For almost an hour before he showed up, I’d been down in my cousin Gary’s basement soaking up the watery air, studying his paraphernalia, afraid to touch anything—to touch would be to know, to understand, to become. I wasn’t ready. The place stank of mold, spunk and marijuana, of sadness and a wild unstable power.
“Here’s the thing,” he said, as soon as he got there, “I didn’t sign on to babysit you all weekend. You can hang around if you want but…you know what I mean?”
Handling his records with fussy, nervous care, like they were holy relics, illuminated objects, he chose one by a band called Deep Purple. Their logo looked like it was ready to corrode. Then he slid back onto his waterbed. He stared at the posters on his ceiling and ignored me. The music was less a sound than a weight in the air. Its aggression was a pose, even I could see through it to the fear and sadness swelling underneath. I sat with my legs crossed on the itchy rug, picking at the nascent fuzz on my shin, wondering what was wrong with me and why everything he owned was some shade of brown.
Nothing happened for a while. We both just stayed like this. Then Gary flipped the record and another long time passed.
I couldn’t figure out what it was that I was missing. It nagged at me. The nothing going on contained some essential secret, but all I could comprehend was that I wasn’t equipped to understand it. He was mourning something I hadn’t known existed.