Now comes the imagined part.
Now comes the coming to grips with the very real inevitability of the end of life.
Now comes the part that says “it’s me this time; the rush of days weeks, months and years has finally become a place. That rush has become the endpoint.”
So what does that endpoint look like?
The real answer, of course, is “I don’t know”.
But that doesn’t move the theme forward, so I need to proffer a possibility.
That possibility goes as follows.
Perhaps the warning bell had rung the first day that I was rummaging around in the drawer of my bedside stand looking for an extra battery that I was sure I was keeping there as a replacement for the one that had just gone dead in my travel alarm. Among the other flotsam and jetsam in the drawer were several expired driver’s licenses.
I had begun removing stuff and putting it on the bed to reduce the number of things in the way of finding the battery.
The licenses were among those things.
They were in their own separate pile.
I couldn’t find the battery.
“Shit” I said to myself.
Then I cast a glance at the pile of stuff on the bed and my gaze settled on the driver’s licenses.
I decided to put them in chronological order.
I laid them side by side - oldest to newest .
I heard myself asking a question: “Who is the young guy with all the hair in the first of series?” That question was followed immediately by: “Who is that increasingly older guy with less and less hair that appears in the others in the series?”
And finally I wondered: “Who, for that matter is that really old hairless guy on the unexpired license in my wallet?”
By laying them side by side and blinking rapidly I saw a movie-like progression of a somber faced, vaguely familiar looking person changing from younger to older.
It took only moments.
“How many years do those moments’ of metamorphosis represent?” I wondered.
Those pictures looked progressively less like the “me” that I think that I remember.
They looked progressively less like the “me” that I continue to feel as if I am.
In fact, rather than looking like “me” they looked more like some ancient grandfather.
If they had anything to do with “me” it could only be from some other consciousness or some other life or some other time or some other place.
Except for being mildly entertaining, that experience of the progression of the pictures rang no bells of warning.
The longest day of the year, every year, begins to seem to be closer, every year, to the shortest day of the year.
The shortest day is always a day of quiet introspective internal celebration.
After all, the darkness will begin to retreat with the following dawn.
The longest day is a day for quiet introspective internal grieving.
After all, the darkness will only advance with the following dawn.
Those days both increasingly seem to be lurching out of their temporal containers of years and into increasingly brief temporal containers of months, days and hours.
It seems as if the longest and shortest days are moving toward merger.
Will time reach a point where it flows back upon itself? And if so, what happens then?
Is the apparently accelerating compression of time an intensely individual experience, or is it universal?
And, if it is universal, what is the end-game of that universe?
Or, what is that universe?
Or, even, is – as in does it exist - that universe at all?
Am I it?
Is it me?
How can it – in relation to me - have become fluid to the point of being actually in question as to its existence?
Am I where?
Where am I?
Am I, even?”
The increasing spin of the hands of the clock, the flow of the days, of the seasons, of the months and of the years and the little movie of the rapidly aging face in the pile of expired driver’s licenses have only seemed to accelerate.
And there are the chestnuts.
The specifics of their yearly march never vary, only the interval changes.
The sticky and shiny protectively coated buds always burst forth into little palm tree-like fronds. The fronds always become full-fledged leaf clusters, appearing from nowhere and taking on a darker green hue and looking like serrated green fans. Then the Christmas tree shaped clusters at the tip of each stem emerge. Each Christmas tree shaped cluster soon becomes a glorious burst of creamy white flowers with dark rosy colored throats or, in Paris, beautiful pink flowers with deeper rosy colored throats. Little round green nubbins appear where the flower clusters had been not long before; the leaves continue to darken; the nubbins become golf ball sized and then bigger; and the little protrusions that had been on the nubbins become identifiable spikes.
One-day fall arrives.
The angle of the sun always confirms it.
The chestnut leaves turn yellow. On a chilly night the wind rises and the husks of the golf balls split and shiny brown gems fall in cascades to the ground where children pick some up. The rest are pushed around in piles of leaves; those piles of leaves are then raked and burned. And some of the chestnuts get charred. And some escape getting charred. And those that escape are ground to meal by passing automobiles. And then the rain begins to torrent. And the car-ground meal roils into the gutters with the rain and is washed into the drains.
And only moments – it begins to seem – have passed.
And then it begins over again.
And each time the interval of the chestnuts seems to be shorter.
And there is the Mountain Ash.
There is the rapid-fire sequence of fans of small pointed leaves, masses of flat multi-petaled creamy white flowers and an unpleasant smell.
The flowers and fans rapidly fade and disappear into a summery green mass of leaves that flutter and shimmer in the summer breezes.
Suddenly after an extended anonymous absence of weeks there becomes a burst of emphatic attention-demanding clusters of red-orange berries, which have appeared as if from nowhere.
Robins, and sometimes, wax wings eat them with voracity.
They briefly complete the scene as it rushes by with an increasing speed but with an undiminished clarity.
And only moments – it has begun to seem – have passed.
And then the cycle begins again.
And each time the passage of the Mountain Ash is faster.
And there is recycling and garbage pickup.
It seems as if I have no sooner put the garbage and the recycling on the street than I am doing it again; and then I am doing it again; and then I am doing it again. Individual Saturdays or Sundays sometimes appear fuzzily through the blur of Wednesdays, and sometimes a Monday, but it has begun to be that every day is Thursday.
Thursday is pickup day. Early every dawn seems to begin with the roar then the silence, then the roar again of the oncoming trucks. Intermittently the sound of a bell of the truck backing up punctuates the silences.
And then the roar and the bells are separated by hours, then by minutes then by seconds; and then it is just one roar punctuated by bells.
And the chestnuts have begun to interleave with the Mountain Ash and they have both further merged with the Thursday morning roar and silence and roar and silence and the bell; and all of these are merged with and punctuated by the blinding transition from shortest to longest to shortest to longest days of the year.
And none of these are blurs but are instead are distinct and clear as individuals; and they are distinct and clear from each other; and in spite of their increasingly astonishing speed they have continued to act as individual marks in time.
And the moments in which those things are, become ever more brief between their beginning and their end and then their beginning again.
What I had previously perceived as the inexorably forward progress of time has begun to appear as if it is spinning toward some sort of merger – front to back - where, like the spokes of a wheel seen through the slots of a stroboscope running faster than the wheel, the wheel would appear to be rolling in reverse.
It has begun to seem as if there will soon be a moment when the longest day and the shortest day will appear together and then will pass one another in the opposite direction.
And the blackened chestnuts of the rainy gutter will merge with the reddish orange splash of Mountain Ash.
And there will be a flickering moving picture of a man with measured acceleration oscillating between images with hair and images with no hair, between younger and older.
At some point will it all become one and then, perhaps, will it all fade to black just like a real movie?
And what happens then?
One spring morning I awaken very early.
It is barely light.
I have long since ceased to be accustomed to be being asleep at that time of day, and on many similar mornings I have become familiar with the silence of that time.
When I realize what I am hearing I assume that it must be a dream.
There is an almost deafening sound.
It is almost like a medium pitched roar with occasional wisps of sound leaking out of it.
It is the sound of myriad birds, all chirping at random, and singing their morning songs.
I have heard it before. With a feeling of joy I recognize a chorus of robins sequentially calling for rain.
Or are they calling for the sunrise?
The house is strangely silent. It seems totally out of character for it to have abandoned its periodic creaks, snaps and pops.
Perhaps it knows something that I don’t know.
Perhaps it doesn’t feel the need to keep me awake anymore.
“I must be asleep and dreaming,” I conclude. “How else could I be seeing and hearing what I am seeing and hearing?”
“How could I be seeing the flow of the chestnuts, the flow of the Mountain Ash and hearing the bell of the recycling truck backing up? And how could the huge tribe of birds long missing suddenly have returned? And why are the faces in the driver’s licenses lurching backward beyond long known limits?”
Everything folds backwards upon itself. The chestnut blossoms become recycle days and recycle days become mountain ash berries.
The time of a clock that appears from nowhere is at hyper speed even as it stands still, even as its hands pass one another intermittently backwards, even as it blurs, even as it disappears.
A sense of mortality blends with the realization of boundaries.
The dream is not a dream. The dream is reality.
And reality is a dream.
And the boundaries fade and opportunities lost and achievements unattained loom and overwhelm.
Whatever it is that I have ever thought that I might be or might have been is becoming a neatly wrapped package; it is becoming a sleekly designed capsule.
And then some infinite unseen and unseeable facility or force compresses it all – the hopes, the dreams, the illusions, the achievements, the misses and near misses, the loves, the hates, the intentions good and the intentions bad - into an expendable portion and inserts it into infinity.