SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN F MINOR
by Nathan Soltz
The following is all approximation. It's hard for me to remember our conversations. It's hard for me to remember any conversations. It's hard for me to remember how people talk. It's hard for me to remember how I talk. It's been so long...
MOVEMENT I, MOLTO ALLEGRO
"Do you go by--?"
"How shall I call you?"
The conversation continued with the doctor (I'm assuming he was a doctor, but my father has warned me many a-time about assuming) still speaking.
"What can I help you with today?"
I said, "I'm not sure."
I said, "That's why I'm here."
I said, "I have never done this before."
Then he said, "I see."
Then I said, "What do you see?"
"I'm not sure."
He saw. As did I.
"Let's start with some simple questions. How old--"
The maybe-doctor cleared his throat and continued, now annoyed.
"How old are you?"
"What are your--"
"How shall I call you?"
I repeated, slowly: "HOW. SHALL. I. CAAAALLLL YOOOOUUUU?"
"John, Doctor, Doctor Smith, Doctor John Smith, whatever you most feel comfortable with."
I was correct about him being a doctor; eat your heart out, dad.
I said, "Okay Mister, what would you like me to talk about?"
"That was not one of the options."
"I know, but then you added 'whatever you most feel comfortable with' and I feel most comfortable with 'Mister.' John Smith isn't even your real name."
"No it is not. And I meant out of the choices that I had given you."
"Well it's far too godfucking late now isn't it?"
"I suppose it is."
He paused. I paused. He paused more. I stopped breathing. He continued.
"Let's talk about your mother."
"Let's talk about your father."
I was reminded of how he warns me about assuming.
I told the doctor: "He always warns me about assuming."
"And your mother?"
I said, "She does not."
MOVEMENT II, ANDANTE
Thirty minutes had passed. And six years. Six years and thirty minutes. This was our second meeting.
"How's your mother..." here, he stumbled and corrected himself "...Aaron?"
"She's well, thanks John." That was a lie - mother was dead. But John and I had grown much closer, and I now felt comfortable calling him by his assumed first name.
"Now tell me, Aaron, are you still taking your medication?"
"No, John, I am not. In fact, I stopped taking it about 30 days ago." This, of course, was also a lie. I had stopped taking the medication about 31 days ago. The hook-shape of it was unpropitious and made me paranoid about it potentially getting caught on my surgically-enlarged larynx.
"And why, Aaron, would you ever do that?"
"It made my head feel funny, John." Another lie.
"Are you lying to me, Aaron?"
"Yes, John, I am." Another lie.
MOVEMENT III, MODERATO
I was walking down a sunset beach in an as-yet unknown space. It was gorgeous, but also slightly annoying. I told her this. She looked at me strangely and walked off. Come to think of it, I'm not sure exactly what I told her that afternoon. In fact, I'm not sure if I told her anything. And if I did, I couldn't even swear that it was English. Actually, it probably wasn't. Again, that's only if I said anything at all.
When I got back to our hotel room, she was waiting for me. I was surprised, but I'm not sure why. I really shouldn't have been. Where else would she have gone? I think she paid for the room anyway. She was probably more surprised to see me than I was to see her. This was right when the illness started kicking in. As I stepped in, my vision got fuzzy and speech started slurring and when I meant to tell her of something important that I had seen way out in the ocean after she had left, all that came out was something along the lines of: "e;ohrvfijrfoierfoifrfoijioj;er." This, of course, is an approximation of what the nurses recounted to me once I regained consciousness. Although, I suppose that it might not have been gibberish; the nurses could have just been speaking a language that I did not; I'll have to check my records for this. I do not speak Swahili, so it could have been that. Again, I am not sure so PLEASE STOP ASKING ME, MARGARET.
She was by my side when I awoke, as she frequently was. Standing over me, hunched over my face like a hungry hyena as I opened my eyes. It was always a sight that warmed me.
When we returned to the hotel room, she told me that she was going to go out. I think that I grunted in response with the tube still down my throat as she took off her wig and left. I stared out the balcony, viciously sucking down the contents of the bag through the tube. I assumed it was sustenance. I hoped it was morphine. I guessed it was formaldehyde. To this day, I am unsure which one of those it actually was - although I have convinced myself that it must have been at least one of those things.
On her return, I had finished the mysterious contents of the bag and, in a delusional state, told her that I wanted to move away. Elope and never return. She asked "where to?" I was unsure so I said the first country that came to mind. "Burma." And with that, we left. And never looked back.
It hurts me now to think about how this illness ruined me. Or maybe I ruined this illness. Maybe it is being merciful and maybe I'm just too goddamn stubborn. The ringing in my ears still hasn't stopped. It's all I can do to not plunge a letter opener into my auditory cortex in rebellion. But that would be too easy - oh that would be too easy for her. I have to give her a challenge. No buzzing is going to make me give in. My life is spiteful now. What do I mean now? My life has always been spiteful. The only thing I ever wanted to do was ruined as soon as I spent my first night in that dreadful home. It wasn't even ours. Its blank exterior staring at me in uppity anticipation as I would enter it. I couldn't wait to leave but she insisted we stay. She said it would be good for her; good for the baby. Clearly it wasn't. Still though, I don't know why she would think that. It hasn't been good for anyone who's lived there. Only for the people that put them there.
MOVEMENT IV, ALLEGRETTO
My time in Burma was a blur. And we didn't stay long, as both she and I found the name change to Myanmar deeply off-putting.
Back in the United States, we set up a home in rural West Virginia. Or at least, this is what she told me. I was never allowed out of the house anymore. The doctors came every now and again. They seemed American so I assumed she was telling the truth about that. However, to the best of my ability, I am unable to conjure up in my mind a generic West Virginian, so this part is still uncertain.
It was at this home that I recounted to the doctors my story. My bouts with depression when I was young. My bouts with suicide when I was not quite as young. Back to depression soon after that. It was a lowly time - this recounting of the stories. I told them about how when I was a child my parents never fought and my sibling was always horrible to me. I told them about the time I was beat with a board game. I told them about the time I was tricked into eating fish under the pretense that it was chicken, but the joke was ultimately on my mother because that was the night we found out I am deathly allergic to fish. I told them how I once fell in love with my best friend but he left me without ever knowing that he left me and how I never really loved my wife. I told them how the one time I tried killing myself with alcohol failed because I neglected to take into account how much gin a large man could handle. I told them about the night I lost my virginity and how it made me start to view sex as a necessity of life instead of a pleasure. I told them that I've never smoked marijuana, but I once had a stint as a cocaine-addict in high school. I told them how I only partook in sex with men not because I was homosexual, but because I feared the repercussions of getting a woman pregnant. I told them how I had gotten my own wife pregnant because a child would look good to the press. I told them how that child was never born. I told them how the press never cared. I told them how my wife cried and cried and cried and how I wished that I could cry and cry and cry with her but I just couldn't goddammit because of the fucking press! I told them of the Oriental-flavored Ramen that I would eat while in college with my new best friend (the one I couldn't possibly fall in love with). And I told them of how I went to go see an attorney masquerading as a psychotherapist three times in my life, but the third time left me torn down and I never went back to be rebuilt. I told them about the dog I had as a teenager and the father I had as a teenager and the jail time I served as a teenager and the piano I played as a teenager and the vodka I would drink as a teenager and the suits I would wear as a teenager and the car I would drive as a teenager and the dope I wouldn't smoke as a teenager because I wanted to keep my body pure as a temple for my Lord and Savior.
After this, they left. And I do not remember seeing them again for some time.
MOVEMENT V, LARGHETTO
I came out of her womb into the light of the hospital. I was crying. My mom was crying. My dad was crying. The doctor was crying. The nurse was crying. The whole world was crying and God himself was crying because it was April and it always rains in April in Canada.
"A gorgeous baby," said the doctor as he handed me to my new mother.
She held me and sweetly asked her husband over my incessant crying, "What shall we name him, Joseph?" turning her gaze from my eyes to his.
"I think we know, Mary."
I continued crying.
I don't remember much else these days. It's all kind of starting to blur together. Je ne souviens pas. Je ne souviens rien. Or, as they would say in Swahili, sitaki kukumbuka. I'm staring at that large strange knot in the wood paneling of our allegedly West Virginian home and it's staring back at me. Sometimes I think it blinks, but maybe that's because it's been so long since I saw anything blink. It's been so long since I've seen anything - anyone. In retelling my stories, that dialogue is the closest I've had to conversation for days. Or maybe it's been months. She had all of the clocks removed soon after we moved here and she's sold off all my watches and the only window is on the other side of the room and I can't be bothered to turn around and see when it's day and when it's night. It feels like night.
She's taken me to the hospital. They know me here. She's told them that I'm in a lot of pain, which I'm not. It's been so long since I've spoken, though, that I am unable to correct her and I don't know that I really care to. I have a sneaking suspicion that she's trying to kill me. I wish I could thank her.
They leave us alone. She turns to me and says, "I know what you did." I turn back and say, "that makes one of us."
Despite her urging, they release me with a clean bill of health - some doctors.
Some more days and nights go by before I see her again. This time it's in a letter though. The doctors have come back and they were so kind as to pick up my mail. She sent me a postcard from Burma. She says she's enjoying its new name: Myanmar - like the nominal approximation of house cats being slaughtered. I can't believe I stayed with a woman like that for all these years. Hello, Satan, my old friend.