I see him standing just a few feet in front of me yet he speaks as a disembodied voice.
“Just stop trying to make sense of everything.”
“Can we just talk about this for a minute, Keith?”
“We’ve been talking about it for hours. Look at the tape.”
There, on the hood of the car, is a micro-cassette player. The tape is pegged at the stop position with the full 90 minutes of recording time expended.
He says,“That ran out an hour ago, man. I guess you didn’t hear it stop.”
The dew has disappeared and the mid afternoon sun is on our backs. I have no idea what has occurred in the past hours. This analog tape recorder is from the 1980s. It is the little Panasonic I used to record our dialogs. But that was twenty-five years ago. I use digital equipment now…
“Now…now…now…” I hear the word repeated as an echoing sound in my head. The thought reverberates, slows down, and drops in pitch. Time stops.
Shifting memories swirl through me. I experience, in an instant, a concatenation of moments, once discrete, separated by decades, but flooding me in a tide of recall. I strain to arrange them in some sequence so that I may study them, see them in some chain of causality – and yes, make sense.
“Wait. We’re on our way back to the city. We stop, park on the side of the road. We stand by the fence over there. I look at you and see you looking back at me. OK…After that though, it’s just a bunch of flashbacks, jumbles of memories, scenes in my mind. And…that trip…was a long time ago.”
He does not respond. For an instant, he stands silent, as if frozen in place. Then, from somewhere else, I hear his voice as though it is coming toward me fast and from a great distance.
“This trip…” is all I hear.
The rest of his words are drowned out by an onrush of cold air as his speech enters my mind. I am swept up into a vortex. Looking down to ground myself – I fix my eyes upon a single blue-green stone in an attempt to stabilize my field of vision. But I can not focus.
Instead, I am gazing into a virtual tunnel of images. They form a shimmering cone of three-dimensional scenes stretched out to great length. Each one shows a world related in some way to this place. Starting out as pastoral late-summer landscapes, each leads from bright blue sky toward a darkening funnel of clouds far in the distance.
Intensely, I scan the vistas, searching for clues. They begin as vignettes, memories – moments I can identify. In one, I see myself as a child walking the path to Crystal Cave – a craggy underground cavern found in our county and a commercial attraction. I can hear the muffled voices of adults behind me. Soon, summer heat gives way to a chill as I descend for my first journey inside the planet. I have revisited this alien place over and over again in my dreams. It has become a part of my mental landscape. I am not surprised to see it now.
Another scene springs up – the weather is balmy. This time it’s Temple Cave – a rough boulder-bound series of subterranean cracks and crevasses I explored as a teenager. The entrance is a mere slit between rocks on a hidden hillside. As I move forward between the stones I can feel the sharp transition to the cool damp atmosphere within.
These visions coexist in my mind. I see them all at once. And yet, I can move through each one individually, explore, move around – all while maintaining sensations of movement and activity inside the others.
Next, I experience a late-summer evening during my college years. I am with a group of amateur spelunkers – friends who’ve invited a few of us to explore a cavern they’ve discovered just south of Gettysburg.
The characteristic shift from warm summer air to the cool interior of the cave is more gradual, as the entrance here is larger. Holding tightly to a nylon line, I slide through a long earth tunnel wider than my girth. Soon, the dark green moss lining the slippery walls disappears and I am blinded by utter blackness within.
Even as these spaces engulf me with their overwhelming presence, I still sense us both at rest, lying prone upon the field of grass from which we awoke earlier in the day. Above, the constellations of late-summer shine laser-like from behind a midnight sky.
These ever-changing scenes appear solid and palpable, yet they are strangely transparent. They seem to rotate within my cone of vision, each one juxtaposed upon the other. It is as if I am enclosed inside a vast crystalline structure, sphere upon sphere, encasing the million moments of my life as internal reflections within some incomprehensible mind. I am dreaming. And yet, I know this is not a dream.
(to be continued…)
Image: Digital image mashup of TFD drawing, “What happens when we die.” and photo of rock formation at Crystal Cave, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2009.