kitten   October 31, 2004

Dear Alexis,

In general, when I'm writing, no matter what the reason, I have to think about what I'd like to say, carefully structure it, know where I want it to go, and consider the meaning of each word to have just the right sort of impact intended. When I write to you, though, no matter how prolix these missives get, I'm able to sit down and just say what's on my mind, without the usual editing and self-censorship that occurs. Having that sort of direct output from me probably makes these letters both more honest and less coherent than they could be, but I hope you're able to make sense of them nonetheless.

I heard that there was going to be a meteor shower last night. Like I said before, a place where you can see into the night sky is no easier to find here than it is at home, and it's never bothered me before, but this is something I wanted for myself, something I hoped would help me solidify myself and focus. So for a week beforehand, when I had the time, I drove all around the edges of the city, searching for a place that would be quiet, isolated, dark -- someplace that I could go and see this little cosmic storm without interruption. I never did find such a place; it seems that people want to put lights anywhere they can, as bright as possible, illuminating every square inch of ground and sky to hold back something as natural and necessary as night. Everywhere I went, I was stymied by another set of enormous streetlights, searchlights, billboards, marquees, security lights. Some of the more ignored back roads might have been dark enough, and I got out on some of them, testing, walking along trying to find the perfect spot, but the problem with out-of-the-way streets, at least for these purposes, is that they're so inconsequential that no one has bothered cutting down all the trees yet to make way for another store, another building, another stacked filing cabinet full of people. With trees in the way you can't see the sky and with trees out of the way you can be assured that someone will put up an other dazzling fixture, effectively blurring the darkness. It was an almost hopeless expedition, and maybe if I'd had more time I could have found a good venue, but it wasn't to be. Kind of a disappointing story, don't you think?

That's the reality of life, though. It's disappointing more often than it isn't, and never quite measures up to the expectations and fantasies we construct for ourselves, hoping for the perfect outcome. If only this, if I could just get that, if I manipulate and scheme and strive, I can make the universe do what I want and get to some consummate endpoint -- that's what we tell ourselves. Sometimes it works. Usually it doesn't. The trick, I think, is to do it anyway, and to take what good does come from the effort, even if it isn't the expected crowning acheivement.

I didn't find an obscure corner where I could watch the meteor storm, but with all the exploration I was doing, I found something I thought was remarkable, a clock tower. A real clock tower, not a modern one made to look impressive but driven by a simple electric motor. No, this one was very old, though how old I can't say, and supported by a large building that housed all the internal machinations that drove it. I know all this because I went inside, though I'm sure I wasn't supposed to. Certain parts of the superstructure had been converted into offices or something similar, and people always leave doors unlocked, so in I went, free to roam through the hallways until I got to the basement. I didn't do this with any concious motive; I simply wanted to see what was in there, but once I was down in the buried foundation the entire framework of the building seemed to pulse, one second at a time, with a low droning hum of massive turning gears. I'm sure the people who come to this building on a daily basis and go about their working days are dimly aware of the clock, but they've tuned it out, dulled it into the background by sheer repetition. So as I worked my way upwards through the scaffolds and the maintainance elevators, I felt like I was sort of behind the scenes of the world, part of the stage crew that keeps the show running but whom the audience never sees, focused only on the final display.

How much recognition do you think you need for your accomplishments, Alexis? Would you be satisfied toiling in obscurity, knowing you're making a real difference, behind the scenes where few know you're there? Or do you want to be in the spotlight, the one everyone sees, all the while knowing you owe so much to the unsung heroes? Life isn't that black and white, of course; there's rarely such a sharp distinction to be made, but I think the question is a little less academic than it seems. If you want to know the truth, fame or notoriety never meant that much to me, and I'd be happy just being the supporting role in your life. So long as I can make a real difference to you, what other legacy I might have doesn't concern me.

At the top, just below and behind the clock face itself, I could see most of the mechanics, the huge steel escape wheels, the weighted pendulum, a recoil spring. With every swing of the pendulum the pistons would turn another small amount, and the motion was eventually transferred into the hands of the clock. I don't know nearly enough about how such things operate to give a truly accurate description, but the complexity and energy put into this endeavour was clearly enormous, for the simple task of keeping accurate time in an era when time probably wasn't the valued commodity is is today. It's kind of an elegant irony, don't you agree?

I stood there for a long while listening. It's not something that would normally occur to someone, but these clocks are loud, deafeningly so, with constant ticking in seconds and intervals of seconds as each gear, small and large, clicks into place along its little dance. I suppose it couldn't be any other way, with the sheer weight of the components and the constant motion, but it isn't something I'd ever given any thought to. As mesmerising as this exhibit was, visually, it wasn't long before I had to get out, away from the noise that threatened to take control of me, like if I stayed too long my synapses would start firing in sequence with the rest of the gears and I'd become just another cog in the machine. Going back down the way I came was one way. The other way was a small vertical access hatch, and that's the route I took, up a tiny ladder that didn't even reach the platform I was standing on.

When I opened the hatch and climbed out, I found myself on the rooftop of the tower. It wasn't a particularly high affair, five stories or so, and it was much the same as the rooftop you and I used to go to, slinking our way through corporate development offices until we stood on pebble-lined roofs overlooking the city. This was nowhere near as glamorous, but it was dark, above the din and glow of incandescent streets and right then, I knew I'd found the place. This is where I went to watch the meteor shower, on a rooftop full of gravel and sitting back against a humming industrial air conditioning unit that provided the backdrop of white noise to keep things soothing for the few short hours that it took to get the full vision. And it was quite a sight, I should say, despite the occasional cloud drifting by -- beautiful luminescent streaks materializing from nowhere, sometimes dozens of them at once, burning fiery rocks screaming through the sky and never reaching the planet that had called out to them with songs of gravity, each of them dying in the attempt to make it. Sparkle and fade.

It's something I wanted to share with you, Alexis, and couldn't. But it reminded me of one reason I write to you without expectation of response. There was a brief period of time, a little after I first met you, when we fell out of contact for a while. I'm sure you recall, and it was just one of those things that happens on occasion, no real decision behind it, the gradual drifting that occurs with no rationale. But if I may atone, Alexis: in that short time, I felt a horrible, singular guilt, as though I'd driven you from me, and in doing so lost a great potential we'd never gotten the chance to explore. It took me a long time to shake that guilt, and the neglected feeling that went with it, the one person I could entrust my thoughts to gone. When we encountered each other again, I was confused, unsure, and felt like I was walking a tightrope, always apprehensive for the next false step that might send you away again. I don't know if you ever realized any of this, but ancient history though it may be, I don't want you to experience anything like it. These letters are for you to know that I'm here not because of some desire to be away from you, and that you remain my focal point, distance be damned. If this doesn't make sense to you now, I know it will soon, and I hope to be there with you to prove it. Nil desperandum, Alexis. There's someone who needs you.

Until then,

Always yours,