The Space Between
oulseeking is a regular column at Stylus that hopefully does a bit of what the title suggests, in order to better understand what it is we fell in love with, and, if need be, go a little way towards getting that feeling back.
At first I started eating his food for no apparent reason, going through everything gradually as if it was mine. Sean liked Oreos and Oil and Vinegar Pringles; I found the Pringles abhorrent but consumed them with a strange resignation. Each bite would pain my salivary glands as they tried to compensate for the sharpness and my tongue would reel inside my mouth. His parents came by to pick up only the essentials—bedding, clothes, and some books—and I was bestowed a two-person dorm room. We weren’t good friends, though there wasn’t any animus between us and a few times we even shared sparks of humor.
The first few days afterwards were bizarre because they weren’t sad. For a while the room itself took on another form since his family was always there, mulling around and shifting things, looking upon the space with a pained reverence. They all coped differently too: Wanda got on Sean’s instant messenger account to tell all his friends what happened, Gerry went around the floor talking to as many people as possible, and Ed, Sean’s brother, wanted to do research on the subject itself. I was a shadow in it all: I was his roommate, but for only two months. I knew so little about him yet I felt it incumbent upon me to assuage his bereaved family.
I never played Radiohead’s “How to Disappear Completely” because it somehow fit a specific mood or environment, but because it was the only damn song I understood from Kid A. I understood the way the strings flowed and caressed the space. I understood Yorke’s cadence, moving between sleep and death. But at night, when I was alone there; at night, when his bed remained untouched; at night, when darkness crept forth from the walls, I’d play that song.
I still feel culpable over Sean’s death.
Everyone on my floor thought he was just badly hungover and even my R.A. saw nothing of major concern. At times he reeled in his bed from side to side, regaining muddled consciousness only to return to sleep. I was actually pissed at him for being so sick because I couldn’t do research in the library as I had planned and had to stay in the room to monitor his condition. The last time I saw him alive I was pissed at him.
I told few people about it, though many already knew. I didn’t tell my professors because I didn’t want my academic performance to be influenced by sympathy; it was crucial that I maintained at least that level of normalcy. Yet Sean and I weren’t really friends, we were roommates—the outpouring of support felt undeserved. We weren’t friends. Each expression of reassurance pulled me towards an artificial grievance, an extreme filled with wailings, teary eyes, and funeral clothes.
I tried to mourn under the full moon of midnight strolls after work. I listened to music on my headphones then, but it was simply background noise, a peripheral ruffle to keep all the shadows on the concrete from moving. In that place, underneath the starless night, I was scared, not sad. The world was asleep and blissfully indifferent to it all. Yet during the day I received a great emotional outpour that was often suffocating.
The space between the uncaring world and overly caring individuals was my room, that den of a former life that was now mine. “How to Disappear Completely” seemed to fill it to the brim, the strings moving through the mattress that still probably had remnants of his cold sweat; moving through his empty closet space; and moving through his empty desk. There are those who listen to music to be placed in a certain mood, to find escape from whatever unpalatable pit they find themselves. But the way Yorke’s notes bounced off the walls, the way the strings were absorbed into the wood and metal of that room, I knew escapism wouldn’t be my reason. My reason would be a fuller immersion.
Playing happy music to make you happier is one of the silliest things you can do. You aren’t happy, that fact is ineffaceable and probably a function of some aspect of your life. Using music in this way only makes it out to be an adult version of the imaginary friend. Sadness is a disorienting blur, a discomforting haze that makes the world familiar but impalpable. I don’t want to escape the world; I just want it to make sense. For five minutes I wanted my anxieties, my guilt, and my sadness to be finer. For five minutes I wanted familiarity. For five minutes I just wanted to be there.
Songs here are channeling devices, instruments that calibrate your fucked up perceptions and ideas so that, simply put, you don’t go nuts. You’re the vessel in the matter, just some husk of emotional garbage and unsubstantiated thought. The world won’t help you: it’s sentient but massive, merely a collection of bodies who don’t have the time of day to concern themselves with your private hell. Sometimes even those who do care don’t help you: their attempts to placate end up only compressing your pain, unintentionally causing discomfort and making you scream, “This isn’t how it feels!” You don’t need the problem to go away—most times it won’t so easily—you need the problem to be highlighted, to have its form outlined with specificity. You need to fill the space between.
You may say, “but isn’t Yorke singing precisely about escapism? Doesn’t he sing, ‘that there / That’s not me?’” Sure, but his cadence seems trapped, suspended in a viscosity of confusion from which he seeks to be unbound. He isn’t bawling, just tired and in that state his escapist desire is escapism itself: “I walk through walls / I float down the levee.” I was tired of leaving my room to the heavy march of pedestrians; strangers whose glances would recognize your human form but not your humanity. I was tired of being set upon by good intentions, of having the confused language with which I spoke of the event always being translated into simple speech. I was tired. I didn’t want this.
“I’m not here. This isn’t happening.”
This is how my love for sound became crystallized, what it ultimately came to represent. There’s a definite horror accompanying such a trade; a fear that any one piece of music could be your looking glass and send your hurtling into a realm of your own creation with utmost form and substance. But there’s also a definite satisfaction to having ineffable sentiments, ideas, and feelings carved out with utmost form and substance. I’m just tiptoeing between the two, hoping that I come out OK. I hope the space between doesn’t eventually swallow me.
By: Ayo Jegede
Published on: 2006-07-31