vertigo

I HAD BEEN AVOIDING certain songs for the very fact that I was afraid of them, afraid that by hearing them I would come once again unglued and fall apart into malaise, despair, and torpor.  One of them was by a singer named Emiliana Torrini and the other one was “Blue Monday” by New Order. It even takes courage to write out the names of the songs, which is funny to me, that I am even afraid of the names of songs. I’m not even afraid of how they sound, or the words, but the names. I think her rejection letter had arrived toward the end of spring. Maybe it was the end of May? I had been watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo one of those nights, which was filmed in San Francisco in the 1950s, and so I somehow combined this memory of the rejection letter with shots of people in suits and dresses climbing into cable cars in the hilly city. It was as if we weren’t here in this country at all, that none of this had taken place in the lanes or shopping centers of Estonia, but there in that Californian city a long time ago, two old characters. Well, one of them was old, or at least older than the other. That seemed to be one main problem. “Given the facts, I just don’t see any perspective here,” I think those were her words to me. I can’t be sure. I haven’t looked at the letter since. I am brave enough to listen to music that reminds me of her, but not brave enough to read that letter again. What took place after that was something I have struggled to describe to my patient and well-meaning psychologist, but have always failed to adequately express. “Yes, I understand, I understand you felt pain that day,” my psychologist said. No. I felt like a building had collapsed on top of me in a cataclysm of dust, dynamite, and thunder. A stone building, constructed in the earlier part of the last century. Maybe Jugendstil? Every single part of my body ached for two days. Every single part. Even my feet hurt, especially my ankles. Later, a friend characterized it as withdrawal. I would explain it as an exorcism. Some kind of soul had left me. Her soul? I couldn’t say. “But this is so unfair,” I told my friend. “It’s like she gave a part of herself to me. And now she just wants me to give it back?” “Yes, she does,” my friend said. “It is unfair, but you have to give it back to her.” From a logical point of view, here in the rational workaday buzzing digital world, where we wake up, drink coffee, and watch people walking by on their way to work, and the phone chirps and people only want you to do more things for them, here in this flimsy pathetic construction, none of this made sense and was at all important. I wasn’t getting paid for being in love anyhow, so what was it worth to me? It was just some girl, and, as I told someone recently when she asked me if I had any women in my life, “but half the world is female. They are all in my life.” This was a lovely one, though, a smart one, a creative one who could leave you with sentences that you turned over and over again in your mind, if only to extract some remaining essence from them, but still a girl, not capable of collapsing a whole fortress on your head. Yet she did, and I was covered with bricks and dust. My ankles even hurt. What had even happened? Now I was afraid to even listen to some Icelandic singer, or British new wave band. They were like doors, shut and locked doors to cellar rooms in my subconscious that I dared not to open. Then, one day, in the winter, I decided it was time to face the music and give those songs a listen. I remembered the first time I had heard of Emiliana Torrini. It was when I visited Iceland two decades ago. One of my friends ran into a young singer in a café. I never met her but I always paid attention to her music after that, remembering the tangential connection. I recalled those lanes of the city, peering into the windows of restaurants at night, and the suspicious characters at the bars. As for New Order, I grew up with the sounds of their synthesizers. They remind me of childhood. These are all memories or pieces of myself, just as the object of my affection had become a piece of me too. Our story went the way it did, with its turns and catastrophes, but that didn’t mean that I could no longer dream of her sunstruck sensuality, or the words she said, or the way she once looked at me outside the cinema. Those parts were as much hers as they were mine. I couldn’t give them back.

This column appears in the March 2022 issue of the magazine Anne ja Stiil.

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