It begins with the cutting of a cord, the severing of a tie between two worlds — the soft uterine world of sleep and dreams, and this other too bright, too defined reality. And you think, this must be some manner of witchcraft more than biology, that a mere nine months could produce… this.
And then you’re turned out, back into the world, with this helpless, squalling ball of muscle and bone and translucent flesh, to begin gathering the necessary and ridiculous things of its life, to mix with the necessary and ridiculous things of your own lives. And you wait for him to transform one day or night or sunlit second, to become a creature that you can laugh and rage and protest life with; someone who…understands.
But that’s the future. Here and now you’re faced with a child who won’t sleep. So you remember: sitting on the floor of your parents’ bedroom, you’re six, maybe seven, and the music is moving like smoke through the house….and so, in desperation, you put on the same album (Emmylou Harris), the same song (“Poncho and Lefty”) and your son, Dylan, this raw burst of life and confusion, instantly quiets down, his small blue hands tracing the air like the conductor of a spirit symphony.
You remember: moving down the highway at night in the back of your father’s Oldsmobile, summer air through a half-cracked window, the wave like motion of the car and a Beatles 8-track playing into infinity. So you take Dylan on night rides, and he smiles, stares out the window and sleeps.
And it all floods back: your father lying on the couch with his eyes closed, the music of Hendrix or Neil Young on the turntable, shaking his head in wonder. “When I grow up,” he mumbles “that’s what I’m gonna do.”
When you’re older you discover that music, hidden away in closets, at the bottom of bookcases, and sit staring at the album covers, the inside sleeves, taking in the smell of mildewed cardboard and vinyl. You listen to the Beatles again, especially “I am the Walrus” (“Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye”!!) and you know you’ve found a portal to other worlds, that there are mysteries here that can never be fully understood. Who would want to?
But that’s the past. Your father’s albums are now mingled with your own. Maybe they’ll fascinate the grandson he never met the way they once entranced you. Maybe music will expand Dylan’s world, unlock the textures and shadows of his own heart.
Maybe, someday, it will save his life.
For now there’s the calming effect of white noise; the sound of rain; the slow frazzled guitar textures of My Bloody Valentine; the rhythmic, automated soul of Kraftwerk. Bach and Chopin.
Now, at three months old, Dylan is a world of sound unto himself: grunts, moans, bleets, screams, gurgles, burps, snores and, almost, laughter. He creates his own music — the rude music of life.
And who is this changeling, someone new each day, each hour? The shifting of tectonic plates; the merging of weather systems; floods and eerie calms. The violent upheavals in those blue/grey eyes, like cut glass at the bottom of a pond, reflecting its depths back at you, holding the sky, your face, the world.
And here you are, rocking him as you walk, singing to him. The smells of sour milk, tiny fingernails making tiny scratches on his soft skin. You hold his chest to your ear and listen, his face to yours and watch.
And you come to know that life is not a circle at all, but a kaleidoscope of constantly changing patterns merging into one another, shapes reappearing and then fading again: my wife’s nose, my eyes, long fingers from someone long forgotten…It all comes back again, like a river of song, moving and merging with the ocean and the sky and falling to earth again as someone new, who will join with life and create their own patterns, their own sound and motion.
And you won’t be able to stop him or save him from this world anymore than you were stopped or saved. So you hold him and watch him watching you, and you say remember, remember….