Eric Susak


Cicada season simmered. The shells of molted cicadas lined the stucco walls and hung on the dry bark of mesquite trees outside the apartment I shared with my dad. Hollow replicas of living things. The hollow bodies that used to hold the origin of a shrill and encompassing and heavy song, like midday summer heat in Phoenix, Arizona.  The shells were discarded and no longer useful except to the natural order of the Earth reclaiming nutrients.
     The cicadas hum in order to find a mate. They make the sound of necessity. The need to have some part of themselves continue living in another body makes the air fill with a droning noise.
     I crushed one fallen shell as I walked back to an apartment I didn't call home. The apartment was a place to eat and to sleep. A place that reclaims me as a resident when I come back to Phoenix from Flagstaff.
     This apartment has no place for me: my computer, an object bound to me with music and writing and the infinite space of the internet, was set up on the kitchen table, an object bound to the idea of sharing.  The living room has no resonance and no warmth of solitude that I regularly need to enjoy playing guitar.1 But I used both with the undercurrent of cicadas, the other electricity,2 the other dissonance, the echo. The thought of being discardedand reclaimed hung in my mind like a warm breath.
     I came back to Phoenix for summer work and a free place to stay at my dad's apartment. I took sluggish steps down the stairs to a monotonous job, away from a two-bedroom-two-bathroom apartment with a nearly empty fridge: a few TV dinners of the same flavor, expired mayonnaise and mustard, and bottled water filling the bottom shelf. These objects are repetitious. My dad reads the same type of war novels and watches the same type of History Channel WWII documentaries that were on before I left Phoenix for college in Flagstaff. Eats the same do-it-yourself popcorn with the same I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray. I would come home from work late at night, fall into a chair, hear the drawl and drone of reality television shows about a Louisiana pawn shop, layered over a steady hum of cicadas. The radio static when there's a moment of dead air as my dad and I drive together to the Chinese buffet we've gone to for years.
     Sometimes, long after my dad would fall asleep, I would step out the front door and watch the cicadas that aren't humming for a mate fly into the porch light again and again, knocking on a door with nobody home. The dull yellow light would shine off my skin, but the cicadas didn't fly toward me.

It was raining, and it was not a cliché. Doom did not lurk in the shadows. The thunder did not shake the mantelpiece onto the floor. There were no screams and mysteries. I was home alone playing the guitar and singing a song about finding a city, playing a game, satisfying others with broken hugs. At the bridge, I usually bend the vocal melody, really pull the notes down and down so I can get deep into the emotion of the song. But I heard the click of my dad's keys in the door, and I dropped the words instead of laying them down gently.

2 Cicadas remind me of a current of electricity. Their song is static but always progressing on, reaching out for a connection. It vibrates and makes the glass on my dad's sliding balcony door tremble to the touch of someone still and quiet.

     Sometimes, the focus is not what I aim for.3
     How much stress can their foreheads take before cracking? Do they crack in straight lines like my dad's kitchen table? Do they let out childhood memories of family dinners from that table at a place once called home?
     Cicadas free their wings by molting. And sometimes returning to that porch light is the only place those wings take them.
     I remember being able to tune out the sound of their hum, back when I was living in a house with a full family, when life was a pick-up game of hockey with neighborhood kids. There were adventures at the neighborhood park. Imaginations were set free inside homes. The summers didn't seem to last long enough. But most of those kids have gone away to other states, and one has blown away from us like a crushed cicada shell in the wind. My dad knew that one like a son, like me during my childhood, and I heard him at the funeral whisper, "Oh, it breaks my heart."
     And it breaks my heart when I think of my dad being alone. He lives by himself most of the year. In a bipolar low he nearly gave up in a one-bedroom apartment. "I'll probably be living on the streets soon," he told me. "I'll be fending for myself." I wanted to tell him I'll look after him. I'll stay with him so he doesn't have to be alone. But at the same time I wanted to go to a different city and create my own life.
     I went to Flagstaff and called it home because I love the closeness of a small town and the familiar faces I can see whenever I go out. I call Flagstaff home because I learned how to open myself up to others and still be happy with myself and solitude. I got on stage and recited my own love poem. I learned how to rock climb and feel peaceful in a quiet town with snowfall nudging people together for warmth.
  3 "I know you'll always listen," my dad said to me. My sister had driven away. The old family pictures hummed on the wall after being shaken by a slammed door. "And I want you to know I'm very proud of you." They had another echo of a fight, and I sat quiet in this shell of an apartment.


That summer I drove to Flagstaff alone. I only did this because I had an excuse: a concert. I didn't tell anyone that the artist was playing in Phoenix the same weekend.
     In the drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff, there is a stretch of road that makes me feel closer to home. Come through a small valley. A sign says, "Watch for rocks," and only see the road, the rock walls, and the small strip of sky ahead. Drive past the edges of the rock wall; the world opens up. A field on the right extends to the horizon, where I imagine a deep drum like a giant's heart can travel all the way across the grass with the wind, a rolling, purring thunder. It picks me up and takes me towards the horizon. I feel released when I make it past that small rock valley. I feel like I could get lost in the field but never feel alone.
     I went to that concert alone, sat in a low chair with a book. Courtney Marie Andrews, the artist playing the show, sat down next to me. We talked about books and our music and slow ends to relationships. She gave me her guitar and sent me to the stage to play before her.
     I returned to Phoenix, and cicada season was in pieces. The dead heat didn't shrill like it used to. That summer I almost hated the cicada song. I thought it ruined my music and reminded me of overbearing heat. And then I thought about necessity. The endless humming, only to end in empty shells. The return to Phoenix, to be defined by displacement. The tinnitus, when I become too aware of complete silence, that grows and grows into something nearly felt. The small talk between a father and son.  All these part of necessity. The need to persist, the need to survive, the need to make music when I'm alone, the need to fix that crack in the kitchen table. The need to live my own life.





     That night of return, my ears were ringing from the silence when I tried to fall asleep. The cicadas were gone, and I was alone in a room with a bunk bed. It started off as a quiet reminder. I thought about how I needed to go back to Flagstaff, back through the field that meets the horizon. Two needs pulling South4 and North4 on my body. And the nothingness crescendoed in my inner ears, the echo of a song I used to ignore. I fell asleep thinking about a season in pieces.   4 My favorite song to wake up to is "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois." I was in Flagstaff the summer when I first heard this song. Monsoon season had started, and, every morning for a couple weeks, I woke up to that song—sometimes the comforting kind of thunder accompanied it.
     The song is fleeting like the memory of a dream. It's the first song on Come On Feel the Illinoise!, a Sufjan Stevens album. I almost put that CD in my alarm clock stereo that summer in Phoenix.



Cicadas in Phoenix, AZ were a nearly constant presence in the summer of 2012. While I don't know the species that inhabited my father's apartment complex that summer, the song that most resembles them comes from the Diceroprocta apache, which can be found [here].