I can still recall with detail the yellow painted walls of the back stairwell at my high school. The black banisters; the small windows teasing us with a view of the East River. The sound of a classmate calling out “look, everyone, Gabriella’s staring at her own boobs!”
The thick smoke, cotton mouth, simmering laughter, and grief have become wrapped up in each other. Being high was the reflex with which I confronted my life.
I am not one to necessarily neglect my health; I know the warning signs of my body. I know I’ve had too much sugar when I get tongue ulcers – or I’ve been drinking too much if I break out – turbulence in airplanes is a direct connection to my anxiety, as is being late, and not hearing from friends in a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. These are the banalities of being a human in a body. But I know it can be much worse – it can be war.
I don’t expect Claudia to answer the phone, so when her voice crackles through the speaker, I rush quickly out of my office to the balcony, stepping into the frigid October afternoon. I’m in London, and when Claudia says hello her voice is heavy with sleep. It’s only 8am on the east coast.
I am a professional listener of music. Years of practice in self-isolation, my headphones lost beneath a mass of curls; hidden – during class, on walks, in the locker room at swim practice. Before technology had caught up with my sleuth listening capabilities, I carried a disc-man around in a knit turquoise bag. I could fit three jewel cases inside with it. Each day, three different CDs. One morning, a classmate nicked it off a bench and hid it. When I realised it was gone I burst into tears in front of our entire middle school. Sobbing, I searched for my homeroom teacher to fix this egregious trespass. Only when the disc-man was safely in my hands did the crying stop. I was 12. I should have been embarrassed, I was embarrassed by nearly everything – but I wasn’t this time. Music was everything.
My life had one continuous soundtrack – the royalties I must owe! – and in all that time, music grew with me. I never allowed a single moment – or person – to taint a song. To mark it with their humanness; sully it with the visceral ephemera of a memory.
The moment my father died was one devoid of music. He folded up the New York Times, and set it beside himself on the sofa. He looked at me and said, “you know, I really love those shoes,” – my brown, well worn, strappy sandals; then he went for a nap. From that point on, my brain only conjures up trauma flashes – frantic, fingers gripping our cordless phone, the tremble of my heart in my chest as I spoke into the receiver ‘my dad is dead’ to the nameless 911 operator. I stood in my apartment. Once there were two people here, now there was one.