Memoir

222. The Feeling Begins

fires within

I was back at Cannon, though on the classier MGM-Pathe side of the house. This didn’t really change anything about the job — I was still in the same building, still working for Tony and Cheryl — but instead of a cruddy action movie this time I was working on a cruddy drama starring Jimmy Smits and Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket.

I shared a cutting room with a sound editor named Joel. Every morning he’d greet me with a friendly hello. I’d reply with a grunt, put on my headphones and descend into my little pit of despair. All I thought about was my Jody problem.

“Want some coffee, James?”

“No thanks, Joel.”

She’d be there when I got home, or maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe she’d be out with Lisa, the mystery friend whose face I’d never seen. Maybe she’d be working at the job where nobody knew who she was. I didn’t know what to believe anymore.

The pages of her journal were burned into my mind. That’s exactly how it felt — burned, scorched, branded. I saw her handwriting when I closed my eyes, saw the names of the boys who weren’t me.

“How about a bagel?” Joel said.

“No, thanks. I’m not hungry.”

“You don’t eat much, do you?”

“Stomach problems,” I said.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know, ulcer maybe. My body feels like it’s eating itself.”

“Oh, James. That’s not good.”

It was nothing more than mundane cutting room small talk, but it was something. Sometimes a little small talk is all that tethers an isolated soul to the rest of humanity. My whole story spilled out: The move across country, the struggle to find a footing in Los Angeles, the singular focus on Jody, the journal.

“Attachment,” Joel said. “You’re suffering is caused by your attachment.”

“I think it’s caused by her cheating on me,” I said.

“How can she ‘cheat’ on you?”

“You want the details?”

“Think about it: You’re physically sick over an illusion.”

“I’m pretty sure she’s real. She’s been fucking with my head for four and a half years.”

“The illusion that you’d be together forever,” Joel said.

“People stay together forever. Not everybody splits up,” I said.

“Everybody dies.”

“That’s different.”

“Is it?” Joel said. “Nothing is permanent.”

“You’re married, aren’t you, Joel? How would you feel if your wife did this to you?”

“I’d be sad. Of course I’d be sad, but that doesn’t change the fact that nothing is permanent.”

“Changes aren’t permanent, but change is,” I said.

“Exactly! That’s brilliant. Did you just come up with that?”

“No, it’s from a song.”

“You’re going to be okay, James,” Joel said. “You just need to find some sanity.”

Jody didn’t come home that night. My mind raced and my stomach gnawed away at itself. It felt like something out of a horror movie, like some kind of foreign body was tearing its way through my torso. The words of the weird little man in the cutting room interjected themselves into my horror show: Suffering. Attachment. Impermanence. Sanity.

I don’t know why I did it, but I stripped the top sheet from the bed, grabbed my Walkman and inserted the Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack. I hung a blanket over the window, stepped out of my clothes, turned out the light, and fell onto the bed. I spread out on my back like a gingerbread man, my limbs touching nothing but the mattress. The tape hissed. The cool air tightened my skin and made me tremble. The music rose like the warm sun over a barren desert.

I had no anchor to Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack, no memories that froze the songs in place or time. Their structure lacked common cultural reference, too: no 12-bar blues, 4/4 time signatures, slinky backbeats, or lyrics. Even the instrumentation was unique, more textural than literal. The drums didn’t boom boom bap, no gated snares or relentless high hats. Wind instruments sounded like moans and howls rather than flutes and woodwinds.

My brain had nothing to latch onto in the darkened room, its ears devoid of sensible input and its body devoid of sensory information, so it simply stopped trying to latch and let go of its useless body. The bed fell away and the room warmed. I felt like I was floating in water that exactly matched my body temperature, only I didn’t because “water” and “body” and “temperature” were both words and concepts, and my mind had given up on both. Labels vanished and so did time.

I lay still in a cold, darkened room, but I floated in warm, radiant light. The closest analogy that I can draw is the moment after orgasm, or perhaps The Hum, that moment when the brain clicks over fully to its right side, shutting down language, explicit thought, and time. Everything is beautiful in The Hum. I’d never experienced the sensation outside of drawing or painting.

Click. The tape ended, and I was back in my bed, still splayed out like the cartoon symbol on a men’s room door. I was coated in a thin layer of perspiration, though the room remained cool. My stomach no longer hurt. I felt happy, relaxed.

The next time I saw Joel I told him about my experience in one excited, rambling sentence. He smiled and nodded, and when I finished he said, “You meditated.”

“No, I was just listening to music,” I said.

“People practice meditation for years to get where you were. Be happy you stumbled into that moment,” he said.

I was, at least for a little while. As the day wore on and the time drew near to drive back to my apartment that no longer felt like my home, my stomach returned to the business of eating itself. I needed some sanity.

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