#63: U2, "Achtung Baby" (1991)

63 Achtung Baby.jpg

Take a drink, for example. Remember how you and I never quite mastered that civilized art of sharing a moment.

Even now, we could mosey in from a cold breeze-strewn evening into a wood-beamed bar with lime-washed walls and gentle-bent ceiling. We would see and feel the fire as a confluence of hopes and relief. We would both, perhaps, follow the glimmer and gentle sway of the big fire’s light as it seeped into the dark corners of the room, light smiling back at us through a glass of the light-sweet farmhouse cider they make in the next county over. The cellar-cool glass with winking bubbles and earnest, hard-earth funk of wild yeast thick enough to smell even with the glasses at arm’s length. With glasses full, fire roaring, and the low-slung ceiling, we would find ourselves a little snug, maybe with a table for two. At such a table in such a snug as that we could spend all night. Never have to leave, would we? But how many such ciders could we stomach before it all went belly up?

Or what about the riverside in high summer? One of the little rivers trickling the run from swamp to sea, mud-streaked and stinking of sulfur sand and the tidal wash. What did our glasses full of the green-apple freshness of Prosecco smell like when we swirled them in with the smell of so much earth and water? Or is it the Chenin Blanc blend you prefer to remember, full of cut grass and that bitter-rich fold where a sachet of dry chamomile meets the smell of a live flower? In the summer’s wet heat, we last even less time before we’re at each other’s throats, or wrenching up bad oysters with heads buried in the saltgrass by the water’s edge. Snails are always clinging on to the marsh grass, edging themselves high and low as the water comes and goes. You and I could never master that kind of surviving rhythm.

But how, even now, a look back into the moments we reveled in still leaves my face flushed, and my breath chopping away at the back of my throat, wind-blown as the bay after a storm washes back out to sea. Cold waves, streaked with shatter-sharp bits of light, filtering through a procession of small-puffed clouds pelting north.

I didn’t try to read it as tea leaves when you threw my boots out of our moving car in Michigan, and we laughed together like maniacs as the only watertight shoes I’ve ever owned tumbled beyond the guardrail and landed somewhere in the scrap brush lining the shore below. We laughed until you had to pull over and gulp deep for air. My face would have been red, and I should have known then how little we could trust the stability of what we’d worked so hard on.

*

Lately with the season changing, I receive sudden, jolting glimpses back into this world most nights. The sky pushes recklessly in all directions, and dead leaves gather at the corners of my house, and clouds slip over the ridge tops and past the radio tower lights. Night bleeds into night, and I don’t have the strength of constitution not to linger, to try to remember the way those moments smelled, how it felt to think of the future from beneath those years, their muddled hopes and the plans we tended to.

Those old notions still sip like the unfurling honey-smoke of single malt. They sink into the lining of my stomach, with the mixing texture of ice and warm liquor. As the old moments settle across my eyes again, it is achingly clear how much I should have loved them more, reveled deeper into their mystery and joy. In my mind’s eye, the blurry snaps of moments still warm to the touch. When we left the bar in [ somewhere ] and you carried me out to our car, not in the fireman’s carry, but like I was floating in a canoe out to sea one last time with you stood in the shallows, and your loving hands weren’t holding me from falling but gathering memory and courage to say a proper goodbye. In your tiny arms, I remember feeling as warm and windswept, as loved and as tended to as when in mercy you volunteered us to take your sister’s dying cat to be put down so she wouldn’t have to say the words, or be there when they pushed the syringe in to ease the passing on. I felt the same dutiful buoyancy you gave to that cancer-hollowed cat as you set it gently on the metal table and they filled his failing heart with what must have been the sweetest feeling of relief.

*

The richest, sharpest memory I still have of us sharing a drink was the cans of Bigburger we took from a stranger on the train platform in Berlin as we decided in a series of glances that, yes, we would love to accept these beers from this thick-necked, purple-faced man in a yellow shirt, and that yes, we would love to sing the song about Dortmund with him (though, no, we did not know any words), and would we like to come to the game?

We did not. But, swept up in the churning train platform, full of drinking, singing fans, we did not feel the need to disappoint our newfound friend. We let him sweep us along, with his denim-clad, chain-smoking friends, to the stadium, where it seemed best that we did buy a ticket and come in with our new minder. We sat for a while in the highest reaches of the Olympicstadion watching two soccer teams, their singing, shouting fans, letting cool spring weather wash over our heads. We felt very far away from the city, from our own lives, from each other even. We left the game just after halftime. We learned the next day the two teams had played to a routine draw, no goals scored. The yellow-shirted Dortmund fans would go home, but we wondered if they would do so sad, frustrated, or cheering a brave result. Did our rough Dortmund-shirted minder get in a scrap with the blue-shirt-wearing Berlin fans on his way out of the stadium?

The night we left the game, the city seemed quiet. We were warmbellied, and we wore our jackets unzipped and wandered happily through Soviet-facaded grey streets, swaying, letting light and near-light blur together in what we thought felt like a familiar piece of the grey, sprawling city. We had, as we came to discover, taken the right train, but arrived at the wrong platform. It was nearly two in the morning by the time we found our way back to our hotel, and by that point you had lost a shoe, bought a new pack of cigarettes, and when we finally found our room, you told me, as you turned the contents of your purse onto the floor looking for a light, that tomorrow we would find a different train to take us to a different city where we could buy suitcases full of different clothes, and after enough time had passed, we would even pick new names for ourselves.

—Aaron Fallon