I’ve spent more years than I might like to admit seeking that yell. It’s stuck with me, is what I mean; I no longer try to repeat it, the sound and feel of my own attempts at echo feeling not only not-right but wrong, but I can still hear it in those moments when I can most shut off everything else life tries to make you listen to instead.
When I tell people—in the old days, when still naïve enough to try at recreation, and more recently, as I know better and the story speak for itself—their go-tos for reference are pop culture. Brando yelling Stella, Robin Williams’ barbaric yawp. I used to think no one had heard anything so equal parts frightening and inspiring, so full of both terror and joy, in real life and so had to go to pop culture for comparison. Now I wonder if everyone hasn’t heard their own version of that yell but it’s too personal to share; they go to movies and songs so as to not have to cut themselves open for me, to compare our insides. At some point, age catches you, changes your mind about things.
I met this guy once, the only hitchhiker I’ve ever picked up. I didn’t think to ask his name until miles down the road. The only guy to ever nod along to my story, to say, “Yes, yes. I know what you mean.” He told me this story.
After college, he worked various construction and handyman jobs. Painting fences and decks, yardwork, pouring and leveling cement for driveways, sidewalks. There was this one job, he said. Hanging drywall. Four-man job, working in pairs. Carrying drywall in off the truck, taking turns holding it up in place and driving in nails. When all of a sudden they heard this sound come through the air. Neither scream nor yell? I recognized this guy’s inability to describe it. Not only recognized, but appreciated.
“Dropped the drywall right on my foot. Broke my toe,” the guy told me. “I’ll show you if you want.” I told him I didn’t need to see.
The three other guys all stood in place, but this guy, he walked straight out of the house, found a place in the yard where he could look into the window of the neighbor’s house where he somehow knew the sound had come from.
“I’ll never forget that sound, but I’ll never forget what I saw, either. A guy with a saw in one hand, a claw of antlers in the other. And in his eyes, a promise. A gift. I didn’t tell those guys when I got back. I don’t think they would have believed me.”
He didn’t ask me if I believed him or not. And we didn’t tell any other stories. I let him off at a gas station just off the exit, maybe forty miles down the road. I don’t remember where I was headed, what I was on the road for in the first place. I’ve driven back and forth across this country, forgotten more journeys than I can remember. Trying to listen to the gifts the world has hidden.
Story Song: "Jungleland" by Bruce Springsteen. (I was thinking of a few rock yells while writing this, including The Boss' series of weird yarbles near the end of this song, which I mostly know from Louis C.K. on Conan.)