A naked, sweet-voiced girl telling of a lighthearted trip to the beach while lying upstairs at three in the morning over a steamy waterfront bar in Batista’s Havana, and the blacked out windows in Kuala Lumpur when there were snipers, and the black and white smoke from old steam engines in the White Mountains and in Jordan and the western Sudan and Slovenia. And my places with views – over Athens to the monastery mountain Lykvatos, or up through a maze of tenements and office buildings to the Empire State Building, or over the mother of rivers to Bangkok palaces, or past a minaret to the eastern Mediterranean. All those views returning and all those girls still young. Susan cooking me an obscure fish as I looked south over Manhattan almost to the Battery. Sandie kissing me deeply in the shadows when we escaped the segregation of our New Hampshire boarding schools. Startling surprises of light and life in the Jeu de Paume off the Place de la Concorde. These and an infinite number of other places over the years with loves and would-be loves – and Kitty, who embodied the dreamt-of culmination, and then the dangerous time with Cathy, and then talented Vannie, whose sweet face was in my mind and heart as I wandered alone, even when passing graveyards, and the dangerous and obsessive time with Judy, and the lovely and furious days with gorgeous, syrupy Bonnie, and later another sweet Bonnie, and all those times in all those bars, and also times far from bars. And Anne Marie, whom I met at the old Corso, and Mary Anne, whom I met at a Manila restaurant where the waiters were dwarfs – Mary Anne my now ex-wife – these and so many girls and women I knew or tried to know – and all the food and drink consumed – the life-giving warm bile from a just killed snake in a Hong Kong alley, or rosé in Macao, or awful Turkish vodka, or Pernot if not absinthe in Paris – and Musaka in Delphi, or raw liver from a throat-slit goat in a sweltering grass hut village, or cevapcisi outdoors in Llubliana, or raw herring in Amsterdam, or the perfect crepe in Paris, or anything offered in Tuscany and Umbria, or succotash in Indianapolis – and so much else in so many other places, and then all the ships – the Cunard and Italian and Holland-American line liners in the deep past, the old Messageries Maritime in the Far East, a Portuguese liner in West Africa, a Thai liner on the equator, a Turkish liner where everyone was expected to throw up, the Norwegian ship I worked on to get out of Portuguese Angola – ships and more ships back into my very young days – and those treks through Borneo and West Africa and other unlikely places including the White Mountains of New Hamsphire which were always threading their way through memory, and jails for unruly behavior and also one for doing good in Mississippi in civil rights days. And all that writing, good and bad and real and fake and rarely as close as I wished it to be. And that staunch but dangerous if often interesting family I came from that set up a life-long rivalry between me and my twin that could have finished us off when the battle moved from childhood to separate warring sides in Southeast Asia. My recurring attempts to send up fireworks in even the most peaceful places, which was what I was accused of by safer people – this life into which I had wanted to put the excitement that it seemed I needed if I were to be what I thought I should be – maybe modeled on the fiction that I still read.
Though now I was free of fiction, I believed and prayed. The excitement and the affairs and the houses and marriage and girlfriends even in times I had neither wife nor live-in girl, but the almost forgotten long times, interminable times alone in strange landscapes, too often a blur, sometimes so wonderfully sharp and clear, or too sharp and too clear. Drinking or sober alone in damp rooms as well as airy places with views – alone on the streets of places like Sarajevo and Grand Canaria where I spoke none of the languages, times alone that did not seem like mere interludes though on the surface it might appear there was always excitement and constant movement over and between continents.
All this and so much more flashed before me as I drove up and down and back and forth all over Vermont that summer of 1986, listening to music from the lighthearted aqua Mustang’s tape deck. Morning has broken like the first morning, Blackbird has spoken like the first bird… She is wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters… Dear Lord above, don’t you know I’m crying? … Each step wakes a memory as freely I roam. On paths and beside lakes with a regular-people’s Walkman – but mostly inside the aqua Mustang this summer in Vermont, an interlude in the car with a heart-breaking girl who had a story and nearly loved me, but most of the time in the car happy enough alone.
This the new time, 1986. This the time I am finally finding ways to live that had not been in my outlines for constructed excitement. Everything now coming to the fore. My life flashing before me as I glide though the soft hills of Vermont with no clear destination.
My entire life flashing before me not as the old saw would have it because I am about to die but rather because I am feeling so alive now that I have recently said several times to people I know from this new present that I, never consciously suicidal in spite of near ultimate depressions, said now that I would not mind dying now because at last now I have tasted how much more the world could have for me.
As my entire life flashed before me in this time I was not dying.