Here/Not Here

I chipped my tooth again. Last night. I was in the hallway bending down to look at mud on the floor as my son Nicholas was crouched below. He sprung up, froglike, unaware of my head nearby. He knocked me so hard on the side of cheek that my front tooth came out.  Or rather, part of my front tooth. Part is real, part isn't.

21 years ago (Feb 26, 1995 to be precise) the same tooth was chipped by my then friend Margaret. We had all just been at Westhaven Beach near Trindad CA. (Margaret and I didn't become a couple until later in the summer of the following year, 1996) We had been shooting a scene for my super-8 film (with the unfortunate title "One Wacky Mornin'"). George was in the film so he was there, me, Marsha, Margaret, Matt. Marsha drove us all back in her Volvo to the house on Beverly Drive in the Sunnybrae neighborhood of Arcata, (where I was finally officially finally transferred to HSU, after 2 semesters at CR, taking film classes like Cinematography I with John Heckel, for which I was making the Super 8 film). Margaret slid out of the back seat, headed up toward the house. I leaned out the open door to say something smart-ass like hurry up or lets go (she was running in to get something. wallet? Red? ) unaware that she was in the act of pushing the car door shut behind her. The window was half-down and met me right across the teeth.

Last night after verifying my jaw/cheekbone wasn't damaged - N hit it very hard - I went downstairs and found my journal from then Winter/Spring 1995. I was an avid journal-writer in those days. My journal writing taking the place of making anything. I was taking film classes yes and had fierce burning urge to make movies but with deficit of facility and things-to-say. The journal was interim life-raft that I mistook for something meaningful. It has different meaning now as document/snapshot so in one sense it's always contained meaning but the meaning has transformed across the years. I read several consecutive passages: I was 23. Finally feeling somewhere I belonged (or at least could grow to belong) and yet contending w/ some extreme alienation, alone-ness, probable depression. As I read I was struck by how much time has passed and how I am yet in the vice grip of that trio. One passage in particular had me in a piano practice room - I wouldn't take Intro to Piano with Deborah Clasquin until the fall but I would always sneak into the rooms to mess around - staring into a mirror and wondering who the fuck was staring back. Later in the journal contains a embarrassing passage about my imminent world-domination as a filmmaker. Based on zero evidence just gut feeling but i really know that feeling was me vs the world, me delaying, me deferring, me saying just you motherfuckers wait.

I kept reading, hoping to find a great narrative document of what happened when I chipped my tooth but nothing of note. Just a a single sentence at the bottom of the page in a rambling passage of early 20s spew (sample: The heart is split like a harness, a canvas for the finger, the hand, the soul before the solitary painter who mirrors, who reflects.) There it was, a single sentence, no context: I chipped my tooth again.

I have no idea what the 1995 'again' refers to (I chipped my tooth in 3rd grade. Am I referring to that?) but the 2016 'again' refers to 1995.

2 days ago I was at a memorial service. Seeing photos flip by, projected onto the screen - infant one second, parent the next, in the throes of debilitation in the next - crushed me. Vital, then not. Here, not here. There's a Kubrick quote that best gets at what fucks me up about it all: The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent. The scope, breadth, joys/fears of entire existence reduced to a tiny room, an open bar, a speech, then nothing. Just the programmed hum of the HVAC, clicking on/off whether you are present or not.

In Fall of 1995 I was taking Intro to Piano with Deborah Clasquin. [By coincidence Margaret was in the class too. But she wasn't there that often since it was early in the AM and since she and Red were actively splitting. Margaret dropped the class eventually.] Deborah was a great instructor, patient, deliberate, kind. At the very back of the journal I found a ticket stub from a public performance she gave. Feb 4, 1995. It was the kind of artifact one shares on social media these days so I did a quick search for her with aim to send it her way.

Only to discover she died almost 7 years ago, March 10, 2009. I had no connection to her beyond the class, had no contact with her in 20 years but it still hit me sideways, not unlike my son springing up, uncertain my head was just over him. Vital then not. Here, not here.

I am prone to look for meaning in things where maybe there is none. Maybe that makes me no different than anyone. Maybe the answer is always nothing, coincidence, indifference. Maybe the older you get the more numbers, lives/deaths, coincidences you contend with and sift through.
But all that said:
what does it mean that the woman who became my wife broke my tooth in the exact same place 21 years before our son would? What does it mean that the same forces I felt aligning against me in my 20s are still present? What does it mean that my journal is filled with arrogant puffery about the filmmaker I hoped I would become? What does it mean that the night I saw Deborah Clasquin's performance was 22 days away from when my tooth would get chipped, was 21 years and 5 weeks from when it would get chipped again, was 10 years and 1 day away from my 1st brain surgery, was 2 months after Nicholas K - our son's namesake -  died in his van outside Trinidad CA driving back from Portland, was 14 years and 5 weeks from her existing any longer? 

I am writing this at my day job and the HVAC just clicked on here.


Stephilius said...

I love what you intermittently write here. (Sorry about the tooth, though.) But it's usually the sort of thing that feels wrong to actively compliment. Too personal, too delicate of tone to give a verbal high-five. But what you write always makes me think and "listen". Witness. And I really do appreciate that.

Brian Padian said...

thanks Stephen for reading and high-fiving me

Theresa Kennedy DuPay said...

I really like this! It is that random fear of the chaos and the indifference that is most frightening. And we continue to search for meaning. No matter what. We do. It's this human thing that just doesn't change much. Great essay. I enjoyed it!