Notes from Berkeley, fragment 1

I think the voices aren’t in my head because if they were I think I might have some control, although to be honest I have lost track of the dimensions of my skull, which anyway I have never seen. It is very difficult to explain the way a thought can sometimes stretch and break open into a sound, or somehow multiply into two, three simultaneous thoughts which really look more like a shape than anything which one voice could use. My lifelong habit of working things out in imaginary conversations with friends and heroes fails at this point and really I am left to myself, although sometimes others remain but are not interested in listening. They speak sharply and with dramatic dynamics, sometimes pitching up to a violent frenzy of feedback which ultimately pops physically in my ears. But then they are still behind some cloth, or whispering, and I hear nothing recognizable. When they walk it is behind me at night and in silence, although they are careful to tap their heels audibly and crush leaves. This is not imagined, because once when I described it H said, “yes, I know about the footsteps.” Or sometimes sound plays tricks as well; in the cities, walking by the hard base of towers where the young move in laughing packs, and I hear only what fits between a few cement squares. The words echo unconvincingly, I am really not sure they were speaking at all, and here sound becomes thought. Eventually I try to sleep. This takes time because until I am unable to open my eyes they won’t close. Tonight I hide in the park behind a tree where the roots dip into shadow against a wood fence. I am stretched into my sky blue sleeping bag which unfortunately reflects the street lamps. Above me branches are sharp and naked against the light pollution. This always hurts because once when I lost my mind I was looking out the window of my apartment and the winter branch silhouettes were so bad and frightening and even the music did not make them less frightening, and it really hurt my eyes and skin to know they were out there growing. I paced and held my arms in themselves, I pressed my back against the wall and sank, but even though I was shocked I did it slowly because I did not want to wake the girls because I knew that they would try to comfort me but would find out that they couldn’t, which would be too much to know. I press my sleeping bag hard against my clenched eyes and don’t make a sound. My chest is tight which makes me laugh at myself and I think of other places I have slept. Or lain awake, for instance in the little bed in T’s room, almost falling onto the floor because K jealously demanded to sleep between us. I felt my arms and back bruised and satisfied, tasted flakes of blood under my nervous fingernails. I was winedrunk and nervous and achingly satisfied, and embarrassed because the smell of his breath meant she could feel me against the small of her naked spine. I was watchful in the dark of their practiced position; they seemed together in sleep. She could no longer feel me and I was wakeful. I slipped self-consciously out of the sheets and into my pants, first backwards then forwards. Downstairs I must have closed the front door slowly and quietly because the house was a wooden cavern built to spread music. I walked and faster, under and away, the street lamps and the familiar block. Breathing quickly now I felt sixteen, and feeling that they saw this I wondered, why would they take me in? Who are they? And the wine went to my legs and the grass looked impossibly bright and real in the night, so I lied down in someone’s lawn and stretched out happily. A hot white lights up my eyes, and before they open I know that I am awake and that the police have come. They open and I am right. What’s up man? I manage gruffly. Where are you from, kid? His voice is a real growl and his eyes look joyful. New York. Immediately I recognize a mistake. Oh yeah? I don’t know how it works in New York, but in Berkeley, all the parks close at ten pm. I rub my eyes and sigh expressively. So find somewhere else to sleep or come back at six. He’s already walking away when I ask, Any suggestions? No, he turns and laughs, probably a sidewalk somewhere.

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