From Concrete to Shadows: Time and Shadows (written April 2005)

Time here,

all but means nothing, just shadows that move across the wall.

They keep me company, but they don’t ask of me,

they don’t say nothing at all.—“Time” by Sarah McLachlan

 

Sunlight filters through dirty blinds that have bent and cracked over the years. They are blanketed in a yellow-tinted residue that has come from smoking steadily since I could legally buy my first pack of Marlboros, and I reach for one now from the nightstand. Opening the flip-top box, I pluck one from the two that are left and light it, watching it burn red and diminish, much like the day outside my window.

I have discovered solitude.

Locked away in my old bedroom, huddled beneath the coverlet in the soft light that precedes evening, I pretend that I am melting into non-existence. The constant chaos that explodes int he wake of undisciplined children, while in reality is just down the hall, sounds like distant shenanigans from memories of my own childhood.

I have escaped my 11-year old cousin who has seemingly crossed over the threshold into the adolescent zone over the course of one month. Her new favorite mantras consist of “I’m bored”, “That’s not fair” and “So what”. Her attitude parallels mine when I was her age, but for different reasons, and while I remember the emotional turmoil at that age, I realize that I don’t really know what to say to her. I remember that as being my most impressionable age, and I feel guilty that the demands of college have taken away much of the time I once had for her. She doesn’t understand that my homework is never done, and why I can rarely find the time to help her with her own. She is easily hurt and angry, and in turn I resent the work that demands so much of my time, and I resent her, which makes me resent myself. I need escape, and I find it in a room where the paths of shadows tell time.

I am oblivious to the obscene outbursts of defiance from her three year old brother who looks his mother straight in the eye before screaming, “No! Dammit! I’ll cut your head off!” Usually tossing in a few F-bombs for good measure, he has learned a lot from the domestic violence that has defined his perception of human interaction. Anxiety and high-blood pressure as a result of having the strong desire to spank the child, but not the permission, results in a three year old child successfully claiming the territory as his very own and driving me from the room.

What was once my territory has been encroached upon, invaded by distant relatives who in the past year have grown increasingly less distant. As an only child, I grew up in a peaceful atmosphere, basking in the calm of my own space. I was a quiet child, opting for a coloring book and crayons rather than the obnoxious racket that my young cousins find so appealing. A typical evening for me as a child consisted of my mother sitting in her La-Z-Boy engrossed in a fantasy novel, my grandmother either reading the latest tabloid or watching the local news…sometimes while crocheting or sewing on a quilt, and me sitting at the dining room table or on the couch doing homework or drawing. I could leave the commotion at school and relax at home…a luxury that has seemingly expired.

My relatives moved in like a flash flood, preceded by a subliminal trickle that pointed to nothing out of the ordinary. My uncle moved in with us after losing his wife of more than 20 years to cancer, and while he is equally quiet himself and easy to live with, he apparently opened the flood gate through which other family members began to perceive our home as a boarding house. Within the last year my aunt followed, resulting in three of my grandmother’s four children living with her once again. The chaos moved in when my aunt decided to take on the responsibility of raising her young grandchildren, transforming my once quiet have into an unstable daycare.

Remnants of conversation float down the hall from the living room, which I have pushed miles away from myself. Inside my head, these remnants are converted into silence, becoming nothing…just shadows that move across the wall. The cigarette gone, I turn away from the window and the dust that dances in the fading light. Hours have passed since I crawled away from the mayhem earlier in the day when I stole away to do homework. However, once alone in the silence with my textbooks and notepads sprawled on the bed, I began to feel the weight of my responsibilities coupled with my ever pervasive sense of self-doubt that comes with living in disorder. I lacked the motivation to move my pen across the page and thought it might be more simple to remove a splinter from the back of my head with dull scissors. Following several minutes of internal conflict, I tossed my books on the floor with a heavy sigh, kicked off my shoes and crawled under the blankets where I am n ow curled with my knees pulled against my chest and my eyes staring blankly at the wall.

I lie with my back to the window, listening tot he tree branches tap on the glass as though knocking on a door. I watch their shadows on the wall begin to fade and experience a sudden emptiness as I realize that the day will soon be gone; it seems that time is always running out for one thing or another, and that I waste most of my irretrievable time worrying about tomorrow, my responsibilities and the expectations of others. I have slowly tracked the shadows along their path from where they covered the dresser, across the wall to the closed door from which they are slowly fading. Now, I feel the abstract burdens of tomorrow encroaching upon me, demanding time and attention. In the tree’s shadow I have found momentary solace; I have found peace…even if for only a short time.

 

And I need just a little more silence,

And I need just a little more time.

But you send your thieves to me,

silently stalking me, 

dragging me into your war.

Would you give me no choice in this?

I know you can’t resist

Trying to reopen a sore

 

Each heartbeat is another moment gone, and it is this passage of time that I have adopted as the foundation of my discontent. I find myself resenting my responsibilities, because they seem like so many cats on my back, clawing for attention. I feel my ambition faltering, my passion and potential wilting inside of my body leaving an empty shell for the passage of time to once again ravage.

A distant ringing pierces the silence, beginning with the phone that has been set on the end table beside my grandma’s recliner for her convenience. A new ring joins in, coming from the cordless phone on the nightstand next to my head. The sound stabs at my ears, for a moment reclaiming me from the brink of sleep where I had been trying to evade my conscious mind. The phone rings once…twice. The intrusive noise ceases mid-way through the third ring, and through the walls I can hear my grandma’s voice.

“Hello?” Then there is a brief silence before, “Just a minute.” I think to myself, “Crap, I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to talk to anyone.” I wait for the knock on the door, but I hear nothing. Whoever had called had not asked for me, and I feel a sense of relief as I unplug the phone and again allow my eyes to slip shut.

Sometimes I ache for a void.

Gladly would I welcome a temporary stay in a place both silent and empty where I can only face myself and untie the knots. I am fighting to recall a time when I could sit under a tree and not feel guilty for being in a library with nose in a textbook or out searching for yet another part-time job, and if possible I would wage a war with time to reclaim my freedom. To sit against the bark of a tree and gauge the passing hours by the sun’s kiss of shadows on the Earth, listening to nothing but wind, birds and leaves instead of ticking wristwatches and blaring alarm clocks seems a dream. However, everyday is a deadline nipping at my heels and any amount of relaxation or self-exploration seems a luxury reserved for children, the wealthy and retired.

 

Leave me be, I don’t want to argue

I’d just get confused and I’d come all undone

If I agree, well it’s just to appease you

Cause I don’t remember what we’re fighting for.

 

However, I know that to wage war with time would not be possible, and that most people struggle with the juggling of dreams, responsibilities and quality time to themselves. I am not alone in my frustrations, and although I understand that, I can’t help but feel that time has stolen something from us. With the help of humankind’s dependence on technology, capitalism, convenience and instant gratification, time has transformed from a casual bystander measuring seasons and lifespans into a predator that both stalks and dictates. Time is infinite and invincible. To accept defeat and succumb to time’s consumption of all that exists seems inevitable. I keep in mind, however, that while the shadow disappears with time, it will return to travel the same path on the next sunny day, and I am comforted.

 

Time here,

all but means nothings,

just shadows that move across the wall.

They keep me company,

but they don’t ask of me

they don’t say nothing at all.

 

Darkness has embraced my bedroom with me in it. Having fallen asleep while listening to the pleasant silence so intently, I wake now to a house that seems quiet and empty. The children have been in bed for hours, as well as the rest of the house. The shadows are gone, too. Turning on my bedside lamp, I fish the last cigarette out of my pack and light it, leaning to grab one of my notepads from the floor. I open it to a blank page, take my pen in hand…and try again.

 

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