THE REPLACEMENTS — WITHIN YOUR REACH
The song was on my walkman; it was nighttime and everything was quiet and dark in the house. My father bought the soundtrack to ‘Say Anything’ and I stole it from his car. I lay on my side on the landing above the stairs. The first beats did not sound like a good song. I hated drum machines. The first line, ‘I could live without so much/I can die without a thing/sun keeps rising in the West/ I keep on waiting for a curfew.’ I thought it was, ‘I keep on waiting/but I’m confused.’ I understood that feeling, ambiguous, poised, some kind of unknown you wait for. ‘Live without your touch/die within your reach.’
I do not know who I could have imagined into that image. The sweeping arpeggio, the strange circular sounding guitars; ‘Live without your touch/die within your reach.’ Who was I thinking of? Leo, the overgrown looking 7th grader who wore sweats everyday, had a big nose, freckles and got in trouble a lot? Did some nascent pant already desire the bumping hang of 7th grade manhood doongling there below grey sweat shorts? Did I imagine the hairy school newspaper editor who first played me Danzig? Were these the boys for whom it would have been enough to simply die near them? I remember some feeling of knotted anticipation for something without a name that lay out there, knowing even then it was not Leo or the editor, or not just them anyway. A part of me knowing it was enough to die within the reach of that, as pedestrian as it sounds to me now. Alleyway typical teen. If I am honest: the only thing that keeps me going now (call it pathetic, adolescent, solipsistic, sophomoric, dingleberry-ish or what have you) is the same deal. The unknown thing out there, the best it can be, and whatever that is.
I was 11, my mother must have been at work. She worked night shifts at grocery stores, security companies, convalescent homes, miserable night shifts. I know this because I lay between our two rooms on the wooden landing of the stairs. I would not have done this if she had been home. Fur and piles of the tiny grey rocks of cat litter collected in the corners of the hall. A rope of vacuum tubing lay coiled by the built-in wall vacuum that trailed to some catch-all. We had lived in this house for 4 years, and I had vacuumed against 8 cats and two dogs and had never heard or seen a trap a catch-all being emptied. I just lived with the idea that somewhere in the house was an awful container filled to overflowing, with the years of fur and litter and detritus. Perhaps it just sucked the dust and tangle out into the yard. The socket used to disgust me. One of my daily chores was to vacuum the stairs and the stairwell. Directly at the base of the stairs was the only litter box in the house. The gas of Murphy’s Oil Soap and feline urine, the crumbed nebulas of fur and sand: everyone has chores, but this was my chore of piteous union, my chore of extreme unction.
I think about it with a sense of giddy triumph that I will never have to see that or do that ever, ever again. I have no Dylan Thomas fondness for the golden afternoons of childhood. Each day after the 8 cats would ‘do their business’ and make their way up and down those wooden stairs, a fresh cloud of fur and sand would settle there and I would begin again: a Sisyphus with stairs instead of a hill, instead of one giant rock, endless, cyclical shards of cat sand and shit. On my knees working each step at once checking corners, desiring to explode and explode the stairs and the house. Rolling minor tumbleweeds of non-specific feline origin: if I didn’t catch it with the vacuum tubing, they would collapse into greasy slicks of dark hair and oil soap and I would fetch them with tissue.
It didn’t bother me as much then, as it does in memory. ‘/Die within Your Reach/’. I have no pets.
Elisa Ambrogio is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and one third of Magik Markers. Her solo album, THE IMMORALIST, is out on Drag City on October 21st.