking him to burn CDs had publicly declared to the third floor that me and Keith were Totally The Most Boneable Dudes On The Fourth Floor. Nick thought he was my friend. I suppose this made Nick my friend. I still didn’t like him. Despite my not liking him, Nick went ahead and spoke highly of me in front of Alison.
“What’s your name, baby?” he said to her.
“Alison,” she said.
“How’d you meet this legendary motherfucker right here?”
“We’re friends,” she said.
“Her roommate is thirsty,” I said. “We came up here to get her roommate a drink.”
“What’s she want?” K asked.
“She said to get her a screwdriver, if you have orange juice.”
“You’re the one drove me to the liquor store,” K said. “You know I got the orange juice hookup, baby.”
He poured some vodka and some orange juice into a red cup.
“What’ll you be having?” Nick asked Alison.
“I’m fine,” she said.
“You sure are,” Nick said.
Alison and I took Mary Death’s drink downstairs. Alison and I sat around for a while. I had to go to bed early. I had a seven AM class.
The next night was Friday night. Every fraternity was having a Halloween party. I didn’t want to go to a Halloween party. Alison wanted to go, and my friend Big Joe wanted to go. We went to a couple parties. Alison drank a little bit.
We got back to the dorm around two in the morning. K, Jake, and Nick were drinking in K’s room. Alison and I went into my room, probably to have sex. Strange was in there. He was jerking off. He stopped jerking off. None of us said anything about his having been jerking off. He was six foot eight and about a hundred and fifty pounds. He was nineteen and he looked like he was thirty-five. It’s weird to see a guy like that jerking off. He was just wearing his boxers. We could see all of his ribs. He was just sitting in his office chair staring at a blank computer monitor. When we came in and interrupted him he got up and went into K’s room. Alison and I sat up on my top bunk. We laughed about Strange having been jerking off. She said something about how a guy that tall probably has a penis the length of a baseball bat. She said she maybe wanted a beer.
We went over to K’s room. Alison said she wanted a beer. K gave her a beer. She drank it all. K was listening to the new Sugar Ray album, which he’d stolen off of Napster. The music offended my sensibilities. I insulted the music. I said, “I didn’t know Styrofoam could sing.” K laughed it up. We had a good time. Strange was sitting on the floor in the corner, his long skinny bare legs in a pile. He kept looking up at me and Alison out of the tops of his eyes. Alison drank her beer. Then she drank another one. Then she said, “Hey, want to see something?” She tilted her head back. She deep-throated the beer bottle. All the guys clapped.
“Hang on to this one!” K said.
“Boys, finish off this vodka,” Nick said. “I have a request of the lady here.” He looked at me. He winked.
My phone was ringing in my room across the hall. I went to answer it. It was my friend in Boston. He told me that my ex-girlfriend was depressed. She’d not left her apartment in a week.
“You should call her and talk to her,” he said.
I didn’t call her.
I went back to K’s room. The door was closed. I knocked. Jake let me in. Alison was sitting on the floor. They were all smoking weed. Keith had sold them weed. Keith had also loaned them an empty Pepsi bottle full of dryer sheets, with a hole cut out of the side.
“Hey,” Alison said. She coughed. “What’s up.”
“Oh, nothing,” I said.
I wanted to say, “Hey, want to hang out?” I wanted to say, “Hey, let’s go hang out in my room.” I wanted to say, “Hey, let’s go hang out in your room.”
Instead, I said, “Hey, I’m just going to go to bed.”
“Oh, okay,” she said.
I’d parked my car in the dorm parking lot. I decided to go move the car to Big Joe’s house and then walk a half a mile back to the dorm. I went downstairs. I got in my car. I drove to Wal-Mart. This was back when Wal-Mart still had a hyphen in its name. I bought a six-pack of Sprite. I drank one in the car. I sat in the Wal-Mart parking lot. My car cassette player’s clock reset every time I turned the car on. I was so tired I couldn’t remember what time it was. I looked at my watch. It was two forty-eight AM. I remembered the then-popular, inescaple-in-my-dorm-in-southern-Indiana song “3am” by Matchbox 20. It was three AM, and I must have been lonely. I drove to Big Joe’s house. I left the Sprites in the car. The weather would keep them cold. I walked back to the dorm. It was three-thirty in the AM. I wasn’t tired. Strange wasn’t snoring in his bed. K and Jake and Strange were giggling in the room across the hall. I went over and said hi. Big Joe was in there, too. He was drinking vodka out of a red plastic cup.
“What’s with that girl?” K asked.
“Deepthroat,” K said. “Are you and her bumpin’ uglies?”
“Nah,” I said. “We’re just friends.”
“I thought so,” K said. “Hey, doesn’t she look like a duck?”
“What do you mean?”
“Her lips. She looks like one of Uncle Scrooge’s nephews, yo.”
All the guys laughed.
Jake said, “Is she fuckin’ Nick right now or what?”
“She was hammered,” K said. “Now she’s gettin’ hammered.”
“She does sort of look like a duck,” Big Joe said. Then he continued being morose.
A lot happened that night. After Strange fell asleep and was snoring in my room with all the lights on and both windows open, I made Big Joe weep openly in the hallway. He wept so openly that he collapsed onto the floor. I’d be here all day if I explained how I made Big Joe weep. It was tremendous and terrible. Big Joe’s sobs were huge. They echoed through the hall. Nick’s door opened. Nick emerged. He was shirtless. He was wearing little briefs.
“What’s going on out here?”
Big Joe said a few words.
“Oh god,” Nick said. He looked like a ghost. Nick sat down next to me and Big Joe.
Alison emerged from Nick’s room. She wasn’t wearing shoes. She walked toward the stairwell. I felt lost. I didn’t sleep.
At seven in the morning, I got a disposable cereal bowl from the dorm kitchen. I sat on a bench in the breezeway in a good cold air. Alison emerged from the dorm. She walked past me. She didn’t look at me. She turned around. She came back to me. She sat next to me. She didn’t look at me. I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios with whole milk.
“Are you going swimming today?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m . . . going to eat some cereal and then go up and, and get my stuff from my room. I want to try to get to the SRC before nine, I guess, before it fills up.”
“Nick raped me,” she said.
“I know,” I said.
“Oh god,” she said. She let out a long sigh. “Oh, god.”
I wanted to put my hand on her leg. I didn’t put my hand on her leg.
“What—what are you going to . . .”
“Ohhhhh god,” Alison said.
“Do you want to go inside?”
She shot her eyes at mine.
“Do I want to go inside? No, I don’t want to go inside. No, I don’t want to go inside. I don’t want to go inside. I’m going to stay right here.”
“Do you—should I go inside.”
“Get away from me,” she said.
“Sorry,” I said. “Sorry—I’ll go inside. I’ll get away from you.”
She was silent. Her legs were crossed. Her hands were fists. Her fists were next to each other atop her knee. I stood up. She blinked. She sniffed. I left her alone.
I felt bad all day. I went swimming. I helped my friend on the eighth floor study English. I helped her until the sun had gone down. At eight PM, she said she had to go to bed. She had church early in the morning. She was in the choir. She had to be there early. She invited me to come to her church to see her sing. It was the United Korean Methodist Church. It was right across the street from our dorm. She said I had to get there at 8AM. She was singing only during the Korean service. She said there would be breakfast of kimchee and rice in the yard afterward. I told her I’d do my best to show up. She said that probably meant I wasn’t coming. That week, she was right. Eventually, I made it over there. She smiled at me many times while singing. She later introduced me to her best friend. I dated her best friend for over a year. I broke her friend’s heart in Venice, Italy in June of 2001, when we were both adults.
On the evening of October 30th, 1999, I was alone. Strange and his friends had gone to the football game that afternoon. They’d been talking about that football game for a month. That football game was the one they were going to go to, and then get into Jake’s car and drive to Louisville. They’d been talking about Louisville for a month. “Just two more weeks.” “Just eleven more days.” Et cetera. One of the guys on our floor was from Louisville. His last name was Murphy. They called him Murph. One of Murph’s brothers worked at a strip club in Louisville. Murph’s brother was going to let Strange, Jake, K, and Murph into the strip club. They wouldn’t be back until Sunday morning.
Keith was at a rave. He went to raves on Saturday nights. He invited me every week. “I fully expect you to decline,” he said, every week. He was a smart guy. “And I don’t blame you. People are terrible out there.” When we were playing videogames in Keith’s room, we’d taken to calling the entire world outside of Keith’s room “Big Jail”.
I was alone in my room. I read a book. I listened to some music. I went to a nearby dorm’s cafeteria. I drank a chocolate milk and ate a slice of cheese pizza. I liked the girl who worked at the pizza place there. She was a law student. I knew her from my 1970s Japanese feminist literature class. I went out on one date with her, after new year’s. Nothing came of it. We were barely on a first-name basis the night of October 30th, 1999. The cafeteria closed at midnight — it was open the latest of all the cafeterias — so at around eleven forty-five they did an announcement telling everyone to get out. I told her goodnight. I told her I’d see her in class on Tuesday. She smiled. I bought a pack of chocolate frosted donuts at the convenience store in that dorm. I could eat anything those days. I had abs.
The courtyard between my dormitory building and the cafeteria was empty and cold. The sky was black. The lights were orange. Three emergency phone boxes’ blue lights blinked in the darkness alongside the path back home.
I got in a few minutes before midnight. The dorm was empty. Friday night’s Halloween parties had only been the beginning. Saturday night’s Halloween parties were bigger and wilder. I sat in my desk chair. I dialed in to my email client. I looked at my watch just as the “:59:59” crossed over to “:00:00”.
I picked up the telephone. I dialed Alison’s room.
The phone rang four times. I hung up.
I told myself I’d wait one hour and then I’d call her again. She was never asleep before three AM.
I spent an hour writing an email to my penpal in England. Six months later, I’d have a girlfriend — my Korean friend’s best friend. A year after that, she and I would be vacationing in London. I’d meet my penpal for the first time. I’d spend a day with her, at my girlfriend’s encouragement. It turns out that my Korean friend put my girlfriend up to it. She told my girlfriend to let me meet my internet penpal, and that if I didn’t fall in love with her, then I was worth keeping, and if I did fall in love with her, I was never worth keeping. I neither fell in love with nor didn’t fall in love with my internet penpal. However, we did both want to have a lot of sex with one another. We could each read this desire on the other the instant we met. We were young. We’d never seen photographs of one another. We’d first met online in 1996. It was a lot of work to send someone a photograph of yourself on the internet in 1996. When we saw each other’s faces for the first time, we already knew everything about each other. We also already knew everything about everyone we each knew.
After midnight on October 31st, 1999, my email told her about Nick and Alison.
I sent the email. I sat in silence for several minutes. I looked at my watch. The “:59:59” crossed over to “:00:00”. It was one in the morning.
I dialed Alison’s number. It rang four times. I was about to hang up.
Alison picked up.
“Who is this?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry — uh — I’m sorry. Were you asleep?”
“No. I was just — I was studying.”
“Oh. Well, I was just wondering if you, uh, if you wanted to hang out, or talk, or . . .”
“Hey, I’m — maybe, yeah, can you just give me an hour? I can probably be done studying in an hour. Can you call me back in an hour?”
“Yeah, I’ll call you back in an hour.”
“Alright, I’ll talk to you soon.”
I hung up.
I looked at my watch. It was one AM and forty-eight seconds.
I laid on my back in my bed. I locked my fingers behind my head. I looked at the ceiling. I closed my eyes. I tried to imagine a random word. This is one of my favorite sleep exercises even today. I try to think of a word that possesses no connection to any experience I experienced in the last twenty-four hours. If a word possesses any connection to any recent experience, I deem it “not random”. For example, if I think of “lollipop”, and I then remember that today I made a doctor’s appointment for next week, I’d have to throw the word away, because doctors give children lollipops. I think for another word. I’m thinking for multiple words on multiple tracks at all times. Within minutes my memory is looking at so many angles of so many memories. The small memories of any given day can be moments spent inside larger memories of older days. The impossibility of this exercise escalates as I grow wise. It is a positive impossibility. I’m thirty-five years, five months, eight days, nine hours, fourteen minutes, and some sub-sixty number of seconds old right now, and my autobiographical memories are so dense that this mental exercise is sheerly hypnotic in its impossibility. For moments every night, I open my mind to the possibility to imagine something perfectly unexpectable. I fail more often than I succeed. I have learned (on accident) to remain invisible to disappointment if I fail. Failure to imagine the purely random opens an expansive hypnotic prismatic soup of memories, none of them bigger or smaller or more or less reach-out-and-touchable than any other. Ninety-nine nights out of a hundred, this spikes me into a spiral of sleep.
Some nights, my imagination falls away, and I am stuck in an ocean of a single temperature and a single color, conscious, tired, and not asleep, counting the seconds of my life with what it scares me to consider is a perfect rhythm.
The early morning of October 31st, 1999, I did not fall asleep. I swam in thoughts and memories of ancient childhood and recent recollections of speculative fiction. I was writing a novel, at that time, about a man who falls in love with the artificial intelligence voice narrator of his Everywhere Device. “Everything You Own Everywhere You Go” was the name of that novel. I had no idea that in fourteen years Spike Jonze would make a movie on pretty much the same story. Oh well: no good idea is one person’s alone. That night I swam in the fractal-spiraling possibility web of that novel’s plot. I chose each path that veered away from thinking about Alison.
I didn’t look at my watch. I picked up the phone. It was a cordless phone. I pressed the “on” button just as my watch’s hourly chime went off. I dialed Alison’s number. Her phone rang four times. Her phone rang eight times. Her phone rang fourteen times. I hung up. I looked at my watch.
It was one AM and thirty-two seconds.
I took my watch off. I put it on my desk. Tomorrow was Sunday. I didn’t need to wake up for any reason. My roommate would no doubt be watching something NASCAR-related on the television. I yawned.
I looked at my watch again.
It was one-oh-one AM and fifteen seconds.
Time had reversed an hour.
I had traveled one hour backward in time.
I became opaquely obsessive compulsive for a moment. I let the history of my watch rush into my memory. I remembered my first Timex watch. I remembered learning the length of a second. I remembered learning the length of a minute. I remembered learning the length of an hour. I closed my eyes and repeated the drill of my childhood: “This: ‘ ’ is one second. This: ‘ ’ is one minute. This: ‘ ’ is one hour.” I felt and understood the lengths of those intervals in individual instants. I understood time in terms of my physiology.
I remembered my dad taking my Timex watch from me.
“Here, just — give me this a second. You’ve got to move it forward an hour.”
“It’s Daylight Savings Time.”
Indiana opted out of Daylight Savings Time. For half of the year, Indiana was in the Eastern time zone. For the other half of the year, Indiana was in the Central time zone.
My fancy new watch knew the Daylight Savings Time schedule for the Eastern time zone.
A week later, the girlfriend who’d given me that watch was dead.
I ate French fries with Allison at the McDonald’s at a nearby dorm the next day. I never saw her again after that.
Years later, I gave a similar experience to The Tennis Monster. The Tennis Monster is a fictional character in a novel I wrote. The novel’s title is “Chronicle of a Tennis Monster”. The Tennis Monster has a terrible skin condition and can serve a tennis ball at three hundred and fourteen miles per hour. The world hates her because she is hideous. The world hates her because she broke tennis. I wrote her story a half dozen times. The second time I wrote it, I gave her my ability to count seconds and minutes with perfect accuracy. I decided that she should have it. I wanted someone to have it. I wondered what it would feel like if someone asked me where I came up with the idea. No one ever asked: I never showed the novel to anyone. Now, I’m writing it again, for what I hope is the last time. It really is a stupid, ugly, dark, sad story. Maybe it’s literature. We’ll see.
I’m thirty-five years, five months, eight days, nine hours, twenty-two minutes, and some sub-sixty number of seconds old at this moment. I have an illness I can’t ignore. A few weeks before I sold my car a few months ago, I went up to the misty mountains north of San Francisco to visit a yoga guru who lived in a giant modern house full of guitars and Japanese art. This man was a yoga healer. His house was beautiful. The view was beautiful. He had a hot tub on his deck. The man was very large. His beard was very large. His poodle was very large. The poodle’s hair was fluffy. I was tired. My Best Friend Lily Wang had made me take her to this place. It was a healing workshop. We were there to learn how to heal. Lily Wang told me I could be a very good healer.
The house was cold. I was wearing white shorts and a white shirt and no socks. My feet were cold. We did meditations on the cold floor. The healer told us all to “relax”. I remembered all the people I’ve known. I wonder how many of them can “relax”. I don’t think too many of them can relax. I can relax. It’s been years of effort for me to learn to relax.
Relaxing for me is the nobility of a futile attempt to remember nothing. As long as we live, the task of remembering nothing becomes increasingly impossible. You begin with a memory of nothing, and you graduate toward acceptance of an inability to not remember. It is our inability to not remember that results in our being alive. You find salvation or healing in a meditation when despite your best efforts some memory returns to you, and you hang meaning on it, and you ask yourself later why you remembered that particular memory at that particular moment.
For me, at the end of the futility of attempting to remember nothing, I conjure up a number of years, months, days, hours, and minutes that I have been alive. I know this number is correct to the minute and the time zone (I unfortunately do not know the position of the second-hand at my birth-instant). I feel each second tick into the future. With each second, I let my mind rewrite the numbers — years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds.
Between the meditations, everyone in the workshop ate. I took a nap on the floor. The poodle stood over me. He stared into my eyes. I pet him. He was fluffy. The people came back into the large room. It was just the healer, his wife, Lily Wang, and one older guy. Before we could start the next round of healing, an older lady came in. Everyone talked for a few minutes. The healer’s wife told a story of her friends who invited angels to their house. They held a party the night the angels were supposed to show up. Many people left before the angels showed up. The angels showed up and knocked over pots and pans. They made a great noise in the kitchen. They left as suddenly as they’d appeared.
The healer asked us to practice healing on a partner. He knew I knew Lily Wang. He made me heal the older guy. The older guy laid on his back. I put my hand on the older guy’s wrist. We all sat in silence for eleven minutes. I counted the minutes. It was exactly eleven minutes. I looked at the healer. He was looking at me. He didn’t have a stopwatch. Neither did I.
“I felt something,” the older man said. “Have you done this before?” he asked me.
“Some people pick this up more quickly than others,” the healer said. “He might be a natural.”
It was colder in the mountains when we were done. The mist was higher. It took two minutes to turn my car around in the narrow gravel driveway. I pointed my car at the city. It was a long drive down the mountain. It was dark when I got to my house.
Daylight Savings Time ended on November 2nd this year. The clocks in my kitchen — a microwave and a stove — do not know the Daylight Savings Time schedule. My iPhone 5s clock fell back during my sleep the night of November 1st. I woke up exactly one hour before the alarm went off.
I moved into this apartment three years, five months, and twenty-two days ago. I bought a microwave the next day. I synchronized the clock on my microwave with the clock on my iPhone 4. Then I noticed that the clock on the stove was eighteen minutes faster than the clock on my phone. I synchronized all three clocks to one another.
Now three years, five months, and twenty-one days after I synchronized the clocks, the stove clock is nine minutes ahead of my iPhone 5s clock. The microwave clock is now seventeen minutes ahead of my iPhone 5s clock.
I plug earbuds into my phone every night before bed. I listen to a white noise application. It lets me make my own noise mixes. I lay down the sound of a hard rain atop a white noise, atop a brown noise, with the rhythm-perfect ticking of a grandfather clock on top. I put a mask over my eyes. I put Vicks Vap-o-Rub on my face. I listen to the grandfather clock pendulum. I count along with it. I imagine the quarter-second clickings of a stopwatch underneath the grandfather clock and atop the white noise. If I relax my mind just so, the grandfather clock disappears, and the stopwatch disappears, and only white noise remains.
I’ve spent three years, in accidental moments, trying to determine the different lengths of a second. My stove, my microwave, my iPhone 5s, and my heart disagree in tiny, petty, galactic, absolute ways. I think about my three clocks and I remember my old watch. I remember the night Daylight Savings Time surprised me. I remember the weeks before and after that. I hunt for random words. I find no imagination. I hunt for random memories. I find everything. I consider the various lengths of a second. I find heartbreaks the size of the conceivable universe. I consider what we might mean when we say a clock is wrong: we might mean that time only always agrees with itself. A second hand ticking past the twelve in the back of a child’s mind is a buoy in an ocean of memories each itself the size of an ocean. Time is bigger and smaller than this: what we might mean when we say a clock is wrong is that anything can be wrong. We might mean anything. This consideration is a gateway toward more memory, more oceans, more silence, and more questions. Everyone survives inside there exactly as they were and are. It’s sad. It’s not sad. It’s natural.
Would that I could gather up these memories of those air temperatures and sun-heats in a cup of hands as snow or sand, should I restore this inseparability of experience into concrete — if I could for a single memorable day be what I have felt — all the departing hair, skin, and nails of the past would come back to me, and the world would know my monster; we would all see what I see: what mangy, prickly, leather amoebas (I : we) (am : are / would become).