I wrote this after sitting on a hammock in a Paris suburb at the home of Andre Agabalyan and his family.
Today, I decided to lay in my hammock and drift. I listened to the bird’s fluttering staccato chirps to one another, calling for food, calling for love. I flinched as bees swirled and dashed by my face, taunting me with their relentless hum and the ominous threat of their attack. I flinched because I couldn’t convince myself to trust. Instead, I simply wished I could communicate with the bees.
“Do you intend to harm me,” I would ask them. I couldn’t handle the thought of being stung, again. As a child, my friend Chris and I would use bee’s and hornet’s nests as target practice for our baseball throw. We used a tennis ball, though, to give them a chance.
The moment of the throw was always one of great dramatic tension. If the ball looked like it had a chance of hitting the target, then we would sprint away as soon as the projectile was released. We would check behind us seconds later to see if we were right, and if we were, we would run for a good five minutes, thinking the victims could easily identify us and mount an aerial retaliation. For this reason, the climax of My Girl was particularly poignant and frightening.
But once, a hornet did get me, right behind the ear. I cried and cried. I suspect that that momentary blip of pain forced me to confront my mortality for an excruciating childhood moment. I rolled off the hammock in the wake of its haunting memory, and lay in the grass where the worms could slowly wiggle onto my body, lay their eggs, start a family, sign off on a mortgage – the whole bit.
My eyelids grew heavier as I thought more of the worm family. The Johnson’s, they were called. None of them had first names; they just referred to each other as “Johnson”. The father of the homestead was a banker who wore a top hat and a brown tie to work. He had a cup of coffee for breakfast, with a slice of blood cake. The wife drew the blood from my unsuspecting arm – eyelids heavier – which I never felt, but might explain why I sometimes felt – heavier – dizzzzzzz.
Staccato chirps. The soundtrack to a canvas caked in darkness. Flickering light. I reacclimate, resituate, return to my drift.
Turn onto my side and stare into the grass. It’s green – not incredibly so - but enough. It’s numbingly green, in fact. Rather ordinary. Rather “to be expected”. My eyes scan over the base of an oak tree by the fence that’s been here longer than I have. Thought of Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and laughed. “No special tree in my life,” I thought to myself. These children’s tales have a tendency to pry morals out of molehills. I got back onto the hammock.
“Hey,” I hear a voice say. It’s not in my head. I ignore it for a moment. “Hey you,” it insists.
It’s real. I jolt. “Who said that? Where are you?”
“Where am I? Why, you’re right on me. Or perhaps I am on you.”
“What?” Ludicrous. What was I on? Nothing but a lousy hammock with multi-colored zig-zags with hues five years faded.
I ignore the voice, or at least tried at first. Went back to the grass, starring at the blades obediently pointing in the same direction – up.
“Funny, isn’t it,” resumed the voice. “How they all seem to be different, but they’re all just doing the same thing. Looking up.”
I considered the notion or a moment before jolting again. This time I plopped out of the zig-zag contraption and stared at it, expecting a response to my benign furrow-browed stares. “If there’s anybody here, just say so, because I can hear you.” It was the deadliest shade of my voice, tragically tinged with quivers on hard consonants. “I’ve been known to get rather hostile when provoked.” I bit my nails. “Consider it a warning.”
“Easy, friend. There’s no body here, just me.”
“Just your multi-“
The phone rang from inside the house. Most likely it was my sister again, fulfilling her self-imposed rule to call once a week, always on Saturdays – 98 percent of the time in the same half hour window. I let it ring and heard the message from a distance as it was being left. “Just calling to say hi and see how my little brother’s doing. Call me back when you get this.”
Another masterpiece performance. I had always resented the way she would refer to me as her little brother, as if it endowed her with an ownership.
“It’s strange, having no body,” continued the voice. “People always sit on me and law down on me and make love on me, but they never seem to consider that they could do those things with me as well. Instead I just study them, observe their body language – their hunched shoulders, their shallow breath.
I starred at the faded multi-colored zig-zag hammock, flabbergasted.
“Do you have any idea what it’s like to have people sit on you all day long, and not say thanks?”
“I – I’ve got a clue.” I had just left San Francisco on a two year stint driving taxis, making money, not hearing customers say “thanks” in their mad rush from A to B.
“Cabs don’t count. People pay you. It’s a form of gratitude.”
“Not necessarily.” I had thought this through many times before. “It’s not really a grateful gesture if the person is forced to pay. It’s a rather cold, emotionless, calculated economic exchange. And besides, how did you know I was a cabby?”
“I know many things about you, Charlie. I know by the way you lie upon me, by the way you rest on me for hours without moving, how you let the phone ring and ring, people reaching and reaching for you, and you more readily shut them out of your life than you let them in.”
“The last thing I need is a psychoanalytical hammock.” I kicked the dirt.
“Psychoanalytical? That’s quite a word. Quite the label. Maybe you are imposing false ideas on someone like me, someone who transcends society.”
“Society created you.”
“Society created you.”
Some response, I thought.
“Just because society created me, it does not mean that I, and for that matter you, must abide by her standards.”
“You’re just a hammock.”
“You’re just a man.”
“Is it a crime to suggest such a thing?”
It wasn’t. The birds kept chirping. The bees still hummed. I couldn’t handle it. Outfoxed by a hammock. I ran inside to return my sister’s call.