4:26, last friday afternoon

(1 march 2011)

identifying a biographical subject is like falling in love.

not the easy head over heels at first sight business that always happened at sweet valley high. it’s more like when you’ve been around and you’re damaged and you’re very much not at your best and you know that and you meet someone and you run and you hide and you play coy and be awkward- but at the same time, you can tell. on some level, you just know- you’re going to let them have you in the end. you don’t know what that’ll look like and you don’t know what it means and you’re pretty sure it’ll make you question everything you’ve ever known but, nonetheless, you know they’re gonna get you.

that was jackie. there has only ever been jackie. there was never another.

i didn’t always want her, i wasn’t always ready for her, but she was always there.

a few weeks ago, a friend leaned against the brick wall outside debonair, took a drag on my cigar, looked me in the eye and asked, are you ever going to write about anyone else?

i said i honestly did not know. because i honestly do not know.

jackie’s is the story that’s going to dominate my biographical life. it’s probably safe to assume that, but i’ve always left room for others. there’d just never been any.

it’s funny. the longer you live, the more sensitive you become to small events, little twists. things that never play out exactly as they did before, but they’re similar enough that you recognize the emotions, the tug of the heart, and you can guess what that pull means. you know enough to go ahead and attribute to it an importance it may or may not ultimately assume, and to make it a part of the story now, even if it falls by the wayside later on.

it had always been jackie. there was never anyone else.

at 4:26 on last friday afternoon, i found her. she is not jackie. she is a total stranger and yet i knew. i just knew, with the total conviction and deep satisfaction of one clicking a last puzzle piece in place.

i wish there were more words for it. i wish there were any words for it. i wish i could explain the inexplicable clinch of the heart that happened then because then everyone would understand once and for all why anyone would ever be compelled to do what it is that i want to do.

all i can say is that it was 4:26, and it was love at first sight.

a reaction of such visceral strength that it seemed important to document the time. as though we would one day divide the epochs based on this, with a clearcut delineation of the before and after.

i greet my father in the train station, flushed from excitement and waving a sheaf of printed obituaries above my head like a flag of surrender. i am wild. he is cautious.

i call my mother and say, i felt it. mummy, i felt it, and she gets it instantly without my saying anything else. she knows this is big. she knows that when i cannot find the words, we’re in for something monumental.

i’m reluctant to write about any of this, because, odds are, nothing will come of it. odds are that it’ll be like that epic civil war novel that never was that i set out to write the summer i turned ten.

it may very well just be proof that i’m not confined to jackie after all. that i’ve been dreaming in a tiny box when, in reality, this is a magic without limits.

but i’ve been recording a process here. the process of writing a book about jackie in paris and the million unexpected directions that leads. i’ve been banking on the notion that even if there is, in fact, no there there, the story of getting to the there that didn’t exist will be just as interesting. i don’t know yet if that’s going to hold true.

what i do know is that this story of that moment, of 4:26 on last friday afternoon, cannot be left out. because i felt it. i felt IT. i cannot find the words, but it’s big. and, come what may, we are in for something monumental.


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