A Light in the Dark

One of my beliefs is that one of the most important things you can possess in this life is an inquisitive mind. The ability to question things, to wonder why, to want to figure things out. I really do think that this kind of spirit has been the impetus for so many of the great things that we have in this world. To be honest, I'm also of the belief that many of histories greatest human tragedies are a direct result of large groups of people blindly accepting ideas and events around them without question.
But it's not a perfect theory.
That human beings could cross the threshold to the point where we can isolate, understand, and split the very atoms that make up the world around us is nothing short of incredible.
But that's not where that particular story ends, is it?
Tuesday night I was feeling really restless. I was filled with this a sort of bubbling, positive energy that was begging to get out. Between being in a really good place with my writing, getting my car back from the shop, the sense of optimism that's surrounded the embracing my latest attempt at re-envisioning my life in a healthier light, and the sound of urging, breathy voices talking to me on the phone from far, far away making me feel as if they are still close enough to share headphones with -- there was this sort of tide swirling all around me, making the thought of simply staying in and doing nothing seem like a waste of kinetic potential.
So I got in the car.
Tuesday nights are largely a wasteland in this town. Places are closed, a people stay home -- you can find things to do, but the kinds of choices you're left with are kind of limited in comparison to later days of the week. Not that there aren't places to go or things to do -- but they all seem to come with asterisks. It's a night that I normally choose to stay in and save my money. But like I said, I was feeling pretty good and wanted more than just the television and the sound of passing cars for company.

My thought was to head out to the beach -- have a few beers, maybe shoot some pool. So I turned the key, fired up some music, and steered into the night. Out of the driveway, onto the interstate, off at the exit; move down Beach Boulevard with every intention of getting from my side of town to the oceanfront.

I like driving at night. There's something about it that's inspiring and electric. Storefronts, multicolored traffic signals, and passing cars create this patchwork of light and sound that's easy to get lost in. I mean, you're driving and you have to pay attention to what you're doing -- but there are times when it can be mildly hypnotic, drawing you in to a place where you find patterns and intricacies that speak to you in ways that can't even really be explained to other people, but make you quietly happy inside.

I don't know -- maybe hypnotic isn't the right word. Maybe it's more like you're hypersensitive, sort of a place where you're keenly aware of more things than you normally are, and your mind likes the feeling of processing that many things at once. It's like a minor version of an athlete getting in a zone, or when you hit a really rich vein when you're writing and you just don't want to stop until you get it all out.

Things catch your eye. They draw your interest and pull you towards them. It's not a bad thing.
But there are two sides to curiosity.
I was pulling up to a red light at an intersection that I swear I've stopped at a million times before. The kind of driving where you're aware of what you're doing, but there's a certain amount of instinct and repetitive memory involved. Which is probably why I found myself looking around more at that point than say, when I was navigating traffic on the interstate or trying to make a turn from one street to another.

I didn't even notice it at first. It was just another light in the dark. Just another person, someone going somewhere, heading in a direction that led them to a destination. Part of the matrix of lights outside, but individually nothing worth giving any extra thought to.

But unlike the rest of the background, this light was moving in an unexpected way. Erratic and jumping, hitting the windshield of my car at different angles, creating enough flare and reflection to separate it out from everything else in the ever-changing panorama you normally see when you're driving around that late. Enough distinction to make me wonder what it was.
Until I realized that it was moving towards me.
It was one of those moments where your focus is pulled away from everything outside and locks onto a single detail. Where this little voice in your head says things like, "What is that? Can you tell what that is?"

Until that moment when you discover the secret inside the atom, between the neutrons, where all the energy is tightly packed and relatively safe, until someone comes along with an accelerated particle and cuts it all loose into the world around it.
Which is exactly what happened when I realized that the light coming towards me was a motorcycle, sliding on its side across the median from the oncoming lane where it had been into the side of the road that I was on.
..without a rider.
It was like time slowed down, like the connections between the visual information I was getting and the reasons that might explain why I was seeing such a thing fell into place, each with a crashing sound as the dots of circumstance connected within my mind while friction finally took hold and brought the sliding wreckage to a wobbling stop, bathed in thick, backlit smoke coming from the scraped metal underneath and the exhaust fumes rising through the still-spinning wheels.

The feeling in my stomach was so ..thick. My whole system became unsettled as I pulled off to the side in an attempt partially to avoid colliding with the motorcycle and partially just to process all the implications that had come into focus inside my mind. Everything was sorta blurred, but you could still see things happening all around you. You could see other cars coming to a stop. You could see people standing on the side of the road, eyes wide open, hands held to their mouths in shock, speaking words into cell phones, looking around everywhere hoping for something that would provide a better answer, or some sort of explanation.

It's like horror movies. Horror films don't scare me. By and large I find them funny. I get surprised when monsters jump out of dark corners, and I feel disturbed and queasy when I see orchestrated scenes of violence or torture -- but I've seen enough of these kinds of films in my time that they don't really bother me on any kind of deep level, probably because I rarely ever separate the concept in my mind that I am seeing and hearing frightening things with the fact that they're all happening on a screen in front of me. Not that I can't suspend my disbelief, but more like I rarely close the door behind me to the point where that I can't make a distinction between what's real and what's make believe.

The reason for that I think is that most horror films these days give you too much information. If you watch enough of these movies you get to the point where you know exactly what's going to happen. When the monster's gonna jump out. When certain characters are about to die. When the scared girl will have her "hero moment" and start fighting back. There's so much focus on creating the illusion of gore and terror that you actually can't help but reach a sense of closure with it all in your mind during the two hours or so that you spend with the movie.

If I see the killer waiting to kill a character, and also see that character worried that he's going to be killed. If I see the knife in the bad guys hand, if I see the motion of the stabbing, and the fake blood coming out, and hear the screaming performed for the microphones it all registers. It's disturbing and frightening as a moment, but in a lot of ways it’s encapsulated. It's part of the story that's happening on the screen.

In other words, While I would hate hate hate to have to crawl through a pit of needles to find a key or an antidote to save someone's life -- I'm always somehow aware that it's not really something that's happening to me, so it's like I'm watching a representation of someone else's fears and terror rather than exploring or delving into any of my own.
Unless it's Hitchcock.
I don't know exactly how that little fat man figured it out, but to this day the things that happen in his films (some of which are like 50 years old) creep me the fuck out. There's something about the way he presents things, the way he only reveals parts of the terrifying ideas that make them too open for a mind like mine to sit still and just accept it as part of a movie, or a story that I'm reading.

It's like he somehow understood that it's not the monsters under the bed that are scary, but the idea that you're there on top of the bed -- never really sure what it is that will bring them out. You don't know if you can move around on the mattress, you're afraid to make a sound (but at the same time you're terrified to fall asleep because maybe it's the lack of sound or movement on the bed that it's waiting for..), you're damn sure you can't put your feet on the floor close enough for a clawed hand to reach out, grab them, and drag you screaming under there with them.
The less you know about something, the more your mind focuses around the idea.
It's like the opposite of wonder. Engaging the obsessive part of your mind that wants the mystery solved but doesn't have enough evidence to make it happen. The part that can't help but think about that shower scene in Psycho where all you have to go on is an approaching shadow on the shower curtain that you can see because you're watching the film, but instantly know the girl taking the shower can't see because she's standing under the water thinking about something else
Just like you do every morning before you go to work.
That's when it gets me. That's when I find myself standing in the bathtub, trying to wake up and get into my day only to see a certain pattern of water swirling into the drain that gives me a mental connection that sends me into an irrational kind of panic that has me suddenly peeking out from the shower curtain to make sure no one's there, and then paying waaaay to much attention to any signs of unexpected noise coming from outside the bathroom the entire time I’m in there.

Because you wouldn't be able to run. Because you don't know what all those birds perched on the jungle gym are thinking. Because as much as you want to know what the man in the apartment across the way is hiding and where his wife went, you have no way to tell Grace Kelly to stop snooping around in there and get out -- because he's coming up the stairs right now!
I knew that motorcycle had a rider.
But as the wreckage sat there smoldering on the ground, the fact that I couldn't see that person struck a very real, very dark chord inside my mind.

Because without even trying, without even really wanting to -- the logical centers in my mind began formulating the scene. Playing it backwards. Trying to answer my unspoken question of where the rider could be, and any number of all too possible and graphic reasons why he wasn't still sitting on the back of that machine right now.

It was like the fact that I didn’t know what happened, didn't have enough information to process or try to understand put me in a place where all I could do was wonder. Explore the idea. Subconsciously explore it, examine it in parts, and even worse -- put myself into the situation so I could have a better frame of reference with which to try to gain the sense closure that I so desperately wanted to feel at this moment.

Closure that I still somehow knew wouldn't be reached even if there was some way to see the rider. Especially at this point.

It's regrettable that people rubberneck and look at car accidents when they drive by them. Regrettable that as horrible as the footage of the World Trade Center attacks and the Space Shuttle explosions were that I (and millions of others) felt some sort of morbid need to watch them. But I think a lot of times we do it so that we can come to a sense of inner peace with them in our minds. It's like "ok, the paramedics are taking care of them -- they're gonna be ok," or "the car is really messed up, but I can see someone surviving a wreck like that."

It's like we're looking for information. Finding clues that will help us draw a conclusion. Turning to the last page in the book to make sure everything comes out ok, the way all horror stories do at the end in the books and the movies.
It's almost like instead of telling myself "It's only a movie, it's only a movie, it's only a movie"
I was quietly screaming inside "Please let this be a movie, please tell me this is only a movie"
Maybe that's what made all of it bother me so much. Because part of me needed to know that next piece of information, but part of me was terrified of what it might look like. Not sure I could handle it.
But it was like I had to know, you know?
I needed to know that he was ok, or that my worst fears were true. Either way, I needed to know that there was a glimmer of conclusion to the story in front of me.

By this point I was standing beside the open door of my car, looking around, searching the gathering crowd across the road, asking people if they had called for help. And eventually I did catch the sight of what I was reluctantly looking for. But it's not like I could go up there and find out everything I wanted to know. It's not like the facts were available for discussion or understanding.
He was just there, lying on the ground.
As sirens came closer and the situation began to take form it became clear that there was really nothing I could do at this point but get in the way. I don't have any medical expertise; I hadn't really seen what happened, so I couldn't tell the police anything helpful..
The light was changing. Car horns behind me began to honk.
I wish I could tell you more. I wish I knew the real ending to this story. I wish I didn’t need to tell it in some form to try to get it all out and try to understand why it’s bothered me so much and robbed me of any sort of restful sleep for the past two nights. I checked the news, but even that was sort of a bad idea.

But I will tell you something that's been echoing in my mind ever since that night. Something I've never really ever told that many people before:
I’ve always sorta wanted a motorcycle.
..I always thought that would be a cool thing to have.

[Listening to:    The Police"Invisible Sun" ]