Fiction: Semantics

Nicole White/Staff

I guess when I look back, it was all a question of semantics. Words were vital to me, a  part of my essence — but not a part of yours. When I was younger, I would sit in my room for hours devouring my favorite poems by Dickinson and Poe, internalizing each lovingly placed adjective or verb. You were probably off playing video games in your lonely house in the middle of nowhere.

One time, during one of the many conversations we had about music, you told me you didn’t think the lyrics mattered. You thought that the sound was most important, the melodies and harmonies, the way each instrument wove in and out of the rhythm — the words were just a meaningless overlay. I never told you that I didn’t agree, because to me the music was incomplete without words to give it substance, without that essential human component — the soul. That was a word you hated, too. You didn’t believe we had souls. Do you really still believe that? I tried so hard to show you mine.

Words can be ambiguous and vague, but they are also suffused with meaning and expressive of history. Our words came from the same language, but they didn’t come from the same place. Though I didn’t give you much, I lavished attention on every sentence, knowing that it represented a piece of me. My words struggled and clawed their way up my throat, out of my mouth; sometimes they tried to hurt you, but at least they meant something. You gave me your word freely, easily, and I cherished it as though it were a vow.

I know now that it wasn’t, and that you were more of an actions guy, anyways.

Proust, another of my favorite writers, taught me about the nature of time and memory; how remembrances can assault you involuntarily, like a punch out of thin air. When I see our gnarled oak tree by the music hall, I think about the two times we climbed it (once in rain and once in shine) and the word we discovered, “verdancy.” When I pass by the statue near the campanile, I think of our cheeks pressed up against the cool granite sphere, and the “multitudinous” stars on that night. How whenever we walked together, we’d inevitably stop and try to decide what exact shade the sky was at that moment. On the afternoon of my memory, we were standing in the middle of the glade, and you said the sky was “liquid gold.” And for once, I didn’t argue with you.

Sometimes I can see the light in your window from the street, and I wonder if you’re up there, playing your bass and writing your music with no lyrics. On good days, I hope you are, because I know the music makes you happier than I ever could.

I guess when I look back, it was all a question of semantics. And that’s why I’m sitting here laboring over words that you will never read, that will never be perfect, that will never matter to you.

Madeline Zimring is a contributor to The Weekender. Contact her a [email protected]