Yesterday I was frustrated by my roommate for no real reason, telling myself he was talking too loud on Skype. I rolled around my bed until I decided I had to leave, and walked to sleep in my friend’s room across campus. There I spent the late hours gossiping, writing, and sleeping. The rain and wind slapped around outside–if you closed your eyes it sounded like a faraway roller coaster. Yesterday the roof of our science building caved in, trees fell. My eyes would not stop stinging. Last week my friend Cheyenne and I rode ten different airplanes and trains around the West Coast, going to different cities to see old friends and make new ones. On returning to school I was having none of it. I spent my first day back rubbing my eyes in class, and when the lights turned off to watch a video I couldn’t help dozing off; I hadn’t in at least three days. Behind my eyelids I saw the buttery cookie I ate at the Castro, the drunk mom that was arrested for slapping the train conductor, the band of monsters that boarded the public bus on the way to a Halloween party in Portland, and the man blowing bubbles on the tall grassy hill.
After an experience occurs, our hippocampus must go through a process known as “memory consolidation” in order to transfer the experience to our long-term memory. It has been proven that our memory is extremely malleable, which is both terrible and wonderful. Eyewitness memory is not necessarily trustworthy: there have been many cases in which rape victims are absolutely sure that they see their perpetrator in a lineup but really, their memories have been altered. It has also been shown that the amount of sleep people get affects this consolidation process: more sleep is needed after an enriched experience. A psychological study by Sidarta Ribeiro and others says that, “Deprivation of REM sleep…impairs short-term or declarative memory in both rats and humans, as well as procedural memories in the latter. Furthermore, both formal training and exposure to enriched environments have been shown to increase the amount of subsequent REM sleep in rats. Our study provides evidence showing that brain gene expression during REM sleep depends on previous waking experience.” Perhaps my sleepy, recluse lifestyle this week is a result of all that has happened. It all feels like one beautiful warped mess.
I can’t help but see the patterns in things. On a train to Palo Alto, I sat reading Jonathan Franzen’s essay “My Father’s Brain” on his father’s dementia. I got a phone call from my mom on that train, and she told me grandfather had passed away. He spent his life’s work as a university philosophy professor and, a week before his death, the book he started writing in the year 2000 was finally published. That morning he choked on his retirement home cafeteria breakfast and lost consciousness. Like Franzen’s father, my grandpa had dementia the entire time I knew him. When I returned home later to speak at his funeral, hundreds were in attendance. I spoke to the crowd, saying that, “It makes me sad that there was no real way for us to connect again, once I was old enough to speak on the same register as him. I think it would have been a beautiful and satisfying thing for us to talk about ideas and thoughts and books. Even though this is now impossible, I do take a satisfaction in knowing that thinking around big ideas is in my blood. It comforts me to know that most books I pick up he has probably read before, and most thoughts I have he has probably thought before. Never alone, I will keep him alive in this realm.”
He and my grandmother were married for sixty-one years. They met in high school. As she watched his casket lower into the ground, she kept turning to my mom and whispering, “I want to jump in after him.”
A boy and I have been writing letters back and forth for months, and we finally met. In Dolores Park, we watched a man make giant bubbles out of a pole-and-string instrument, ate ice cream and ran around a playground. He let me sit on his cardigan so I could go down the giant metal slide faster. As with most males, it took me a moment to figure out what he wanted. This was the first time I’ve found a straight male that was so in sync with the way I think, and I didn’t have to hide any part of myself from him to make him feel more secure. Just like that, he became my first male best friend.
One of Cheyenne’s friends is a body positive burlesque dancer and we had the privilege of seeing the dress rehearsal of their Halloween zombie-themed show. It took place in the basement of a bar, and Cheyenne and I were the whole audience. The formally dressed director sat in the corner cross-legged, taking notes. The actors were all different sizes, shapes and ages. A vague plot about a doctor trying to turn people into monsters strung together the strip tease scenes. I wasn’t sure how I feel about a strip show, but I learned burlesque is a very different thing. This show felt particularly empowering, as each of the actors/actresses looked like they were taking a confident charge over their bodies. This was real, psychological seduction.
At Reed College I visited an old friend that is just starting as a freshman. She spent a gap year traveling on freight trains and working on a horse farm in Scotland. She’s the kind of person that has no Facebook, doesn’t really keep track of her phone and somehow manages to writes letters. When I saw her, we both found out we have blue hair. I also forgot that we have this dynamic where when we’re with other people, something awkward will happen, I’ll giggle, and then she’d glance over at me and laugh at my giggling. She brought a friend along when we went vintage shopping that I half-flirted with, because he was sweet and I knew I’d probably never see him again.
Hurricane Sandy delayed my flight to school, and I arrived back to Ohio at ten past midnight. The last shuttle from the airport to school left at midnight. In a sleepy daze I looked for the taxi stand, and didn’t see Caleb until he yelled my name and waved his arms up and down. I asked him how he was getting back to school, and he told me I could ride back with him. I didn’t know him very well, but two weeks earlier we had a strange night together. We saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower in a group, and all went to dinner after. The tone of the night was introspective, and he told us all a very personal, vulnerable story about himself. I later wrote him a letter on how impressed I was by that. That night at the airport he was there to pick up somebody else and happened to have room for me. I thought of Jenny Holzer’s piece, “It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.”
The one day I met my best friend’s boyfriend was the night before I flew home. The three of us sat on the roof watching the stars before going to a hip-hop show in Cleveland. Downtown has always struck me as sterile-looking, but the bar that hosted the show was in a beat-up looking alley. Half the crowd was from my collage, and the other half were random drunk townies. We danced around to the electronic rhythms and unexpectedly tasteful lyrics. The mood was killed when some other dude came on stage and performed bad spoken-word. On that note, we took our leave. At an IHOP, we realized her how drunk her boyfriend was. He kept making funny noises and throwing around his food. His only conversation piece was “Do you guys use separate instruments to trim your toe and fingernails? Or the same one for both?” A week later they broke up.
For more photos of last week, see Cheyenne’s blogspot.