NOTES ON AMPERSAND
We write because the light calls to us from our youth, it replicates the air we remember, the smell of Bain de Soleil and the scent of gardenias. Like Proust’s madeleine, our lives come flooding back.
Although both young and old mix everywhere, in malls, in California, on the Jersey shore, it’s only where you spend the summer in your youth that you can exchange futures, that you see your own lives flash in front of you, your own selves exactly as they were, and you standing next to them, what they will become.
I might thus have the same feeling in Nantucket, or Chatham, or Truro, or Montauk, or Southampton, where I spent the many summers of my long youth, except that the entitled air of those places precludes any sort of revelation. Ours was a more innocent youth, or we felt it was, as privileged as it may have been. Maybe we all feel our youths are the only childhoods like that in the world, which can never be repeated, because they wouldn’t be ours. Only the trees, the palms, the lawns, the beaches we knew as children are real. Only our own lives and spaces conjure up that immense warmth that travels the length of our body when faced with a familiar scent or a well-remembered turn in the bay. I suspect that I review my life all the time, especially in dreams, but also half-waking every morning. I write thousands of pages in a few minutes. When I try to duplicate those reviews, I only get a few seconds into them and I have fifty pages, and then life whirls me elsewhere.
But for some reason Hawaii hasn’t changed. It bumbles around like a sailor on leave, its hordes still cluelessly searching for love, for their own adventures. Nothing has been found yet, and it may not be found on Waikiki. The children may migrate to other beaches. But the chase is in the air, the sense of longing, of potential, which is preserved because nothing has evolved. Time is frozen there, my own youth preserved in amber, or in amber light.
It’s all about the light, the particular clarity and yet softness of the glare in the middle of the ocean. It doesn’t feel like the light anywhere else. It’s part of the wormhole.
Quantum mechanics holds that there are parallel universes, where you might open a door, or wormhole, and pass into the 16th century, because the speeds of the universes are different.
Only on Waikiki do I have that feeling of a wormhole, where I can feel what it was like to have been there as a child, wondering where my life would lead, and then see the instant result of all that dreaming, which happened possibly because of that dreaming. In the same way, you can feel what it might be like to be reincarnated, to trade places with some young lovers, or innocent kids visiting with their parents, to live that dream again, and see where it takes you. Novelists are always doing that, imaging backstories and futures for everyone they glance at casually. In Waikiki, the world seems more open to speculation in both directions, into the past and into the future, given the endless sea and the sense of vastness perched on the edge of the world, and maybe on both edges of my life at once: serious youth and serious age.
What is special to Waikiki is the feeling of being young and yet knowing where it will lead, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope, and its opposite: projecting my experience onto the untouched faces of the young and feeling, “imagine if they knew that right here, next to them, is them in fifty years.” The fact that they don’t see it is what makes it so innocent.
Ampersand is the “and” sign. I mean it as the sum of the past and the future which I feel on Waikiki. It has both amber and sand in it.
And of course there are the ravages of all those tans, the end of endless summer. My father died from melanoma; but it was a life given to a good cause, to the sun. That at least was the part worth dying for.