In Maps & Legends, by Michael Chabon, I encountered this sentence:
…I suffer intensely from bouts, at times almost disabling, of a limitless, all-encompassing nostalgia, extending well back into the years before I was born.
A few other commenters mentioned they get this too. But if it’s a foreign state of mind to you, try this track by The Clientele. They are masters of shimmering, hazy, indeterminate nostalgia; and though I am normally no great fan of spoken-word pieces, this microfiction may describe the apotheosis of the feeling.
In those days, there was a kind of fever that pushed me out of the front door, into the pale, exhaust-fumed park by Broadwater Farm or the grubby road that eventually leads to Enfield: turkish supermarket after chicken restaurant after spare car part shop. Everything in my life felt like it was coming to a mysterious close: I could hardly walk to the end of a street without feeling there was no way to go except back. The dates I’d had that summer had come to nothing, my job was a dead end and the rent cheque was killing me a little more each month. It seemed unlikely that anything could hold much longer. The only question left to ask was what would happen after everything familiar collapsed, but for now the summer stretched between me and that moment.
It was ferociously hot, and the air quality became so bad that by the evening the noise of nearby trains stuttered in in fits and starts, distorted through the shifting air. As I lay in my room, I could hear my neighbours discussing the world cup and opening beers in their gardens. On the other side, someone was singing an Arabic prayer through the thin wall. I had no money for the pub so I decided to go for a walk.
I found myself wandering aimlessly to the west, past the terrace of chip and kebab shops and laundrettes near the tube station. I crossed the street, and headed into virgin territory – I had never been this way before. Gravel-dashed houses alternated with square 60s offices, and the wide pavements undulated with cracks and litter. I walked and walked, because there was nothing else for me to do, and by degrees the light began to fade.
The mouth of an avenue led me to the verge of a long, greasy A-road that rose up in the far distance, with symmetrical terraces falling steeply down then up again from a distant railway station. There were four benches to my right, interspersed with those strange bushes that grow in the area, whose blossoms are so pale yellow they seem translucent, almost spectral; and suddenly tired, I sat down. I held my head in my hands, feeling like shit, but a sudden breeze escaped from the terraces and for a moment I lost my thoughts in its unexpected coolness. I looked up and I realised I was sitting in a photograph.
I remembered clearly: this photograph was taken by my mother in 1982, outside our front garden in Hampshire. It was slightly underexposed. I was still sitting on the bench, but the colours and the planes of the road and horizon had become the photo. If I looked hard, I could see the lines of the window ledge in the original photograph were now composed by a tree branch and the silhouetted edge of a grass verge. The sheen of the flash on the window was replicated by bonfire smoke drifting infinitesimally slowly from behind a fence. My sister’s face had been dimly visible behind the window, and -yes- there were pale stars far off to the west that traced out the lines of a toddler’s eyes and mouth.
When I look back at this there’s nothing to grasp, no starting point. I was inside an underexposed photo from 1982 but I was also sitting on a bench in Haringey.
Strongest of all was the feeling of 1982-ness: dizzy, illogical, as if none of the intervening disasters and wrong turns had happened yet. I felt guilty, and inconsolably sad. I felt the instinctive tug back – to school, the memory of shopping malls, cooking, driving in my mother’s car. All gone, gone forever.
I just sat there for a while. I was so tired that I didn’t bother trying to work out what was going on. I was happy just to sit in the photo while it lasted, which wasn’t for long anyway: the light faded, the wind caught the smoke, the stars dimmed under the glare of the streetlamps. I got up and walked away from the squat little benches and an oncoming gang of kids.
A bus was rumbling to my rescue down the hill, with a great big ‘via Alexandra Palace’ on its front, and I realised I did want a drink after all.