A Taste of Madeleine

I think for a lot of us, our emotional shenanigans begin to feel like driving I-80 between the Wyoming/Utah border in late October. You’re unprepared for the black ice, you don’t dare hit the breaks and you just spend hour after hour creeping along, steering into the skid.

To me the most poignant thing about my own particular swings and spasms is that they have sensual accompaniments, both in terms of taste and sight.

The taste thing is well documented, apparently your sense of taste sits right next to your memory center in your brain and a taste of something can send you flying back. It’s no wonder that when you get a sense of something wonderful or something terrible, it can do the same. At moments of physical elation, like when I’m playing a sport or doing something physical that is enormously fun, I can still taste Mountain Dew and overpriced hamburgers from the cabana at the country club where we grew up in Iowa.

More than that, though, is this terrible metal taste I get in my mouth when I’m spinning my wheels a little bit. Fortunately, I got enough years under my belt to recognize it and deal with it. I can fix a lot of problems in my brain by employing a sort of empathy governor, if I read a book or read someone’s blog or try to put myself in other life for a while somehow, I actually do get out of my own shit.

But the visual thing is strange. My mood will bring up memories of places, really specific places. For some reason, the only real home-feeling I get is from a house that I moved out of when I was about 7, a house that exists in complete fabrication since my relationship to it is a point-of-view that exists from under four feet tall. It could be that the rooms were great expanses, that the kitchen counters are out of standing view, but my guess is that I got that all wrong.

What is strange is that not all these visual moments are specifically from my childhood. There is a crappy diner which, in my mind, is empty all the time. It’s a real diner, it is somewhere in the dessert between LA and St. George, still in California, and not on I-15. The diner is on the outskirts of a military base that exists in the middle of what I thought might be a shortcut.

The day I found out that my marriage was in horrible trouble, I was already packed to go to Utah for a recording session. The girl I was married to was scheduled to go with me. I don’t know how I made it through that first night, I don’t know how I managed to fight for the lies that began to spiral after the fifth night and the sixth night and on and on. I don’t actually know how I survived that time. And I really don’t know how she ended up going to Utah with me, the twelve hours in that shitty car I bought her. I can’t remember any of the negotiations.

But I remember the diner we stopped at to get dinner. I remember staring at the food, for the first time in my memory I was feeling something so profoundly terrible that I couldn’t eat. We sat there for a long time. We had to. That shitty car I bought her would overheat every two hours, we had to stop and re-fill the radiator and wait.

We barely spoke, but what little talking we did, she did. I don’t remember any of it, but I do remember the feeling of heart-break. I had a flash in that diner, a complete understanding that my marriage was over. It was a flash that lasted for the hour we sat there, for the next few months I thought we would make it. I fought like crazy, but at that diner I realized that I had finally gotten what I was so desperate to get, and I had no idea how bad it would be.

In my attempt to live a dramatic life full of unfair failure I had chosen this woman. I wanted it to be clear that I was committed to this marriage to a woman that didn’t deserve me who ended up treating me badly. I wanted it to be like this, but I hadn’t counted on what the reality of it would be. I felt like a skydiver who’s parachute didn’t open. Duped by my own love of something incredibly stupid.

I remember I smiled at her. Those of you who know me could probably picture this. I smiled at her and said, “I think you’ve actually broken my heart.” She asked me why the hell I was smiling and I just sat there looking at her and yeah, I was crying, but not like, y’know, bawling. It was like my head was leaking. And I said, “I wonder if it’s like a kneecap. Y’know?” She didn’t, which won’t surprize you. “If you break a bone, it ends up healing even stronger than before. You almost never break a bone in the same place. But you don’t get any blood to your knee. If it’s broken it stays broken.”

And, for those of you who wonder why I ever married this girl, the next bit might explain it. She smiled at me and said, “if the knee won’t heal because it doesn’t get enough blood, your heart should be fine.” She was smiling because she knew I was getting what I had wanted, and because I had been a fool for wanting it. To her credit, she never said as much, she never pointed out that she was following the script. It would have wrecked it if she had, but I doubt that’s why she did it. That day at the diner, she recognized it somehow, but she let me have what I wanted.

I was wrong about the heart, she was right, and I haven’t been that big a douche ever since. I wanted this horrible loss, this staggering blow, and I felt it most keenly at that empty diner. They took away my burger uneaten and we left and the days turned into more days and here I am now. But when I feel that quiet desperation (as if I am ever *quietly* desperate) images of that place come into the back of my head and I get that same taste in my mouth, the taste of not eating the meal in front of me for perhaps the only time in my life.