Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension
by Michael Heald
November 2010. Portland, OR.
Stephen Malkmus is standing on my front lawn. This shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s common knowledge that Stephen Malkmus lives in the neighborhood. He plays softball against people I know. One of my friends toured Europe in support of him. In the two plus years since I moved back to Portland, I’ve seen him at Whole Foods, Laurelhurst Park, and only once—only once—on stage. He’s the sort of guy who has no problem slouching around in public. You get the sense that he might show up anywhere, even that house party you’re disinclined to hit later tonight. More than you’d like to admit, the idea of running into Stephen Malkmus has kept you going. In fact, when you really think about it, Stephen Malkmus is as responsible as anyone for changing your mind about Portland, for transforming it into a plausible home for someone like you. And of course by “you” I don’t really mean you.
February 2001. Middletown, CT.
For my twentieth birthday I am given copies of Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. I am a sophomore in college, taking my first fiction-writing workshop. My stories are about things I wish I had done, but didn’t have the guts or the wits to do. At the moment, the girl I have spent the past year sort-of-dating is banging one of our hallmates, a lacrosse player. I’m too involved internalizing Stephen Malkmus’s deep thoughts to hear them. “Lies and betrayals, fruit-covered nails, eeeee-lectricity and lust … ”
January 2007. San Francisco, CA.
My girlfriend of four years and I have called it quits. Six months from now I will also quit San Francisco and my job and move to Nicaragua to write my Important Novel. But on this cold night I don my leather jacket and scarf and walk alone to Bimbo’s 365 Club to watch The Jicks. Stephen Malkmus has anticipated the mustache craze. He looks younger than I feel. I stay sober at the show and unsurprisingly, I’m too self-aware to play even a little air guitar or shout out my one and only request, “Church on White,” a song he wrote for his friend, the writer Robert Bingham, who overdosed on heroin when his first novel was still in galleys. When I get home I open a bottle of whiskey and listen on headphones to the song I didn’t feel comfortable asking for. Whatever I’m expecting to feel during the guitar solo, I don’t.
January 2002. Brighton, England.
Study abroad. I wasn’t supposed to have a roommate but here are his things. An amplifier, a laptop, an ashtray. Copies of Siddhartha and Tropic of Cancer. Robin, my roommate, is in the process of dropping out of college. We buy a glass chess set together. He confesses that his best friend overdosed when they were still in high school. He’s pretty sure nobody wants to be friends with him anymore. I move to an empty room upstairs after he makes a pass at me. Somehow, over the next six months, we learn how to become friends. We obsess over music. We drink absinthe and smoke hash and date a French girl (me) and a Chilean (him). We take the train to London and go to the best shows we’ll ever see. I tell Robin I’m going to become a writer. Robin’s not sure what he’s going to become. When it’s time to go back to America, I intentionally avoid saying goodbye. I leave a pile of books outside his door. A door that, for a time, was my door.
December 2007. León, Nicaragua.
I take a photo of the first draft of my novel. My ex-girlfriend wants to know if I’m moving back to San Francisco. My answer depends on whether or not I’ve taken someone home the night before. My answer depends on just how big a splash I’m going to make with the novel. My answer depends and depends and depends until nearly three years pass, and April writes to inform me that she’s moved in with someone else.
January, 2009. Portland, OR.
“Your writing is illuminating and your characters (painfully) honestly written … one of our manuscript readers is truly over the moon about your book … he gave it the most positive feedback he has ever given a work in our office … in the end, however, we did not connect enough … we are certain you will do well with this and other projects and we wish only to offer you encouragement.”
August 2005. San Francisco, CA.
I spend the summer between jobs with hopes of writing a novel. Something big. Instead, all I have at the end of the summer is a twisted little story about two young Americans who meet while studying abroad, then run into each other a couple years later. One of the Americans has adjusted his expectations. The other has become, if anything, more ambitious. The ambitious one sees a rivalry where the other one sees a friendship. They fuck. The ambitious one believes he’s “won.” For the hell of it, I send the story off to a few literary journals. It gets published. It wins a contest. I have no choice—at least, I don’t think I have any choice—but to save up and leave the country and write a novel.
January, 2009. Portland, OR.
My novel is not getting published. It’s an idea that takes some getting used to. I find myself living in my hometown, broke, working a job I detest. I join a band because I don’t know if I can write anymore. On nights when I don’t have band practice I go straight home from work. Every evening I end up online, almost against my will, measuring my circumstances against those of people I used to know. One night I decide to look up Robin. I’ve been putting it off for years, unsure how to explain my disappearance from his life, unsure how to explain these stories I’ve written that are and are not about him. On Facebook I find his sister but not him. One of her photo albums is entitled “R.I.P Robin.” He killed himself in 2007, when I was in Nicaragua. I write to Anna, and tell her everything I remember about her brother. For once, I leave myself out of it.
November, 2010. Portland,OR.
Stephen Malkmus is on my front lawn, playing with his daughter. I can hear the Number 20 whistling down Burnside. If I don’t run, I’m going to miss it. My parents are expecting me for dinner. I don’t know what to say to Stephen Malkmus. He can tell that I’ve recognized him. I can tell he’s recognized me. Part of me wants to say, “Stephen Malkmus, I hereby declare you responsible for the events of this past decade. Screw you for convincing me that any of this was possible.” But of course I don’t say anything. I watch Stephen Malkmus crouch down and zip up his daughter’s coat. He’s not responsible for me, or April, or Robin. He’s just somebody’s father. I turn the corner without looking back. My twenties are ending and I’m working on expectations. I can see that I’ve expected too much from everyone, most of all myself. And yet, I’m writing again. I’m writing again. I’m halfway across the Burnside Bridge, half an hour late for dinner, when I pull my iPod out of my backpack and look out at my city.
goodbye to the nervous apprehension
I certainly won’t miss ya.
My heart is unable
to stay so unstable no more.
leave this house and if you do not know how
you’ll learn along the way.
The road to rejection
than no road at all.
Michael Heald is the publisher of Perfect Day Publishing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Propeller Quarterly, Silk Road Review, Swap/Concessions, and 580 Split. His debut essay collection, Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension, will be out November 27 from Perfect Day. He lives in Portland, Oregon.