Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day 30: Alis Volat Propriis

A Missive of gratitude and Valentine of Thanksgiving for the Sarah St. James, the woman who made me a writer…

Why Miss St. James,

It happened in autumn, the dervish-flavored swirl of candy-corn colored leaves bearing withered shades of tin and copper scraping inside the chin of front doorways buffeted by a northern gale. It happened in the time of year “Thou mayest in me behold” (as the immortal bard once did quote). It happened in the time of year when there is a real tangibility to the air and there’s a lucid quality and almost a cosmic jangle emanating from the stars and you can see your breath exhaling in caricatured bubbles in front of you under the chrome stalks of blaring stadium lights and every Friday night somehow seems to carry the thick ember-scent of a not too distant bonfire.

It might have perhaps all been a dream.

But it happened in autumn.

In the fall of 1998 I enrolled in a so-called creative writing class academically absconded in the interior yawn of Bradley Hall when my teacher and mentor, the great Thomas Palakeel presented his pupils with an in-class writing assignment.  The in-class assignment the great Doctor Palakeel asked us to write was this:

Describe an encounter with the one person who made you want to be a writer and who changed your life forever.

Back then there were no laptops or IPADS in the classroom and so we scripted our responses on thinly veined albino paper that looked like it was suffering from sort of arcane calcium deficiency, writing quickly in chiseled wisps of loping ink. I was the last one who bowed my head into the scattered nest of paper in front of me, mulling over the Prof’s dictated query, my mind as vacuous as the cloudy slate in front me, aimlessly contemplating on how to retort to his request.  

 When the professor is firing a track gun laden with blanks you don’t think. You just start writing.

And so I did. I started writing and between alphabetical slats and paragraphical gulfs I found myself traversing backwards in stuttered skips to the dream silhouette of a woman I had a terse encounter with five years earlier, in mid-December 1993, a week before Christmas in the slim Poetry section of a bookstore the  width of a child-sized fairytale wardrobe in Northwoods mall.

The woman bore Rossettiesque long auburn tresses reminiscent of a late-September sunset that seemingly splashed in a gentle plume of light as it dripped past the porcelain contours of her cheekbones and neck. Her parchment-rich skin was the color of classical sheet music anxiously anticipating the arrival of rococo-shaped time signatures and dashing quarter notes. Her outfit was classy, the ruffled idiosyncratic squint of memory has her attired in a long skirt and boots and a top that was mostly black.  Her body was bent down in what looked like a third-trimester yoga posture, as if her limbs were ready to hatch while she sifted (scurrilously) through the bottom shelf of the Poetry section in what was probably Walden Books at the time.

The woman was stunning. Ravishing beyond the reverberating echo of words.  Pulchritude upon first perusal. An angel whose wings could perhaps be found flapping in curious cadence with every coy, syncopated blink of her alluring smile.

(For some reason in my memory the creature scuttling across the lowly hyphen of books always resembles the actress Ione Skye. But that might just be me. I harbor a hardcore ‘Say Anything’ fetish. Nothing like giving the lass of yer every waking wet-dream the poetic pulse of your heart while she gives you a pen in a flaccid display botched romantic barter.)

As continents of ink poured into the unassuming brow of the sheath of paper in front of me I began to sketch what sprinkled details I could collectively cull from the roots of my unconscious about the brief encounter with the dream angel that aesthetically altered the discourse of my life:

We were both stranded in the strip of the poetry section.  She was groping papery spines and examining the titles before slipping them back on the shelf. I was staring, seemingly spellbound smitten in escalating still-life awe at the glissading sight of her every subtle movement.  I would have been a sophomore in high school. I could tell by looking at her that she was older, maybe by three or four years.

Whoever the creature was her every movement seemed accompanied in a dalliance of slow-motion. We volleyed several unsuspecting glances back and forth and then there was a pause and a moment where each of us sort of looked down into the top of our shoes.

She looked back at me and smiled, light breaking into a bouquet of molecules breaking into sonnets breaking into sentences breaking into sound.  Her chin swiveled and then she spoke, her voice exiting her lips in a pirouette of sentences like musical chords.

The question she asked me was about a book of poems, she was looking for the title of a book of poems, the titular clanging of arrayed syllables the likes of which I had never before heard. Perhaps she thought I was an employee or perhaps she thought I was looking for the same thing that somehow she sought.

            I told her I had never heard of the title of book before and then I naively asked if it was something written by Shakespeare. She turned back to me and blushed and smiled.

 Somehow a conversation ensued and somehow she kept smiling yet occasionally looking down while tithing a coy smile. When I inquired where she went to school she mentioned a school in Michigan I had never heard of before and when I looked back at her nonplussed and tilted my head she made me lift my right hand up in a pledging manner as if taking some kind of jury-induced oath before the beautiful wild-eyed creature simply pointed into the bottom of my palm as if lithely pressing an elevator button into the aerie tuft of time.

“It’s right here,” She said, touching the interior of my hand slightly above my wrist.

“What?” I retorted, not sure of what she was trying to convey.

The creature smiles. I volley a smile back. She continues to point

“Your hand is Michigan. I go to school here.”

She tells me the name of the school.

Her lips seemed to bite inside her lips. A conversation about art and life would somehow transpire. We would spend probably an allocated hour both in the bookstore and traipsing around the holiday garb of the mall talking about life. Somehow writing the essay for Doctor Palakeel in Bradley Hall that day I was convinced beyond a keyhole-silhouette of a doubting Thomas shadow that this was the creature that had made me a writer. I was convinced that in that moment she pointed to the interior of my hand in an endeavor to show me the geographical locale of her academic terra firma, somehow it was that moment when I became a writer, the moment when the linguistic seed of yearning was planted through the subtle touch of her finger into the bottom of my hand.

So that autumn afternoon in 1998, five years after I had the encounter with the dream muse, having forgotten all about her until I was asked to choreograph the memory through alphabetical scratches I made a vow, I would find her again. I didn’t know her name but I began to search for the classy creation I sauntered upon in the bookstore in the mall that day.

The woman who made me a writer.


Accelerate through the static blur of what is commonly conceived as time from the lost soil of the late-90’s. I grew my hair long.  I lived a battered bohemian lifestyle. I dated a sexy married Psychology professor whose estranged husband was this middle-aged black man who had the words Othello on his license plate and who worked security and had a gun. I moved and crashed on the corner of 10th and Broadway in the Village in New York (briefly) and ate Breakfast every morning straddling a park bench beneath nylon-aqueduct shaped penumbra flooding Washington Square Park. I lived in an 1844 mansion on High street (coolest fucking house in P-town) with my classy gay roommate and best friend who worked for PBS (It was gay Dave and straight Dave; we used to quibble about the toilet paper). I watched whatever was left of life leak out from the cancer-riddled frame of my father’s body in a hospital bedroom at Methodist.  I moved into a house on Moss Avenue full of transients and catshit. I started working two shitty-paying jobs about 80 hours a week. I was tired all the fucking time. I was always broke. I moved out and lived in my station wagon in the far end of Jumer’s parking lot, all the while still aching to write all the time. I ended up living back on my old street with an old man who was a psychic (kinda Gandalf to my Frodo) who when first I was invited into his commodious condo two years earlier he told me to look around cause I will be living here with him someday.  I had five hundred single space pages for a novel I started two years earlier, my chest felt like the ocular lens of an abandon washing machine, transparent and vacuous and empty and broken. I watched my sister get married, quit one of my jobs and began attacking the keyboard in a hyperborean overtly caffeinated kinetic frenzy pelting out ten single-space pages a day watching what felt like my newborn enter the world through the slits of the  printer at work (something tells me you have the inkling of a literary-lifestyle and you know how this feels/feeling sexually frustrating and aching just to cum with the medium of language and then capitulating and finally exploding in a metaphor of lost light).  
I started pissing out hundreds of pages a month, writing twelve-to-sixteen hours a day, sleeping maybe less than four hours a night.  I couldn’t stop banging away at the plastic lip of the keyboard, couldn’t stop manacling every burrowed emotion into the intractable headboard of the human condition, couldn’t stop bending the malleable torso of narrative longing and fucking the hell out of the anatomy of the alphabet, coming in unison with a deeply plosive scratch of words followed in tantric tandem with a punctual sigh.
 Circa autumn 2003 when I was working on this project entitled BOOK OF MUSES (the book was pretty much all about pseudo-biographical sensual pining). I started writing long epics about terse encounters and somehow I thought about that creature I met in the mall what would have been almost a decade before.
I didn’t even know her name. 
All I had in my mind was a picture locked in the football helmet of my skull flashing a slide of a creature from almost exactly a skipped decade earlier who resembled Ione Skye in my imagination who was ravishingly gorgeous who seemed bitchingly well read and somewhat of an intellectual powerhouse savant and who made me alight my unsplayed palm in front of me like she wanted me to make a live long prosper emblem before her finger touched the inside of my hand.
All I really remembered most vividly was that she went to college in Michigan.
I had no clue what her name was. Had no clue where she went to high school at although I surmised it was probably Richwoods or Dunlap or Notre Dame or possibly Metamora. Somehow I thought to myself, fuck, it shouldn’t be hard.  All I have to do is go down to the library and monopolize an empty afternoon combing through the archives of the Journal Star from the spring of either 1992 or 1993 and see if there was a creature graduating from the area whose academic laurels were noted and who was mentioned to attend any private college in Michigan or school that wasn’t affiliated with Big Ten sports team.
It shouldn’t be that hard at all.
One grey November weekend when the sidewalks were a spluttering nest of wet leaves I did just that. Ferrying my five-hundred page novel under my arm like a triangular military flag after taps I ambled down to the library and monopolized two vertigo-induced nauseating afternoons kowtowing in front of the moribund microfiche machine feeding continuous reels of what looked like urine-saturated film negatives into a rackety apparatus the size and girth of an Easter Island statue.   
Optically I sieved through reels of top ten lists and Sterling merit scholars. I looked at the black and white visages. I looked for any creature that might have resembled Ione Skye. I continued to spelunker. I went back a few more years thinking that perhaps the creature might be older. I became frustrated. I went down to what was then Sullivan’s and sat in the corner where I always drank alone when I guzzled Boddingtons and Beamish, writing long hand on the back of one of my manuscripts trying to relive our terse encounter again. Sporadically I would converse with the legendary bar proprietor and raconteur the late Great Sully himself. When he inquired what I was working on I would tell him about my stories.
“But today I’m doing research. I’m trying to find this creature who may or may not have even existed. It seems more like a fucking dream. I don’t even know her name. All I know is that she went to college in Michigan at some school I never heard of before. I remember ‘cause she touched the bottom of my palm to show me where it was at.”
The great Sully inquired why I was in such a downtrodden pickle to find her again.
“Was she the love of your life or something? You trying to get with her?”
I tell him no. I take a slurp off the buttery foam from my Boddigntons. I tell him why I wanted to discern her identity and thought about her every couple of years. I tell him what I plan on telling her if ever I sniff the scent of her smile again.
 Sully looks back at me in head swiping motion. I order another round.

“You’ll find her again. Even though you don’t know her name. You’ll find her again. I have faith in you.” He told me, with an Irish wink in his eye.
  After a few more rounds I retreated back to the dank catacombs of the library, I continued to spool the machine with jaundice strips of film and surf through blurs of old newspaper. After another hour I gave up. I went back to Sullivan’s and had more beer and thought that there must be a different way to find her again.
It was November 2003. I had met her a week before Christmas December 1993. I was twenty-five years old.  My life seemed to be going nowhere. I thought about the velocity of the last ten years. I thought about perhaps if I squinted hard enough into the subatomic quilt of reality that maybe somehow I would be able to wade in reverse a decade past and see the back of my head talking to the riveting dream muse in the bookstore and somehow tell myself to remember everything about her. I thought more about the last ten years and thought about a quote from Milton where he talks about the transient nature of reality, lamenting, “How soon hath Time the subtle thief of youth.”  
Ten years and I had spent maybe half-hour forty-five minutes’ tops with an alluring creation and then vowed to write.
 I thought about Auden’s Let not time deceive you, you cannot conquer time.

I thought more about the past before drinking more beer while looking down at the five hundred skittering pages of my mock manuscript and smiling.
Back in December 1993 I was a sixteen year old sophomore at Manual High school (it was a few French fries short of an academic happy meal but it didn’t get really ghettoey until my senior year when kids started getting shot). I went to grade school in the south side of Peoria as well and pretty much, up to age fifteen, was somewhat of a wanna-be thug. I wore unblemished sneakers and starter caps with the tag still-affixed and jeans that sagged down to the caps of my knees and ambled in tottering pimp as if I had bullet lodged in my left kneecap.
My freshman year of high school everything changed. I won this trip to England sponsored by this swanky magazine in New York (the program used to be called the YOUNG COLUMBUS but sadly they stopped doing it après 9-11) where they would take 150 kids from the ages 12-18, show them New York for a day and then chauffer them to a country in Europe.  There were three winners from Illinois and I had tried to win the contest the previous two years (when it was to Paris!!!) but struck out swinging. The third year I didn’t want to enter the contest for fear of failure again but entered it and somehow won. There was something about those two weeks in Britain that gave an occluded freshman growing up in the cultural dregs and jettisoned shingles collectively constituting the Southside of Peoria an augmented perspective of the globe. That made me want to read everything. Experience everything. Made me want to fuck everything.  
Something about that trip that ameliorated my consciousness and fostered my aesthetic appreciation about everything bartering oxygen for hydrogen on the forehead of the planet.
I saved up and went back to Europe twice again in high school. I started writing everyday afterschool. I would brew a pot of coffee and would adjourn to my bedroom and listen to THE WRITER'S ALMANAC while noticing the echoing shades of light dancing in the east outside my bedroom window as hints of peach merged with electric azure before a tangerine coated dusk smattered across the horizon and then blinked into darkness.    
I became depressed. I carved the word POET in a vertical welt on my chest. I listened to more SMITHS’ than could possibly be salubrious for my sanity. I commiserated with every confessional-lilted stanza emanating from the nihilistic pen of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. I smoked clove cigarettes. I bought a beret. I got really into opera.
I would traipse up and down the illuminated arteries of Moss Avenue at night and lose myself in the architectural visages quoting THE LOVE SONG OF J.ALFRED PRUFROCK while nursing cheap cigars.
I had pictures of Ezra Pound and Bob Dylan plastered on my bedroom wall.
Poetry became my best friend.
And all I did was write; chiseling out between fifty and sixty (callow/unfledged) poems a month. The poems were shitty, noisome, downright bad, but the heart was there, and I would gladly barter any menial amount of recognition to become that poet who secluded himself in his high school bedroom and who French kissed the forehead of the page with such unfettered passion once again.
Occasionally as I would write I would think about the terse encounter I had in the mall with the classy dream angel, pondering about her in her college dorm room, reminiscing over how her forehead was ashen white with a gentle almost doilyesque-hue as if an ivory configured halo had sprouted in a refulgent corona and exploded and then melted on top of her, basting the blithe dome of her frontal lobe in a benevolent sheen of glistening light.

Fast-forward six years from autumn 2003 to autumn 2009, the fickle nature of time resembling a jutted prow on a tempest bearing ship headed nowhere. I continued to write. I worked all the time. I graduated college at the ripe old age of twenty-seven and got a job as the late night manager at Bradley library deluged by books and nubile college coeds with Greek emblems sewn on their shirt and nothing between their earlobes say a tampon. I moved out from living with the psychic and got an apartment with a Murphy bed that looked like something Jack Kerouac might convalesce in after motoring cross-country in a purloined Buick wired on Benzedrine. I partied hard and developed unsavory vices. I won a few perfunctory literary awards and taught a few workshops. I fell heart toppling in love with an angel-faced married woman who was giving a workshop in Wisconsin on spiritual mysticism and began writing her three love letters day.  I began to care more about banging naïve grad students then I did about banging sentences into the keyboard.
 I didn’t read as much as I used to.
I forgot all about the terse encounter in the mall that day.
I forgot who I was as a writer.
One Saturday after Thanksgiving on the most perfect autumnal day ever constituted on the discourse of this planet I get a text from a few friends to meet them at Starbucks. When I turn around the classy angelic-countenance muse I had been writing stirring-missives of the heart to is standing next to me, smiling, having traveled out of state to surprise me. She gives me the best day ever and then she leaves and when it’s clear that we will never be t'gether I have a nervous breakdown and end-up in the hospital. My nerves become shot. The amber scepter of a beer bottle always seems to accompany me like a biblical rod and staff. Some weeks I drink over a hundred beers a week. Seems like I can’t sit at the lip of the keyboard sans being intermittently soused. I turn thirty and continue to party hard both independently and with the kids on the campus where I work.  I lose my job over some bullshit and go crazy. I get a better paying gig six weeks later. I move back in with the psychic who now lives in a house with five acres of woods fraught with deer. Ironically (or perhaps mystically or perhaps not) it’s the woods I wrote about in my first novel deeming them ‘THE NUCLEAR WOODS.’ (Uhm, since yer from the Peoria area the nuclear woods are the sylvan swath of land that’s kinda close to Bradley Park, the wooded glens abutting Farmington road like behind where the LUCKY LADY used to be).  I move my desk out to the woods and write every day.  I find an abandon park bench and move it deep into the woods and re-read Whitman and everything I can get my grubby lil’ paws on.
One morning I’m reading a book by the late-great Rick Baker (who was a really popular Journal Star columnist back in the day and in my opinion the greatest writer who has ever lived in this area code, including David Foster Wallace). Rick really had empathy for chronicling the poetic pangs of the downtrodden while poignantly capturing the hegemonic hell of the battered blue-collar working class. Rick died suddenly in 1988 and the bulk of his articles were collected posthumously.
Again it happened in autumn.
I was reclining on the park bench smoking cheap grape cigars and drinking cheap NASCAR affiliated pilsner while reading a book called Mary, Me by the late great Rick Baker. Mary, Me is the story about an elderly woman who died in a nursing home who nobody knew anything about, not even her name (sound familiar?) so they called her Mary DoeFour. Baker came across the obituary and somehow made a weird vow to try to discern her identity even though everyone thought he was crazy—the book is just blistering beautiful chronicle of Bake’s attempt to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the identity of a tortured soul.
After I read that book there was just no way in fuck I was going to discern the identity of the woman I met in the poetry section of the bookstore that day. If Bake could spend hours coddled in out-of-state libraries pillaging the past seeking a lady who didn’t seem to have one I could (again) spend a couple of days downtown or online searching for a woman I met who graduated from somewhere in this area who went college in Michigan and who took my breath away twenty years ago.
If Baker could do it somehow I had faith in myself that I could as well.
It had been six years since my initial search, sixteen years since the terse encounter, but somehow, after I read that book I was going to find who that person was.
I was going to find the identity of the muse I met in the bookstore almost half my lifetime ago.
Again I went down to the library and again hurled myself against the endless prosaic splash of whizzing static blurs humming out of microfilm machines trying to find any mention of a woman who might have graduated from school in this area in the early nineties and went to a college in Michigan the name of which I could not recall. After a day of nursing the curds of futility I thought to myself fuck it. I went to the reference desk and began to peruse, page by page, every single highschool yearbook from the area I could find. I knew the woman I was looking for more than likely graduated from the area in either ’92 or ’93 so I started there, having no clue of her name and having only a vague pointillist Ione Skye recollection I began my quest again.

I surfed through countless black and white windows ferrying beautiful females with bad crimpy leftover late-eighties hair styles sporting aluminum braces, their lower necks encumbered by  shoulder pads. I figured the creature I was seeking indubitably possessed a modicum of culture so I started out by browsing through things like drama clubs and French clubs to no avail.

Somehow I figured out I would recognize her the moment I saw her.

Still it was uber-tedious yawning infesting work, every photograph I not only looked at, I scrutinized, as if searching for the currency and date on a stamp belonging to no known nation.

After two days of assaying thousands of photographs, leaving the library flustered, frequenting the bars coming back with even more resolve and more determinism I was leafing through a yearbook from Notre Dame I had already sifted through the yearbook before, scrutinizing every countenance but I decided just to browse through it again.

 Before I dedicated my life solely to writing I was a long distance runner and one of my adversaries was Adam White. Somehow I sauntered across a picture of Adam holding a cello and I started laughing hysterically (God love ‘em, what a wuss!!!)

Just as I was imagining giving Adam White a wedgie before he breaks into Wagnerian opus my entire anatomy jolts. The aortic sac of my heart petrifies into an exclamatory mark. I can’t move. There in front of me seated next to my old cross-country rivals imminent string quartet elbow-swerving right is the creature I’ve been seeking on and off for the last sixteen years.

 The woman I had been searching for was now batting her eyes back at me dandling a violin like an infant. She had visage that was reminiscent of heirloom wedding china. Her hair splashed and teased down past shoulders like a stage curtain in a sophomoric Thespian production of YOU CANT TAKE IT WITH YOU.  There was something about the expression exuding off the sculpture of her prominent porcelain cheekbones that looked like an angel trying to break free from a sculpted pillar of ice.  

Half my life had eclipsed since the last time I saw her. She didn’t look exactly as Ione Skye, but stowed in the recessed of memory, catalogued in the recognition of time, I knew it was her.

I just knew.

It was early December 2009. I was thirty-two.  Over a decade has passed since I sat in Doctor Palakeel’s classroom and chiseled out that essay.

Half my life had eclipsed since that day in the poetry section at the mall.

I looked at the caption of her name.

The yearbook said that her name was Sarah.

Sarah St. James.

There’s a scene in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man near the end of the fourth chapter where the protagonist and inflated Joycean doppelganger Stephen Daedalus is traipsing across Bull strand at dusk and has an encounter with the inscrutable Bird woman, his mythical muse, an aesthetic amalgamate of a creature who invokes the distilled longing to create, to jettison the  sociological path to creatively capitulate to the vicissitudes of a lifestyle that is artsy yet arduous, decadent yet desolate,  imperative yet impecunious. A lifestyle (especially for novelists’ who are spending thousands of hours a year kissing the forehead of the page I think) that can just, at times, be lonely.

Over the years I felt this way while reminiscing about that creature in the mall, my own mythological inflection of the muse bird, the creature with wings, or as Joyce poetically posits, “Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. A wild angel had appeared to him, an angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory.”

Now, after years of wondering and fruitless searching it felt for a moment like I had found the quills of that wild angel once again.


I went and checked every Yearbook I could find where you might have been a student. The more I perused each image of your picture the more I was convinced that the woman named Sarah St. James was the same angelic creation I met all those years ago in the mall. But there was one thing that cemented it. Next to one of your pictures senior year was a quote. The quote was encrypted in Latin. It was a quote I had never seen before:

Alit volat propriis.

When I read the translation about she who flies with her own wings I felt certain, beyond anything, that I had found her.

All I had to do was prove that this creature named Sarah St. James was the same creation I had met that day. All I had to do was go home and crack open the lid of a beer and type in the words SARAH ST. JAMES COLLEGE MICHIGAN into the oracle that is google and it will sprout like an orchid in spring. All I have to do is cross reference her name on some annoying social medium conduit like myspace or facebook and it will say she graduated from Notre Dame in ’93 and reveal the name of the college in Michigan and I will come to the cathartic realization that it was her.

I had found her!!! After all these years of wondering I had finally found her again!!

Once again, I prematurely pondered, it shouldn’t be that hard.

Child’s play.

I came back to my house that afternoon and blasted Peter Gabriel’s SO at max volume and drained a 12-pack of PBR in something in less than a half-hour. I was celebrating. This had to be her. This was the girl that I had always pictured as Ione Skye who touched my hand and made me want to commit my life to the world of art.

Fuck yeah, I thought to myself. It was sixteen years since last I saw her but fuck yeah. This had to be her. It just had to be.

I continued to dance to Peter Gabriel thinking about Ione Skye sensually brandishing a violin.

Seven hours later I adjourned to my study and to google the syllables of your name.

I google the name Sarah St. James. Thousands of entries sprawling continents appear, many associated with the Guinness St. James brewery in Dublin. I google Sarah St. James Notre Dame. Nothing. I google Sarah St. James college Michigan. Nothing. I realized that you were probably married and had a different last name. Then I log onto Facebook and espy your benevolent smile in front of me in seconds.
When I first endeavored to contact you the only info displayed on your facebook account was your friend lists and just your name.  It had the name of the city where you lived and the city where you were born but nothing about the colleges or schools you attended.  But I had found you and I felt certain it was you. Plus we had a mutual friend!!! Hubert Schmidt, whom I met all of once in July 2008 watching the All Star game in the beer Garden at Jimmy’s pub with my then rock star girlfriend at the time and we felt sorry for him because he was drinking by himself so we invited him over with us to join him and eventually took him out and hit the town hard that night and made a pact to do get together sometime soon though that was the last time I saw or heard from him.
I was still drinking beer and blasting Peter Gabriel. I thought about the lass who flies with her own wings. I sent her a friendship request certain that I had found her certain that in the discourse of the next hour I would be wading inside the cyber-socket of her profile
I waited a few weeks. Nothing. I canceled my friendship request and sent a fresh one. Christmas came and went that year. I went out of town and did research in a foreign city on another novel.  Periodically I checked my facebook account. Periodically nothing. After all this time.
“Damnit Sarah just accept me as someone you met at like Lums back in the day. Someone yo sloppily danced to Devo with at Stage Two dual decades ago.”
I sent another friend request and waited.  The New Year unfurled like a flattened cloud on a fresh thatch of snow.
Just think of me as someone you met at a Freudian Press concert at One World and we smoked something pungent and illegal upstairs where the theatre used to be. Damnit Sarah!!! Just accept my friendship. Just manipulate the pixelated cursory arrowhead over the gray rectangle reading ACCEPT FRIENDSHIP while  simultaneously  pressing the same forefinger on the left hemisphere of the mouse in the same fashion in which you once prodded the same forefinger into the lower hemisphere of my palm in the poetry section in the mall all those tears ago.
Damnit Sarah!!
I thought about perhaps writing you and explaining the situation and blatantly inquiring something like, “Didn’t you used go to college in Michigan?” But then realized that that would just be plain weird.
Damnit Sarah just right click. All you need to do is involuntarily tap the top of the mouse and I’ll be able to discern if you went to college in Michigan simply by assaying yer college info and it will say you went to some college I never heard before  located in the post-masturbatory palm configured state of Michigan  and that you were that divine creature who  pointed at my hand all those years ago in the now defunct Walden books and all will be right in the world and I’ll be able to sleep and get on with my life.
But then there was nothing.
Nothing at all.
I remember every facet about our terse encounter that afternoon, how the mall was festooned in spools of corded pine and tinseled garland as throngs of coated patrons forming a flotilla of limbs toting oversized bags milled and clattered and jockeyed for position accompanied by a heralding holiday soundtrack overhead, the masses, the petulant whine of fire-hydrant sized moppets straddling the bulbous contours of Santa’s beer belly, the monotonous din of solicitous salvation army bells clanging in limp cadences in the chestnut-fused distance. I remember in the bookstore that afternoon we talked about poetry (I had a very cursory appreciation for the craft at the time, I maybe knew who Whitman was but was oblivious about the Beats).I remember I was sixteen and I had never talked to anyone as cultured as you before. I remember optically thinking that if I squinted hard enough I could make out the invisible gilded contours of your wings. I remember probably lying about where I went to high school at (I was embarrassed, I lied a lot, burgeoning fiction writer beginning to blossom). Outside of you touching my palm one of the details I succinctly remember was that we somehow talked about France. I had just gotten back from a trip to England eight months earlier and I was saving up to go back to Europe (Amsterdam. Germany, Paris and London ibid) again the encroaching summer. Somehow I recall you saying that you had an incumbent trip to France incubating in the not-too-distant horizon and when I asked you if you spoke French you held out your thumb and pointer finger and chanted the phrase, “Un peu.” I remember being totally fucking smitten. I remember thinking that your parlance and mannerisms were reminiscent of those sexy cultural vixens I had met in London the previous spring.
We continued to talk for probably fifteen minutes inside the bookstore before we ambled out into the hoi-poloi of coifed holiday-ridden commerce together. I was a sophomore and you would have been backstroking through the first semester home after going away to college.  Part of me thinks that we went to the other bookstore together and looked for the poetic purana you were looking for and part of me can’t remember. I remember floating as if in a dream cumulus through seasonal bustle and I remember that we continued to talk and I remember being enthralled by your every vowel emanating from the bridge of your snow cherry lips.
I remember we ended up in Gloria Jeans. It was in the B.S. (Before Starbucks era) coffee wasn’t as standard or anthologized in late ’93 as it would be three or four years later. Back then Gloria Jeans had emerald carpeting and harbored a rather Victorian flair and looked like the back room of a Leprechaun sex shop. We had coffee. I remember you were shopping for a female friend of yours. You kept asking me to hold certain parcels for you inside Gloria Jeans when you shopped. We had been hanging out for half an hour. Maybe 45 minutes. I was a sophomore in high school. I wouldn’t take Driver’s Ed until the following semester.   There were several verbal ellipses. Several gravid pauses. Part of me thinks that perhaps I got your number. Part of me just fucking can’t remember.
Part of me remembers that I didn’t know how to intellectually marshal my thoughts around you (again, being younger, unfledged). Part of me probably, in all candor, had an erection. Part of me remembers telling you in a rushed hormonally-addled teenage drone that I needed to get back to the bookstore. We were still inside Gloria Jeans. You still looked unblemished and ravishing and intellectually stunning, like the sun draped in Helios-guise just dropped a load across the topography of yer cheekbones.
I don’t know exactly what emotionally evaporated but I remember telling you that I needed to get back into the bookstore upstairs. I don’t eve remember exactly how we said goodbye.
As I walked out of Gloria Jeans I remember thinking to myself what the fuck just happened.
There was another possibility. Something I hadn’t thought of because it was too remote and too crazy and I was already emotionally monopolized and spiritually salivating over the succinct possibility that I had found the girl who in the vicarious stain glass chambers of my memory looked exactly like Ione Skye while dancing around my room blasting Peter Gabriel and Depeche Mode contemplating the shuffled vagaries of time:
At one time she played the violin. She probably played in Central Illinois Youth Symphony with my sisters.
Everyone in my fucking family is musical except for me.
My sister Jenn played the violin and left Manual her sophomore year to study with hoity-toity savants at Interlochen in Michigan (Sarah do the palm thing again) and now she lives in New York with her actor husband and flies all across the country working for Steinway. My other sister is a cellist and just plain beautiful and brilliant and married a brilliant doctor and they just bought a cool house that used to belong to Neil Norton on Grandview drive.  They both would have been in the concert orchestra eking out nasally offensive variations of twinkle-twinkle little star in stuttered various key changes when or even if you played with the Youth Symphony the year you graduated high school. I vaguely remember that when my sister Beth was a senior in high school they wrote a bio about her studying cello at Wesleyan after graduation so perhaps (I surmised naively) if I could comb through the basement of my mom’s house through the scattered accumulated heaps of burrowed sheet music perhaps I could find an errant program note from Lord knows when and perhaps it would say that you were graduating and location of where you were going to college.  
I had no luck with the hyphenated rectangle oracle that is Google. I had no luck with the creature that is Sarah St. James answering my eff-bea request.  

Probably around early January 2010 I spent about four hours sifting through translucent tubs in my parents basement while listening to old Garrison Keillor monologues and guzzling cheap beer, flapping open anything flimsy and anemic-looking as if in a futile endeavor to verify gender hoping that something loose leaf might float out like some sort of wounded dove and that I could readily discern the identity of the cherub I was seeking or at least unearth what school she attended when first she graduated high school . After five or six tubs I ended up capitulating my quest and adjourned to Mike’s Tap in West Peoria where you can still smoke and ash on the floor and they still serve cheap and sudsy alcoholic libations from an oak keg and where ordering a whiskey and coke means that they fill the entire iced highball with sour mash and then add a drip of cola for coloring. I must have looked despondent because bartender Tony kept on buying me shots and after a while he inquired what seemed to take my thoughts so long to intellectually chug.
“I’m looking for someone that I had a terse encounter in the bookstore in the mall something like sixteen years ago. I think I have a name but I’m not sure if it’s her. All I know is that she went to college somewhere in Michigan at a school I had never heard of before.”
“You don’t know her name?”
“I think I do but I’m not sure. I found a picture of her brandishing a violin like an unwanted Emmy and she had a pensive almost Ralphaelesque smile on her face and she looked classy and I think it might be her but I’m not sure.”
“Why are you trying so hard to find her if you don’t really know who she is?” He inquired, swiping out the concave interior of a beer chalice with a bar rag.
I tapered my cigarette ash on the floor and ordered another beer and told him the entire story. I told him why I thought of her every couple of years and what I intend to tell her if ever I so happen to find her once again. At the end of the story Tony poured two shots and just looked at me.
“Yer fuckin’ nuts DVB, you know that? You are crazy as shit.”
We clink our shot glasses and saluted in unison as one.

About a month later my inscrutable request for a cyber friendship still hadn’t been accepted on Facebook. I stopped dwelling on the crazy encounter I had half a lifetime ago and reverted to banging out daily sentences into the coast of the keyboard once again. One Saturday I was helping my mom donate boxes of old books to Goodwill when out of nowhere floating like a wounded dove or an errant pair of tossed panties slips out a sheet of paper. At first I thought it was an old church bulletin. Then I looked at it again. Before I realized what happen the floor was nearly hitting the side of my face in astonishment.
In front of me was the program I was looking for a few weeks earlier. It was from spring ’93.  A recital that was held at ICC. A recital that I was certain inside contained details chronicling the elusive dream woman.
But I was wrong.
I found your name again. It said that you played second violin.  It yielded nothing new about your identity or where you attended college.  In the center of the bulletin was a sheath of paper heralding the laurels of a guest Asian cellist, but there was no biographical information pertaining to any of the senior members who would have been graduating that spring.
I was defeated.
I crinkled the program into a papery corsage the size of a cue-ball and aimed for the nearest trash bin. I was through with this vow of sporadically searching for the person who over half my life-time ago made me want to pursue a life in the arts.
It seemed worse then stupid.
It seemed inane.
 I forgot about the girl with the violin. Forgot about girl in the bookstore. Forgot about the Latin quote about flying with your own wings. Forgot about all that shit and started writing once again.

I fell in love with a girl who I also in another lifetime ago had a terse encounter with (boy is that ANOTHER barrel of gummy worms and skittles).  I wrote this girl (ahem) looooong missives about the nature of human longing in my desk in the Nuclear woods every day. I have dreams that I am with this person and we are living on the same street. I write her my dreams. Every week I have a dream where we are living on my old street.

I start giving poetry readings all over town. I am quoted in the paper.  I continue to party. I am in love. For once it my life I have money. I read my work on the radio and I have my poems mixed to music by this cool DJ who looks like Prince.  I get my heart broken (more like shredded into ticker tape for the perennial parade of failure that I felt at times was my heart).  One day before the largest snow storm in central Illinois in decades I return to the house and find the psychic listless in front of the television. His eyes are closed. The back of his neck is still tepid. He doesn’t seem to have a pulse.

I call 9-11. I drag him off his chair and begin to perform CPR.  I blow into his body as if I am trying to inflate an inter-tube before the vessel sinks. When I press down into the center of his chest I hear an earnest crackle connoting that his ribs are broken. I can’t get pulse. I start banging like crazy on his chest. I tell him not to leave me.


Then out of the Picasso blue it happened one day when I was least expecting it. I arrive to work. A message sprouts like a flare.  
“Sarah St. James has accepted your friendship request.”
I brew a cup of coffee. I filch a smoke from one of my co-workers and go outside and just pause for a moment and notice how the full-moon looks like a semi-flipped commemorative SuperBowl half-dollar coin strung in abeyance somewhere between the calling of heads and the faltering of tails. All I could think to myself is that I had found her.  Fuck, I had finally found her. I’ll go inside and pour myself a cup of coffee in the solitude of my office and I will right click and discern that the angel who plucked a literary quill from her metaphysical wings and planted it inside of my palm and the high-school senior with the pensive photo with the violin is really the same person. 
I was certain. I went inside and poured my cup o’ java. I right clicked on the wireless mouse several times. I look at the rectangle in front of me and squinted at the fuzz in front of me on the screen.

She had graduated from Bradley. The Institution I still owe thirty-thousand dollars to. The institution where I have my name indelibly adorned on a plaque inside Bradley Hall. The school that’s money grubbing and plutocratic. The school I had only gone to in the first place because I had lost my virginity in Gerisert Hall to a woman who was my father’s student teacher and then transferred to Bradley and then broke up with her a week later.
The school I worked at for over a decade. The school that called me the night my father died asking for money. The school that fired me over some bullshit right when it seemed like my life was finally getting back on the track.
She went to Bradley. Not Michigan. Bradley.
I realized then that I was chasing the wrong person.
But there was something else that transpired in the garish illuminated holiday garb of the mall that afternoon almost two spilled decades ago. After we had several gravid pauses in the beanery menthol-coated den that was Gloria Jean’s at the time I went back to the bookstore, almost inexplicably.  Almost as if I could not tell you all of why.  When I was in the bookstore you came back to me. I can’t explain it. I looked behind me and you were there. Somehow you found me again. I was back in the poetry section and I turned around and you were there. Maybe it was out of niceties of mannerisms. But I turned around and you were there. As maladroit as it sounds you outstretched your hand and grasped mine.

You told me that you really enjoyed hanging out and conversing with me. I bartered back a response in a similar tenor.  I can’t remember what I said verbatim. I probably wished you happy holidays and all the best for the pending semester.
I remember holding your hand
And then I remember you were gone.                         
Somehow you came back to me.
“Dude, I know who she is.” My close writer friend continues to tell me.
I continue to tell him bullshit.
Three times a week I hang out with my closest writer friend and brother, Nick the Writer. I have edited two of his manuscripts and made a book out of selection of his essays that he published while living in New York entitled, “Brandchannel Bastard and Another Round for Everyone.”
The first piece I sold for five hundred bucks Nick read and afterwards said that it made him cry.
We would  congregate at the one bar in Peoria that served draught pitchers of Guinness and after three or four pitchers (more pitchers than a bullpen) would wind up doing a final inexplicable shot of Grand Marnier (isn’t that what Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath used to imbibe on?) before calling it a night. 
We talk about writers we admired (Jim Harrison, Don Delillo, Raymond Carver and Rick Bass) we talk about sports and girls. We talk about trying to market our manuscripts. We talk about failure.
Sometime during the discourse of our conversation that night Nick asks me what I’m working on and I tell him that I haven’t written a word in about week. I tell him again about chasing the elusive-muse-I-met-in-the-mall twenty years ago story. I had told him a couple years ago because at one time I thought it might have been one of his sisters I met that day and he became defensive.
Pouring another pint of Guinness I relay to him my research.
“I think it’s this girl named Sarah St. James. She would have graduated from Bradley in like ’97 but I’m speculating that maybe she went somewhere else first and then transferred to Bradley.  I’m almost certain that it was that girl I told you about who went to a college I never heard of before in Michigan and who creatively coerced me into a life in the arts.”
Nick-the-writer looked at me. What he said next was astounding.
“ Bro, I know her.”
“Like Hell!!!” I retort, before informing him that he was so full of shit he should seriously invest stock in either Charmin or baby butt-wipes.
“Dude, she grew up like right behind me. She was friends with my sister.”
Nick always fucks with me. A year earlier I had submitted a dossier to McSweeny’s and I arrived to work with a message in from the secretary informing me that a Mr. Dave Eggers had called for me and would I call him back immediately and it was Nick poetically punking me from a different number.
I told him bullshit. I told him to quit fucking around.
“I thought you said your sister went to school at Bergan or something back in the day.”
            “I’m telling you bro I know who she is.”
I immediately inquire to Nick-the-Writer if she went to college in Michigan her freshman year. Nick tells me that he doesn’t know. He tells me the last thing he heard was that she married a marine and moved to the east coast.
I tell Nick to drop it. I tell him that he doesn’t know you.
A few days later Nick and I are driving around his house in the Knolls when he stops in front of a big white house.
“There. There’s the house she lived in.”
Nick points as if from the prow of a ship. I ask him what he is talking about.
“Sarah St. James. The girl you think is your dream muse or whatever. There’s the house she lived in back in the day.”
I look at the house. I think about that girl I met in the mall that day. I think about a nubile Ione Skye attending a catholic high school and coming home after drama class and undressing.
“Perhaps it is.” I tell my close friend.
Perhaps it is.
Somehow I randomly thought about you again and somehow it occurred to me that just because you graduated from Bradley didn’t mean that you attended all four years. I rationalized to myself that if I could verify that you transferred into Bradley then somehow I could verify to my psyche that it was you.
My reasoning was this:
If I could get back into Bradley again I could easily check the student data from my old computer and cross-reference it on past students and it would have the date of when she graduated and perhaps if I was lucky show the dates in which she attended.
It meant going back to my school. The job that fucked me over.
I tuck my long hair beneath the swiveled-brim of my White Sox cap. I go in past Midnight, knowing there were security cameras and while I was far from banned from the Institution it wouldn’t auger well if I was seen lurking around the campus past midnight. Most of my late-night co-workers were thrilled to see me and commiserated that the manner in which Bradley dismissed me was total bullshit.
I talk with the new late night manager who happens to be a friend of mine.
“Listen, I have a weird request to ask.  Can you log me into the faculty computer so I can verify something real quick?”
I tell him the story. He has heard me read in public several times. A true brother.
“It’ll just take a second. Maybe a minute at most. I just have to verify the date of an ex-student and when she graduated.”
He takes me into my back office and logs me on.
Most of the computers at Bradley jettison information on past students every fifteen years but there was a chance your name would still be in the system. What I needed to verify was if there was a person by the name of Sarah St. James attending the institution in the fall of ’93.  If there wasn’t it meant she had transferred in.
I logged on. I type in the name. I find a listing from ’95-’97 but nothing before. 
I had found a Sarah St. James who attended BU at the time I was looking for.
I left the library that night convinced that the woman who had graduated Bradley in 1997 was the same creature who touched the interior of my palm all those years ago. The same creature I wrote about on the campus that exiled me. 
I left the campus school boy giddy and just a lil’ bit in love.
 At the time I was driving a ’91 BMW that kept breaking down but was the coolest fucking car ever (it was the same model and car that Axl gets out of in the cemetery at the end of the Don’t Cry video). I stopped at the liquor store and picked up twin six-packs of PBR and drove off in the night chain smoking and taking intermittent swigs and driving loud with the windows down.
It was earlier November 2011. I was convinced (almost beyond reasonable doubt) that Sarah St.James was the creature I had met that day almost two decades earlier.
I ended up in the bottom of Glen Oak Park, watching the sun spill and rise like a vodka screwdriver lost in tangerine-tendrils, translucent planks of light. I had a few more beers and then passed out and woke up again and went to breakfast and somehow the world seemed brand new.
It was November 2011.
I found her.
I found you.
I looked inside the interior of my palm as if it were an atlas and smiled.

A few months went by. You posted a picture of a random local landmark around Christmas time and I commented on yer Facebook page and you replied via stating that you “Loved Loved Loved” that I said the word “corn chip” (what an honor!!) I still couldn’t accumulate the audacity to send you a simple query asking if you perhaps at one time went to a college in Michigan. I turned 35 (phuck!!!) and spray-painted a story on my eff-bea wall that I had written ten years earlier. You hickied a like comment as a punctuation mark.
I thought about you again.
About a week after my birthday I meandered into my best friend from high school in a liquor store. His name is Gary-Lee. We were both cross-country/track athletes. I had not seen Gary lee since circa 95.
I had some money and we drank for five days straight. We snorted bumps of crushed Ritalin. We watched old cross-country and track videos from High school (Adam White from Notre Dame back in the day I’m telling you!!) Gary-Lee told me that he had been arrested an accumulated 52 times since high school. He had spent three years of his life since high school in prison. He had five kids by five different women.
Three months earlier Gary was attacked on his front porch about a block away from Manual high school. He was stabbed seven times in the abdomen. He was wearing a tank-top shirt with a PBR emblem and underneath the words Peoria White Trash scrawled in cursive font.
It was a crazy couple of days. In a lot of ways I felt sorrow for Gary Lee. In a lot of ways I thought about how my life could have been just like his had it not been for books.
After drinking thirty beers I thought about you. I thought about how I never really verified if you were the creature I was looking for and I decided in my stupor just simply to quit fucking around and wondering and to contact you and ask.
Either she says yes and she somehow mentions the school in Michigan or yes that she went to school somewhere else she says no or either she blows me off together. Anyway, at least after all this time I will know.
I sent you a message, inquiring if before you went to college and Bradley if you happened to go somewhere else. I was so soused that I forget that I sent it until I logged on to my work computer two days later.
You responded imminently. You said the word yes. You mentioned a school in Michigan whose name I have heard only once before.
After close to 19 years, a lifetime, your age at the time of our encounter, I had found you once again.

So why did I feel so compelled to periodically spend years searching for someone whose name I didn’t even know and  then write her a thirty page letter delineating a swift encounter that I doubt she even remembers (when I should really be prepping so I don’t fuck up in a few weeks in L.A. hahahha). The reason is this:
Because that terse encounter in the mall nineteen years ago was like Joyce’s terse encounter with the Bird-Muse. Because that encounter augmented my narrative periphery of life. Because I want my readers to feel the way you made me feel those 45 minutes we sporadically kicked it together nineteen years ago. I want my readers to feel special and significant. I want my readers to come across each letter of my prose and feel like how my sixteen year old anatomy felt at the time he first experienced beauty.
Miss Sarah, there was something about that encounter that took my breath away. That just stuck with me after all these years. And that’s how I want my audience to experience my craft.
 I want my readers to be initially blown away by beauty and by insight and by aesthetic awe. I want my readers to be curious, the way my sixteen yer old periphery was when you mentioned books (i.e., or a school) I had never heard of before.
I want to encourage my readers to grow, like how my supple sixteen year old frame wanted to discern everything about the galactic bulb of the planet after our terse encounter, opening my life to to the swill and din that is a life in the arts.
I want my readers to leave the interior of my text the way I left Gloria Jeans that afternoon. Totally fucking smitten, spellbound and maybe just a little bit horny and in love.
And (perhaps selfishly) I want my readers to come back to my text again, just like you came back to me in the bookstore that day. To grope the spine of my pages the way you grasped my hand while optically swan diving in the ponds of my paragraphs, hopefully each time they encounter my work, taking them (as you did me all those years ago) somewhere I have never been before.
Why Miss Sarah, all I ask now is that you do one favor (which is the reason I set out to find you):
After you are done reading this final paragraph close your eyes. Lift your hand in front of you in almost a universal halt sign fashion.  If squint with the lens of yer chest you can feel this wayward writer pointing into the bottom of your palm, trying to convey something significant to you in two twin syllables.
Thank you.

Why Miss St. James, it is a pleasure to meet you again indeed.

All the best and let the beauty you love be what you do,


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