Just ‘Cause You Feel It

I was driving my 1983 Ford Escort through the New Jersey countryside.  I remember the sun–the sun flying into the front seat so hard and fast I could almost see the light particles moving, could feel them beating my chest, my shaved bare scalp.  I had the front windows rolled down all the way and the air whipped around the little room–because really that’s what a car is, a tiny moveable room–like a wild wind whirlpool.

I had just moved to New Jersey a few weeks earlier, to live with my mother and her husband after my life had fallen apart back in Pennsylvania.  It was a time of rebirth for me unlike anything I had experienced before or would ever experience again.  I was melancholy, and joyful, and full of deep heaving sorrows and belly-laughs.  I was on “the pink cloud”, as some folks refer to this sort of time period.

My old ’83 Escort, who I called Earl Grey, did not come equipped with a CD player or even a tape deck, so I had a boombox sitting of the passenger seat floor on which I would play CDs.  It wasn’t as convenient as cars nowadays but sometimes working harder for your simple pleasures makes them more enjoyable.  The CDs would skip a lot and I have memories of being very annoyed by this but of course the passage of time now makes the skipping CDs seem endearing.

I remember specifically on this day (as on many days during this time period) I was listening to Radiohead’s album Hail to the Theif.  Over the next fifteen years I would come to see this album as a winter album but it was the soundtrack to my summer that year, its drowsy, hypnotic plea serving as a counterpoint to the frenetic buzzing of insects, far-off lightning storms, and revving motorcycles at the biker bar next door to my mom’s house.

On this particular day, I was exploring the back country roads in the area around my mom’s house, an area loosely known as Neshanic Station, New Jersey.  The country roads are pleasingly bendy and hilly out there, with lots of big ol’ green and yellow fields on all sides of you.  As I may have mentioned, the sun was beating into my chest like cannonball particles sent across the cosmos, the wind was a whirling dervish, and Radiohead, although skipping, assured me in bizarre time signatures that just ’cause you feel it, doesn’t mean it’s there.

I rounded a bend in a road I’d never been down before, and when a stand of trees suddenly dropped from view, I saw quite astonishingly there were two hot air balloons, fully inflated, just a few hundred feet off the ground over a field in front of me.  It was, you might imagine, an incredibly surprising sight.  I immediately looked for a place to pull over.  There was a pulloff just a few yards further, which also happened to nestle a tiny winding creek.  I hopped out of my car, turning my boombox up even more so I could hear my Radiohead as I got out of the car.

This was not only before smart phones, it was even before everyone had a cell phone, or even a digital camera.  It was before MySpace existed.  So my experience was still limited to just myself.  I had never sent a text message or posted a status, and having not done so yet, I did not feel the absence of such.

I walked out into the field, mesmerized by these red mammoths above me.  I could hear the pilots talking, could hear the occasional hiss of the burners igniting.  They cast twin bulbouse shadows across the expanse of the untilled field.  I took my shoes off and waded into the small creek.  The balloons were coming even lower, I could feel the air density change around me as they passed directly overhead and the cold, cold water swirled around my feel like a whirling dervish, and Radiohead continued to insist Just ’cause you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.

I was still new to real life, but I knew it wouldn’t be like this forever, but I couldn’t imagine what else it could possibly be like.

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