Thursday, December 31, 2009

We're As Far As We Can Tell

One last story for 2009.

Wishing you a happy and safe new year...

Boston, the 1980s: I'd gone to a forgettable rock show in a small club with a quirky girl who almost always wore red tights. After, I wound up back at her place with a bunch of her friends. They all knew each other really well and I felt like an outsider. We sat around drinking in her small apartment in an old brick building about a mile from my crappy one bedroom. Heat was included in her rent (because there was only one thermostat for 45 apartments), but the entire building was sweltering. And, like most winter nights, the windows were open.

They traded familiar stories while listening to the radio. They were a tight group who had their own shorthand (which I didn't get) and in-jokes (which I likewise didn't get). Still, I loved what the radio was playing (this was during those few months when it looked like the music I'd adored all my life would become mainstream and take over the world) as the rain from the evening gradually turned to sleet and then to snow. She smiled when she caught me daydreaming, perhaps knowing I was imagining what it would feel like to run my fingers along those red tights.

The night was soft and quiet. Even with the windows open, we couldn't hear much traffic. It was late, it was snowing, and there just weren't any cars around.

And then it happened. But not like the movies. Not like you see on TV.

There was no squealing of brakes and no spectacular smashing of glass. Just a huge thunk. And then screaming.

"We should help," I said and ran to grab my coat.

"No," she said. "It's cold. Someone else will help. We're safe and warm. And we're young and we live in the best city in the world for young people."

The others agreed with her. She handed me another beer. I glanced at the red tights.

And I hesitated. Because I wanted to stay. And be young and carefree. And maybe even fit in with a group and have my own shorthand and in-jokes.

"We should help," I said again. And she smiled, thinking I was looking for an excuse not to.

"Someone else will help. We should dance."

And she started swaying back and forth. From far away, I could hear an ambulance.

"See?" she said, dancing faster. "Help is coming. We don't have to do anything."

I nodded, then put down my beer. "I'll be right back."

Downstairs, there were a dozen people gathered around the new car, which had crashed into a telephone pole. A woman was bleeding from her forehead and sobbing as the crowd tried to help her male companion. A few year later, cars would have airbags and both passengers would have walked away. Back then, an ambulance drove them off into the snowy night, paramedics working frantically on the guy. There was blood on the white snow, but a fresh dusting covered it before the cops determined there wasn't anyone around who'd actually seen the crash.

Years later, I can't remember the crappy band we saw that night. And I can't remember all the people drinking up in the overheated apartment. But I remember the red tights I'd never touch. And I remember looking up at the open windows and thinking of these lines from a Robyn Hitchcock song:

"There's nothing happening to you
That means anything at all..."

So I turned away from the building, took one last look at the wrecked car, and walked home... about a mile through fresh, beautiful snow.


thingy said...

Once again, you have written a moving story.

I look forward to more wonderful stories and music from you.

Have a good New Year.

Connie said...

Lovely, Alex, just lovely.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Well you ended the year with a beaut – thanks a lot Alex. The bystander syndrome is relatively new to America I believe it is here to stay. “Yes but we gotta move and we might get sued and it looks like it's gonna rain …

Alex said...

Thanks, thingy, Connie & Who!

And happy 2010!