Somewhere in the darkness. I know not the hour, for there is no bedside analog, nor the ticking and tolling of the hour and half-hour that marked the passage of night from the mantle of my youth. I may be awake or asleep, or in some space between where the conscious and subconscious dance the Valse triste, a bony hand lightly placed in the small of his fleshy partner’s back. A light film of dust arises from the shuffle of sinew and bone across this ancient ballroom floor.
Everyone will waltz if they have seen enough sunsets. The very young may be spared. Not enough memories. Balance sheet heavy on happiness, the burden of sadness and regret entered in pencil in the margin of their thin ledger.
Thirty-seven years gone by. Few dreams of him until lately.
He is as I remember him, the age at which he passed. I suppose it is cognitively impossible to remember someone older than they were, even more impossible to see yourself older than they. I am younger in these dreams, even though the timeline is skewed or bent beyond the linear.
She is there too. Young. Aloof. Oblivious. Too pretty and unfettered to notice my presence in the shadows. Or perhaps I know that she does, and this is the wound that will not heal.
These dreams are always a slant-wise remembrance, youthful sorrow. More often the learning of sorrow, for such must be learned by the young. The loss of an innocence, a summation or accumulation of singular events that make a young heart old before its time.
Always a moment, just when my heart begins to break, that I notice that he is at my side. Never a word. No expression. No comfort or advice. Just present.
I sometimes awake in a cold sweat, bearings lost for the moment, a solitary traveler seeking a trail-sign — a broken branch, a boot-print. Passage through the dripping fog and darkness of an ancient forest. My breath heavy. Heart pierced.
In the light of day I am told that there is no point in looking back. Best not go there. Give no lodging to regrets. The past cannot be altered and my time is thin. She tells me I am beyond the mid-point, that I should focus on the days I have left. No sense sifting through the ashes, looking for relics either happy or sad. Eyes forward. Make memories for those you will leave behind.
This is cheerful advice, meant-well and well-paid. But the truth is our days past are all we do have. A summation. The one true mystery of the quotient. Because a word spoken cannot be brought back across the lips onto a sharp tongue. A sight will not be unseen, nor a sound unheard. Acts forgiven, yes, but never forgotten.
A man cannot un-think a thought.
And so I am left with him in the night, unsettled and wondering at the meaning of his presence in this time and place, after so many years of absence. Is he here to witness the sum of my sorrows, or simply to remind that I will be joining him soon?