On March 15th, 2011 a very strange man with a Jesus mustache and beard approached me in the Pikesville library while I was pretending to write the next great American novel. He informed me that he was from the future and as a huge fan of my work, humbly asked that I do him the honor of writing down his random thoughts in whichever way I saw fit. I begrudgingly accepted, and we met for brief periods over the course of several weeks. This is the result of those meetings.
The Ruminations of One Rupert P. Smith
I feel completely at ease telling you this, sharing this with you because you, in your small mindedness, are taking this as a work of fiction. A work created deftly by the hands of a woman whose last name is often confused with her first, and laughs too loudly at all the inappropriate times. And in this assumption, you will take this not as a truth, but as some sort of a lie, meant to entertain and distract you from the ineffable doldrums of your hollow life. And as you sit there on your lay-z-boy, or your coffee shop chair, or the hard plastic seat of the subway, eating a tangerine, or an apple, or a cookie laced in trans-fat you will not for one second think that what is written on this page is in any way true. Especially if I told you that it was. Especially if I told you that I was absolutely sure. And so, knowing this, I feel a freedom, and certain right actually, to spill it all. To tell you all of my random ruminations without fear that you will sit in your seat, in a place and a time where I am not, and judge me. And for this, I am grateful.
So where should I begin? I guess I could start with all the things that people tell each other upon first meeting. My name, my gender, my age, my parents and siblings, my fears, my fantasies, my wishes and dreams. I guess I could tell you all that. But what would be the fun in that? Wouldn't you rather have it all brought to you in a manner and way that may, perhaps, be less simple, but much more interesting? But don't you worry your pretty little (or possibly big fat?) head about that. This choice will not be yours to make. I will not presume to bother you with the business of making decisions. And so, I have made the choice for you, to present to you in the most inconvenient ways possible, banal bits of information about who I am and what I am here to tell you. And I can do that, for after all, these are my ruminations, not yours, so I will do precisely what I see fit.
I could tell you what they call me, but it is not my name. You have read the title I presume, and therefore you think you know my name, but in actuality you do not. It is a name I like to call myself sometimes in the quietness of my own head, but it is not my name, nor is it the name in which I am called by anyone. People outside myself speak this name, that I am called, and I lift or turn my head in response.
"Yes," I say, as if some automaton, as if I have been programmed to illicit a certain response when certain consonants and vowels are strung together in an exact pattern of sounds.
"Yes," I say and listen attentively to their question or request or suggestion or banal chit-chat.
But it is not me that they are calling. That is not my name.
I could tell you that I've been referred to this, called this name, that is not my name since birth, but this is not something that I have the proper knowledge of conferring. This is not something that I know to be true. I do not recall this time. Instead I will tell you, describe to you, the first time that I can recall being referred to by this name. And so, here it is:
I was ten. Sitting on a park bench by myself, lost and looking for someone to take me and care for me. And as I sat there waiting patiently, watching the other children laugh, and scream, and run, and jump, and slide, and chase one another, I thought about whom exactly it was I was waiting for.
Someone did come, but it wasn't the man in the grey pin-striped suit that I had pictured in my mind, smiling with a football tucked under one arm and a briefcase clutched in the other. It was a woman smelling of peppermint tea and sunshine. She came up to me and stood before me. I stared at her shoes, or boots really- black and scuffed and worn grey in some areas, with low thick heels, that came up to the knees of her jeans. She called the name and I looked up.
"Yes," I said.
"It is time," she said, and held out her hand, dry and needing lotion.
The time has come the walrus said, and I grabbed her hand, feeling its roughness mixing with my sweat.
I was lead away.
I remember the day as being entirely too sunny. I remember feeling a loss. But I also remember thinking that I had chosen this, this leading away by a rough hand into the unknown, and in this choosing that I had left something behind. I looked back, to see exactly what I had left. But all that was there was the wooden bench, with green paint cracked and flaking off of it, that I had been sitting on. It looked back at me, frowning, sad and alone.
And while this memory may not be the first actual memory I have of being called this name, it is the first memory that I can recall today, right now, in this present moment that I am writing this rumination through the guise of this female who likes to think herself a writer. And being that this is what I can remember now, this is all that I can share with you. I have no doubt that at some other point, during some other rumination, on some other day, I shall recall another, vastly different moment of some other vastly different time and attribute this moment as my first memory of this name, and perhaps you will think me a liar, or some sort of unreliable narrator, and if this is so, then so be it.
This random tangent has reminded me that we, you and I, are not of the same time. In your time, I'm sure, it is something like the year 2011 and you are living in a part of the world known as the United States of America. But that is a past time and a past world to me. I am of a time that is to you the future, but is to me the present. I am living in a part of the world referred to as the Federated States of America, which is the northern part of what had once been the USA.
I hope that you don't take the fact of us being of different times as something greater and more important than it is. I have always held the belief that no matter what time or place it is, people will be people. No amount of time can change this simple fact of our humanity. And so, instead of focusing on this minor discrepancy, I would like, instead, to turn the conversation back to me. For that is, after all, why you are here, why you are reading, is it not? To learn about me, in order to know more of yourself? So you can say, Ah, I am not like this person who refuses to tell me his name, I am not like him (or her for that matter) and so I am better, hardy-har-har.
And so this is the point of these ruminations. And so I am finished with the first one.
Yesterday was one of those days when I was being down on myself. I felt like an entirely despicable person. I couldn't get out of bed, so I lay there, not moving. I tried not to think or even breathe. I ignored the strains of my stomach collapsing in on itself.
Sometime later, when I couldn't ignore my stomach any longer, I found myself wandering through the streets of my town, strolling across an overpass. I stopped, feeling the breeze of the cars passing by me, and looked over, down at the highway beneath me. I don't know why, but I felt an urge to sit on the edge, the feel my legs swinging over those cars. I remember looking down at the cars flying by, and wondering where they were going. Imagining how I could derail their plans by simply sliding off the edge, falling through the air, and splattering myself on the highway. Imagining my body being run over by a car or two or five and causing a major backup on the expressway. I imagined what they would say about me on the news.
Stupid person slides him (or her for that matter)self off an overpass, killing him (or her, for that matter)self and backing up traffic for miles.
More on this at seven.
And then they would cut to a commercial for the newest car that is so much better than the last, because it has this amazing feature that no other car has and that you possibly cannot live without.
I thought all this as I sat on the overpass, dangling my legs; staring past my shoes and looking at the blur of cars go by. But my thoughts were interrupted by a little girl.
"Hey," she said, tapping me ever so softly, as to not startle me.
"Yes," I turned to look at the little girl, who had to be no older than four, yet had no parental figure in sight.
"That's not safe. You shouldn't sit there."
I smiled at this girl, then turned around and placed my feet back on solid ground.
She smiled at me, "That's better," she said, before turning to run down the street into a store several yards away.
I sat there awhile, awaiting the girl's reappearance, imaging what her mother must look like. Tall and leggy with big grey eyes like hers. I sat there for an undetermined amount of time, until I grew weary of waiting and simply walked away.
I tell you this because I want to. I tell you this because I need to. I tell you this because this little girl's face will not stop popping back into my mind. I tell you this because this little girl was my little girl and I know exactly what her mother looks like and she doesn't have grey eyes.
I lied to my aunt once. I say once because I can only ever remember lying to her this one time. But, like I said, memory is not the most reliable thing, and I could very well be wrong. I happen to lie all the time, and I have no particular reason to have not lied to this aunt of mine as much as I have lied to everyone else, but this is what I recall, and thus all that I can share at this particular moment in time. My aunt was charging her car in the garage, charging it for our trip to some stupid place I cared not to go. I very carefully, pulled out the cord, just enough, so that it was still in the socket but not able to charge.
"Did you do this?" she asked the next morning when her battery power was only two-third of the way full, enough to get us there, but not enough to get us back.
"No," I said.
She frowned, "If you didn't want to go, you could have just said so."
We wound up going; she borrowed an extra battery from neighbor who had nothing special to do that day, and off we went. I remember this lie often, and I'm not sure why. My aunt didn't die, or hate me, and we had fun on this trip, much more fun than I would have suspected we'd had, but still this lie haunts me. I think of it while driving, while working, while taking a shit. I think of it all the time, randomly. And every time I remember it, I feel sad. A sadness that quickly grabs me, and quickly leaves me when I push it aside and focus on what I had been doing before the memory came. I don't know why this lie, and not say, how I lied to my mom about looking pretty in that red dress or lied to my best friend about not sleeping with his wife or lied to my co-worker about not taking that twenty out of her purse. This is the lie that haunts me. This is the lie that pulls me back and back into a feeling of melancholy.
I have often thought of calling my aunt, of admitting this lie. But after so many years, it seems pointless and selfish, and I am not a bad person as all of that.
The woman who led me away that day was not my mother. My mother was a fat woman. I was embarrassed by her fatness, although she carried herself well. Usually managed to find flattering clothing, always did her hair and makeup just so. But all my friends had thin moms who ran with them as they played soccer, and jumped up and down cheering them from the stands. Not my mom. She sat there, hands entwined around knitting needles, watching me with a half smile, never cheering, never jumping, and never running alongside me. Always there like a blob of flesh, smiling, watching.
It is snowing, today, where I am from. The woman in the black boots called me and asked me how much it was snowing where I was. Asked me if I had worn thick socks and was driving carefully. I asked her where the blob of fat that was my mother was.
"I am your mother," she said.
She hates it when I bring the fat mother up. I hate it when she says she is my mother.
I hung up on her.
I wonder sometimes if my real mother called me by the name that people call me, or by some other name that is also not my name. I wonder what happened to Bobby. I wonder if I was born and lived in the time that you were born and are living, if I would have still be a liar and an asshole and a deadbeat father. I wonder sometimes about whom I am and if names mean anything. I wonder about the price of oranges and pineapples. I wonder why you are sitting where you are sitting reading my pointless ruminations and if I am good enough to hold your attention. I wonder what happened to all that love that occurs on television. I wonder if I will wake up and smile one day. I wonder.
My wife died last year, falling off the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty is still standing where it has always stood- in between New York and New Jersey. It is a part of the FSA now. It was a gift after all, and we all know that it is impossible to return gifts. Especially if they are unexpected and hand-made. Especially if they are large and unwieldy. And so it still stands. And so she has fallen off of it.
I am not telling you this so that you will continue to disbelieve everything that I am saying. I am not telling you this because I wish to divulge into my state of being after this passing. I am telling you this because I have to. I am telling you this because I love her.
I have sat and watched butterflies. I have sat and watched butterflies flying for as long as I can remember whenever I have had the opportunity to do so. I have watched their movements. Always transfixed. Always fascinated. Always feeling like a bit of perve.
They are sending the first people to live on Mars. We have fucked up this planet good and right, and now it is time for us to move on and fuck up another planet. When everyone leaves, I will stay here. Wandering the streets alone, breathing in the polluted air, waiting for something to make sense.
I decided to look for my mother today. My real mother. And along with her, my father and Bobby. I searched the internet, not knowing what to look for. I cannot recall my parent's first names and there are a billion Bobbys in the world. What was Bobby short for anyway? Robert? Billy? Bob? Or was his name actually Bobby? Or perhaps that was just a name I called him and that wasn't his real name, like how people call me what they call me, but that isn't my real name either. I can picture our house, so vividly. The red shutters and orange door. The paint flaking off the side of the house that the sun always hit. The broken wooden chair sitting on the porch, waiting for mass trash day. I can picture this house, but I don't know the name of the street, the name of the town or city, the state or locality. I can picture this house in my mind and I'm not sure at all of this was really my house, or just a house that I saw, that I wished I had lived in when I was a young boy and completely unaware that I would no longer live in my real house with my real family ever again.
Sir Lancelot, my wife would call me, short for Lance which is the name that I am called, but is not my name. She would call me and I would swoop in and help her like her trusty knight in shining armor. I would help her clean the dishes or do the laundry or take the nails out of the hard concrete walls. And then I would rub her head and kiss her left temple, always her left temple, and tell her she was the most beautiful girl in the world.
"What about Linny?" she would ask.
"You and Linny," I would say, "Of course, you and Linny, the most beautiful girls in the world."
I don't have a job anymore. When I tell people this, they look at me like I am no longer a useful person. Since I no longer spend countless hours staring at an illuminated screen, pushing myself back and forth in a wheeled chair, rubbing the stubble on my chin, laughing at inappropriate emails sent to me by crude co-workers who openly scratch their balls in front of anyone. Since I am no longer this person, this version of myself, all my self worth seems to have disappeared from their eyes.
"What do you do all day?" they say.
"A little bit of this. A little bit of that," I say.
"And what of your daughter?" some ask, the ones that knew me before, that knew my lovely wife and beautiful daughter, but don't know that I'm an asshole and a liar.
I make up different answers, every time, to this question. Sometimes I say she died too. She fell off the Statute of Liberty with her mother. She is watching over me from heaven. Sometimes I say that I lost her, left her on a wooden bench with flaking paint. Sometimes I tell them that I love her and leave it at that. Sometimes I run away from them and never look back when they call me that name that is not my name. Sometimes I say she is living with her grandmother, her mother's mother, mere blocks away from me, but I still don't make any time to go see her, just send her random present s when I find myself wondering into Toys "R" Us, remembering the days when she would beg me, "Daddy, Daddy, please, Daddy, please." Sometimes I tell them that I hate her and I spend all my time wishing she would just die and forget she ever had a father. Sometimes I tell them that I miss her terribly and wish I could be the father that she dreams about from watching too much TV. Sometimes I just shake my head and look down at my Nikes caked in grass and dark brown mud. Sometimes I tell them the truth.
Are you sick of me yet? Are you wishing these ruminations would just end already? Are you tired of the melodrama that is me, Lance Harris Jr., the stolen and adopted junior of a man that is not my father? The person who was really born with a name I cannot remember and thus cannot share with you? Are you ready for me to leave you yet? I am ready for this to be over, and I'm sure this crazy chick writing it is as well. And even if this ends, and even if I can stop telling these stories, the ruminations will continue. They cannot stop, they will not stop. I must ruminate until I figure this all out, or die, or, preferably, both simultaneously.
When I was five someone called me this name that is not my name.
"Lance," he said, tapping me on the shoulder. The boy was taller than I was, with sad little eyes and stubby fingers, smelling of peanut butter.
"That is not my name," I said to him.
"Mom is calling you, Lance," he said, "It is time," he said.
"That is not my mother," I said, "And your name is not Bobby."
spends her days teaching, writing and hanging out with her little monster.