Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.
“BEFORE THE VIKING FUNERAL”
Howard the turtle was no bigger than a quarter when I bought him. I held him in my hands like one would a gumdrop. His sleepy eyes blinked up at me. I rubbed his smooth shell. He didn’t flinch; he only watched me with what I believed to be mild curiosity. As someone brought up to love carefully, it never occurred to me that I could love something so small.
He swam in a big tank of water that must’ve felt like the Pacific Ocean to him. He had a brother, Hunter, who spent most of his time in the tank looking for a way out. Howard, on the other hand, just swam and swam, exploring the mirrored corners and searching for treasure under the blue rocks. While you don’t get the warmth of a cat or the neediness of a dog from a turtle, I did feel a quiet connection to Howard; which is why it nearly killed me when one of my friends took him out of the tank one evening and accidentally dropped him on the hard kitchen floor.
The Howard the Turtle story is all true. In fact, this little story took place back when I was living with Spryte near the University of South Florida. The rest of the story takes place in Wroclaw, Poland and is true as well. In fact, the more embarrassing this story gets, the truer it becomes.
My first year in Poland is sort of a blur. I had finally made it to where I wanted to be, but there was a big “NOW WHAT?” hanging over everything. I was living in a dormitory with free rent thanks to my job at the university and because I was working 22 hours a week with four day weekends, life was pretty easy. In fact, it felt like I was a university student more than I was a teacher. The going out and drinking every evening certainly helped to paint that picture. The stories and events in “Before the Viking Funeral” are a combination of many evenings out in Wroclaw, so it should be stressed that not every evening was this eventful. If that were the case, I’d probably be dead by now.
It wasn’t until October of the following year when I had a gallstone attack so bad that suicide seemed like a perfectly reasonable solution that I started to put my ducks in a row and figure out what I had to do next. Though I’d slip up here and there (see “Mad Dogs” for one example), I was always moving towards a goal, whether it be my MA work, getting myself published and so on.
“Before the Viking Funeral” speaks for itself. If you know Wroclaw, chances are you’ll be able to recognize all of the places. I think the story does a good job at capturing the strange days that were my first year in Poland.
I briefly reflected on a time when New Jason wasn’t in Wroclaw, when I got more sleep and my liver didn’t resent me as much. It’s only been a few months since his arrival – when we realized there were too many expatriate Jasons and we needed some sort of clever designation to set him apart – and yet it’s felt like an eternity; like recalling the time before a car crash, when you saw the faces of those in the other car coming towards you, you considered three different options to avoid the impact and, of course, chose the incorrect one, and you heard the sound of the collision, the glass shattering, the plastic breaking, the metal grinding, all blending into the force of crash, sucking the air out of your lungs, your seatbelt grinding against your neck, your face sucker punched by the airbag. You remember it all with such clarity; it seemed impossible it all happened in less than five seconds – or in this case, three months.
NEXT TIME: “Mad Dogs”
#3 “The Illusion of Swing”
#4 “Kicking Love’s Ass”
#5 “On Being Velma-less”
#6 “Muted Porn”
#7 “Defying Gravity”
#8 “The Fifth Ocean”
#9 “One Dead (Potted) Plant”
#10 “Remembering Drajra”
#11 “Pancakes, Wishes and Other Tales”
#13 “Before Waking”
#15 “This is Not for You”
#16 “The Mariachi”
#18 “Paying the Tab”
#19 “Father Groove”
#20 “Geneva Street”
#21 “A Lot Like the Ones Back in High School”