Back to Issue Seven.

Strike a Chord

BY NED VIZZINI

 

         Mary is a light sleeper and I make a lot of noise at night. My noises consist of me getting up to do random things on the internet, eating food from the open fridge as if in a trance (although I’m never in a trance; I always know exactly what I’m doing), talking in my sleep, and writing songs. I know writing songs is rude at night but we rent a two- bedroom dorm-style month-to-month so I have my own room, a “studio” if you will (humor me), and I put a towel under the door like you’re supposed to during a fire and I play in there.
         Mary has her class at 8:00am and I have my interview at ten. How I got talked into this interview I have no idea—well, actually I do, it’s because the other week when I woke up with Mary, I couldn’t even get out of bed because the sweat was so bad on my face and I wanted to die so badly, and she told me I needed a “jobby job,” something that got me out of the house, not teaching or gigs, something I clocked into every day, like school used to be for me, and she could help me get one. Her father knew a guy.
         “You need to get some sleep,” she says. She’s flossing. “Big day tomorrow.” “I do better at these kind of things when I don’t sleep.” “Why are you being stupid?” We didn’t fuck and I didn’t sleep. I slid out of our bedroom at midnight. I tried to write a song. It was coming up on 2am. We’d been living together for a year and a half.
         We were starting to have new fights—fights about how we fought, instead of about things that could be fixed.
         Between 1:45 and 2:00, if I’m noodling around, Mary always comes in to check on me. I think her first sleep cycle ends then.
         “Mm,” she says, opening the door and disturbing my towel.
         “Hey.”
         “Mm,” she says. She wants me to come to bed. That’s what “Mm” means. I sigh and put down my guitar and follow her. We don’t fuck and I can’t sleep. The song is really good. It’s starting to have lyrics and everything. I’ve been reading on the internet about the artistic method and how you’re destined to fail until something strikes you and if you don’t grab if then, it’s your own fault.
         “Mary,” I say. “Please. Tomorrow. I have to drive. Please.” She bundles herself up in the blanket, shutting me out. I lie with my hands across my stomach like I’m dead. I think about Keith Richards, how he recorded “Satisfaction” when it struck him. He didn’t have a girlfriend probably.

*   *   *

         After ten minutes, Mary’s breathing becomes regular and deep. She has a little piece of snot in her nose that pops like a bubble when she exhales.
                  Hey, I guess I’m in love / Don’t you know I know it’s true
         Those are the lyrics.
                  Hey, I guess I’m in love / I’m too weak 
       
          to speak these words to you
         Those are the bad lyrics. What words are you too weak to speak when you’re in love? “I love you?” That’s too easy. What to do, what to do. After I count 40 of Mary’s breaths, I realize I’m not going to sleep anytime soon. I ease up in bed.
         She moves.
         I lie back down.
         She rustles and mumbles.
         I start to roll out of bed an inch at a time.
         She stirs.
         I land like a ninja cat warrior feather animal.
         She doesn’t wake up. I crawl to the door. I’m moving so slow I’m practically going backward. I always wanted to be an Indian as a kid. I pretend I’m hunting deer. I take 20 minutes to reach the door in a way that doesn’t wake up this person I live with, love, can’t stand. What I discover—
         1. On shag carpet, it’s quieter to move on your flat palms than your stretched- out fingers.
         2. On shag, you have to move on your knees with your feet held over the ground.
         3. If you wait 5 breaths between movements, you’ll pace yourself okay. I inch the door open with my finger. I’m still messing with the lyrics:
                  If I ever get the chance with you 
                  When I’m done I can’t pretend with you 
                  I’m a real fine punk with a lot to lose

         When I was a kid, you know, I spent a good hour trying to figure out a single chord to a hit song in my room. (I’m not going to mention the song’s name because who cares.) I knew there was a chord change, but I couldn’t figure out which note it went to. After trying all the notes, it turned out that the song stayed on the same note, just played it twice.
         I’m crawling toward my guitar in my “studio” when she catches me— 
         “Vinny! What are you doing?”
         My butt is facing her. “Art.”
         “What’s wrong with you? Come to bed!”

*   *   *

         The next morning, as we get in the car, she says: “You scared me. If you can sneak out of bed like that, how do I know you’re not having an affair?”
         “I wouldn’t have an affair with you. On you. Whatever.”
         “Why not?”
         “Because it’s not worth the trouble. You’d find out and get pissed and then I’d have to deal with it. Who needs that?” 
         “That’s not the right answer.”
         I put on my suit and go to the internet to figure out how to tie my tie. If you type “How” on the internet the first thing that comes up is “How to tie a tie,” so I’m not alone. The tie gets tangled up with the seat belt as Mary drives to her class. I’m sitting shotgun, trying to remember the song. All I can remember is “love.”
         We pull up to Mary’s school. The building is like one huge cinder block but I’m jealous that she’s going in because I know it’s warm there. The car’s heat smells like molten plastic so it’s better to run it in bursts and then let it cool down, and we’re in one of the cool-down periods. Outside it’s all dirty and flinty and cold.
         Mary kisses me on the cheek before she leaves. “Good luck, you’re going to do great.”
         She walks into the building. I can’t even feel her lips on my cheek. I used to be able to feel them whenever she kissed me. She has soft lips that look like they have lipstick on them even when they don’t. That’s tough to deny. People say there are lots of fish in the sea; however, not many of them have good lips. I guess when you’re in love you can—wait.
                  I guess I’m in love / Don’t you know I know it’s true
                  I guess I’m in love / I’m too weak 
                  to speak these words to you

         It’s coming back! The whole thing, from the first note through the chorus! …And all a song needs now is a verse and chorus. That’s all they play on TV. They’ll cut out of bands in the middle of the Grammys after a verse and a chorus.
                  Hey, I guess I’m in love / I’m too weak 
                  to speak these words to you

         And which words are those? Not “I love you.”
                  Because I’m gone 
                  I’m gone
                  I’m gone

*   *   *

         You know the bad thing about music? As soon as you hear a song—or maybe this is just me, but who else am I supposed to speak for—you can imagine yourself writing a song, and as soon as you imagine yourself writing a song, you can imagine it being a hit, and as soon as you can imagine it being a hit, you can imagine it being the biggest hit in the world. It takes absolutely nothing to get you started thinking about earth-shattering worldwide success. Whereas actually accomplishing that is not possible. It’s like the brain should know better than to be able to think so big. One of the philosophy things I remember from school—one of the only things I remember—is that Rousseau or someone said, “Since we cannot make the world infinite, let us limit our imagination.” And I really believe that. Because it’s dangerous to have a big imagination. It’s what leads you to, say, sitting in a car in the middle of Vermont with a girlfriend you haven’t loved for months because she’s the only thing that you’re comfortable with and you have no job and a crappy band, and you’re supposed to go interview with your girlfriend-who-you- don’t-love’s father’s friend who is a real estate agent.
         Who would even want to live here, what the hell?
         But the flip side of that, the art thing, the side I forget about until moments like this, is that all it takes is one good idea. All it takes is the smallest kernel of a notion to believe that you can have what you need, that you don’t need to take any crap, that you are gone, you are gone into your head where no one can tell you it’s wrong, and all anyone can do is sit back and watch your exhaust trail burn them a new nostril and send their hair and nails reeling, I’m gone.
         And you know what else? This is my car! That’s the one thing I brought to the table a year and a half ago! This car!
         I start it up and drive the hell away from Mary’s school and loosen my tie and head for something that, statistically, is certain to fail.

 

 

Ned Vizzini is the award-winning, bestselling author of The Other Normals, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Teen Angst? Naaah..., and Be More Chill. In television, he has written for ABC and MTV’s Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into eight languages. He lives in Los Angeles.