Swimming Solo

May 11th, 2014, 6pm

It was 26°C. The breeze was light.

You’re asking for trouble, they’d say.

If anything happened you’d have no one to save you.

Have you forgotten that your right shoulder hasn’t worked since you reached behind your seat on that train to Hokkaido?

Don’t worry, you’ll remember as you jump in the water, when the pain shocks your entire body and you realize this isn’t the wisest thing after all.

And then you’ll float. It’ll take a couple minutes for the pain to subside, so you’ll listen to the birds. How many different calls are being sung, this Sunday in May as the sun sets? You have that favorite little game, the one no one knows about: you tune the radio to the FM station that plays classical but never any of the “hits” (e.g., Chopin, Tchaikovsky), you listen hard and isolate the instruments in the ensemble.

Is it a quartet? A quintet? Were those two violins or just one?

Remember in grad school when you and Sean and Chris built the recording studio in the attic and you’d write and record songs onto that Tascam? It was a four-track, so you’d record three tracks then mix them on to the fourth so you could keep adding more.

These birds are laying down tracks, at least seven of them. Seven birds are singing at once. Not included among those seven: the great blue heron that flies over every so often to see if you’ve left yet.

Seven tracks, seven calls, seven songs. They stretch the limits of syncopation. It’s almost not like music, but it is.

You’ll turn over in the water, off your back and into a slow Australian crawl but your right shoulder doesn’t work so you’ll modify the stroke with a dog-paddle.

The limits of syncopation.

You’ll remember Christopher. Not Tascam Chris, but composer Christopher who did in fact visit that attic studio in Cambridge, January 1992. It was the last time you saw him, now more than two decades ago. It was the weekend you met your first partner, at the Napoleon Club, and you couldn’t invite him back to your place because Christopher was visiting, holed up in the attic laying down tracks.

You’ll hear that piece for solo piano he wrote ten years later and sent to you, the one when you realized his early genius had erupted into full-fledged mastery. You went wild and he sent you more and more. You pledged you’d help him get that fellowship in Japan, and you did. Then he wrote that he had come back to the States, that the fellowship had been a sham, that he’d run out of money and was in a Brooklyn homeless shelter.

Note to self: You need to catch up with that priest in Jersey who had agreed to help him. And his brother the doctor who cleared Christopher for that rehab program on the West Side.

You didn’t know about the crippling back injury, the botched surgery, the morphine addiction. You only knew the music he sent.

You’ll remember Father John on the phone saying, “We agreed to meet here in the Bowery, and I’ve waited all day. He’s nowhere.”

And the email months later from the musicologist going through Christopher’s laptop.

I’m contacting people from his email. You seem to have been very important to him. I’ve pieced events together, and instead of meeting your priest friend he went to Long Island to his parents’ empty house. He wanted to dry out on his own, but the pain was too much and he committed suicide. I’m sorry.

If anything happened you’d have no one to save you.

You’re asking for trouble, they’d say.

You’ll swim to the dock, get dressed, and head back up the long hill to the house, solo.

Christine, Samantha, Boris, Emanuel and 1 more said thanks.

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John Pull

builder, mentor, maker, traveler

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