Prettiest Chain – Castanets – 2008

Prettiest Chain MP3

With the lights off, I pull the string on the mini-blind and slowly let the moonlight in.  I slide the window to the left.  I swing my leg over the sill.  I’ve done this so many times the move is choreographed.  I know exactly how to get in and out of the window with the least amount of noise.  I reach back in the window and pull the string to let the mini-blind back down.  And I quietly slide the window closed.  Next is the 6 foot wooden fence.  I step on the bottom horizontal support with my right foot.  I put my left foot on the brick exterior window sill to my bedroom.  I lift my right foot and put it on the top horizontal support with my right hand on the top of the fence and my left hand firmly holding onto the roof.  I lightly drop into the grass into a squat.  I stop and listen.  A car drives past.  I walk quickly walk to the right out of the cul-de-sac without looking back at the house.

I did this almost every night of my sophomore year in high school.  Most of the time I had someplace to go.  Some friend.  One guy in particular was often up well into the morning and I would go hang out, drink Crown Royal and watch TV or work on his car.  Or another friend could be counted on to be up most of the night.  But sometimes there was no place to go.  But I wouldn’t go back home.  I have no idea why I had this need to not be at home during particular bouts of brooding depression.

“Give me your prettiest chain to wear.”

If there was nowhere to go, I had a few options.  Smoke cigarettes in the cemented section of the bayou.  I could lie against the concrete and stare at the sky.  Maybe I was claustrophobic.  Because once I was outside like this I could think more clearly.

“And a bracelet made of your finest hair.”

Insomnia claimed me very young.  As early as 10 years old, I can remember lying in bed for hours staring at the door.  There is only so long you can take this.  There is something incredibly powerless about staring at a door in the dark.  I would insist that the hall light be left on all night.  My brothers thought this was because I was afraid of the dark.  Really I was afraid of staring at the door in the dark.  I didn’t necessarily mind the dark.

“Eagle get me a wing…”

There was an abandoned house at the end of a dead end street.  Not in the wrecked sense of a house.  It was just empty.  Typical Houston suburban house.  Just no one living in it.  Cutting through the yard and hopping the fence into the Church of Latter Day Saints parking lot might shave 15 minutes off the walk to get to friends who lived on the other side of the church.  After the house was empty for a few months, someone kicked a few boards out of the fence.  Then we could just squeeze through.  But it didn’t take long for one of us to decide to find a way into the house.

It was empty.  I would go inside this house late at night by myself and just sit for hours.  I could do that at home, but really that’s all I would do.  Sit.  It isn’t like there was something additional I could do here that I didn’t do at home.  I just sat there staring at doors.

Insomnia has been a trial of discipline for me.  Drugs don’t work for me.  Anything that I try I eventually develop a tolerance for and then I can’t use it anymore.  Exercise seems to help.  But the discipline later in life has been mental and emotional.  When I was 15, I might get so frustrated sitting in the dark waiting for sleep that I would punch holes in the walls.  In fact, this reaction went well into my 20’s.  Now I understand two things.  Sitting in the dark can be an opportunity for meditation, and bitterness about lack of sleep will make you exhausted and crazy.  I don’t think about how tired I am all day, but that’s an oversimplified version of what I mean.  Imagine being frustrated and tired all day for years on end.  Not just one or two days a week but every day.  Every single day of your life… frustrated and tired.  Hallucinating tired.  Now imagine one day all of a sudden you don’t need the sleep you are missing.  I can provide you with all kinds of explanations about what that means, but the best thing I can say to describe it is that I spent years disciplining myself to not be bitter about the sleep I am missing.  And one day, I finally…

But I imagine what sitting in an abandoned house by myself might have looked like if there were a hidden camera.  A 15 year old kid sitting in a house for hours smoking cigarettes.  No lights.  No reading materials.  Nothing.  I try to imagine what that must have felt like, because I don’t know.  I can only assume the worst.  And I can imagine that any observer would also assume the worst.  I try to imagine what would happen to my heart if I were to observe my son in this state.  I cannot imagine.  All of the signs point to the worst kinds of mental illness.  And surely I was mentally ill.  Yet here I am.  And maybe I am mentally ill now.

Raymond Raposa is Castanets.  And some of his nomadic background sounds eerily familiar to mine.  I wonder sometimes about the choices that I make or someone like Raymond Raposa makes.  Wandering for years.  This crazy ambient, psychadelic folk music.  Because there is something disturbing about this music.  What’s worse is that I find it comforting in a way.  Why would we go looking for loneliness.  I am not talking about being alone.  But this vast American loneliness in all of Raposa’s music.  You don’t express things like this without feeling it.  Without staring at some doors in the dark often enough that you either need some fresh doors to stare at or no doors at all.  I feel the emptiness of the highway in this song.  The silence of the wind.  The gigantic slumber of the thin oxygen at high altitudes.  The fear and solace of standing in a clearing far from everything.  The battle with self in the dawning of a new day alone.  The simplicity of a day enencumbered by the demands of community.  The sudden static closeness of the cloying darkness in an unfamiliar place.  The experience of thousands of hours of unanswered questions of a spec of consciousness on a tiny ball of dust in a corner of a small glaxy in an infinite universe.  Raposa says all this with so little.  And so much…

The reverse of the trip out.  Stand on the brick window sill.  Lean on the wooden fence.  No horizontal beams from the outside.  Let my legs fall against the the fence while holding myself up by the top of the fence.  I swing my left foot up onto the top of the fence.  I use the brick window sill to get myself down.  I squat in the yard and listen.  Nothing.  I go to the window and slide it open.  I reach in and use the string to open the mini-blind.  I crawl through the window.  I get ready for bed.  It’s usually 2am or 3am by this time.  Maybe 4 hours of sleep before high school.

I stil have a habit as an adult of wandering in the dark.  I turn off all the lights and let my senses drift into my surroundings.  Once my eyes adjust, I check the windows.  Then I listen.  I roam the house a bit and check the doors.  I watch the cars in the road out front.  I listen for the usual dogs.  Note the refrigerator noises.  Wind chimes.  Voices in the street.  The shadows from the TV next door and across the street.  Sometimes I can hear faint murmurs of conversations.  And then with all my senses satisfied, I settle back into a pillow and stare at a door until sleep finally wins.

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