Excerpt from my novel, No One Dreams in Color.
I was nineteen and lost when I first saw Wendigo. That was the year everything broke apart. In the center, and in other places too.
My mother died, by her own hand. My girlfriend and I split up. Looking back, it’s hard to remember what came first, my mother’s death or the break-up.
Everything in my nineteenth year melded into a continuous blur. Where I felt both tormented by time and seeming to exist outside of it.
The comforting darkness of movie theaters. Movie theaters had been my haven and sanctuary, my church, since childhood, and never more so than in my nineteenth year.
How to Exist Inside Cinema Outside Your Own Life.
That was the title of something I had written when I was seventeen. Or if I hadn’t written it, I had written the title that was still waiting for the story to which it could attach itself.
One night I had gone to a shorts film festival at the Film Forum, a theater on Houston Street, and that was where I first encountered Wendigo.
It was a nine-minute film, with no dialogue, set in a snowy tundra. It was shot in 16 mm, with a spectral bluish tint. What I witnessed on screen directly corresponded to my wounds. It felt as if I had mainlined Wendigo, and I left the theater that night in a daze. But a different kind of daze from the one that had rendered me a full-time sleepwalker. This daze brought on a wooziness that became a gateway to feeling. To a resonance that wouldn’t stop echoing.
Tan-colored pill bottles, and the pills—small, white, chalky. Razors that could be concealed like wafers under the tongue. The moldy, corroded edge of a porcelain bathtub. Brown shag carpet. A vacuum cleaner with a balloon for guts. Lipstick-smudged menthol cigarettes cluttered in a glass ashtray. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Days registering a metronome. A cobra-backed wicker chair set near the window in the living room. Where she’d sit. A discolored wedding ring stashed in a small red box. Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
My mother’s name was Angela.
The following day, at a matinee, I saw Wendigo again. There were other films in the program, but I was deaf and blind to them.
When Wendigo finished, and the closing cello music was playing, I realized that I was crying. It felt as if they were someone else’s tears. Or that I was crying them for someone else. Someone who had gone away, someone whose name I couldn’t remember.
Paul Kirby. That was the man who had written, directed and acted in Wendigo. I had eagerly awaited Kirby’s next film, never imagining it wouldn’t come. Wendigo won awards, and had become a cult darling among cinephiles. Yet Kirby never made another film. To my knowledge, his entire cinematic legacy comprised a single, nine-minute film.
My first girlfriend’s name was Jenny. We used to go to the movies together a lot. We also liked to fool around in the movie theater, especially when the audience was sparse. The first blowjob I had ever received was from Jenny, in the movie theater, while we were watching Police Academy.
I heard that she married a fireman and now lived on Long Island.
Wendigo had tattooed itself on my heart. It belonged to a part of my life when I had been submerged, and it, like a small dependable light, had kept me company.
These are the things I’m thinking, the things I’m feeling, after having chanced upon the article about Paul Kirby’s disappearance.
The article reports how Kirby had gone missing in Nine Peaks, the town in New Mexico where he lived, and investigations were ongoing.
There was a smattering of details. Kirby’s age, thirty-five, the fact that he was originally from Brooklyn, and how his short film, Wendigo, had been filmed in the mountains of Nine Peaks. There was also a black and white photo of Kirby standing in front of a fence.
I allowed everything to seep in, and settle. Not just the news of Kirby’s disappearance, but the timing of it in relation to my own life and present circumstances.
While my recently turned-ex-girlfriend was at work, I was picking up some of my stuff at her apartment. Realizing that this was probably the last time I would be in her apartment, I decided to linger and savor the details that had given tone, depth and texture to the past three years of my life.
I poured myself a glass of pulp-free orange juice. I made a turkey and cheese sandwich on wheat bread, and then added spicy brown mustard. I sat down at the table, where the newspaper was laid out, as if waiting for me.
While eating, I casually flipped through the pages, and there it was, in bold letters: Man Vanishes Without a Trace.
I stared at the photo. Kirby had dark wavy hair, and his hands were thrust into his pockets. He looked both casual and serious. I couldn’t tell if his face were covered in five o’ clock shadow, or if it were the poor quality of the photograph creating the effect.
After finishing my sandwich and glass of orange juice, I poured myself a second glass of orange juice, and considered what Marianne had said about us having drifted apart.
There’s no center to any of this, she had spoken with a calm clarity that had frightened me. It was like the words, and the voice behind those words had come from somewhere else.
I am standing on a huge glacier, adrift in the sea, and I am pitching an idea for a show to a network executive, who is not there on the glacier with me, but is rather a projection, or some sort of hologram who can hear me.
I tell him the show will be called Jukebox, An American Pop Odyssey, but can’t remember what I say when explaining the details of the show. I do remember that the network executive seemed intrigued by my pitch.
When I told Marianne about this dream, she looked at me funny and said nothing.
What, I pressed.
I dreamed about glaciers last night too, she said.
Are you serious?
What happened in your dream?
All I remember is that there were a lot of huge glaciers, and they were making a low rumbling sound, like thunder. And I was spellbound.
I wanted to feel worse about mine and Marianne’s break-up, but I mostly felt relieved. As if I had been pardoned from something. Perhaps Marianne felt the same?
With Wendigo having returned to my life via the disappearance of Paul Kirby, I got hit with waves that were part of a sea change. Its influence would move me in a different and unexpected direction, but not for several months. Not until autumn.