I met this man I am thinking about at the drugstore. He was buying wine, crackers, jelly and toothpaste. Why does someone go to a drugstore to buy these things? I know that I buy things at the drugstore that I could have purchased at the grocery because the drugstore is a friendlier place. The grocery store clerk is nice enough at the checkout desk, but no one seems prepared for any question other than where is something. You never get an answer that doesn’t start with the word aisle and it always makes me think they’re trying to suggest shopping for groceries is a very simple kind of vacation. At the drugstore the clerks seem to be lonelier, and they always want to talk, and I like that, and this man that I am thinking about probably likes it too. He told me about the weather, and he made the weather sound interesting. I hadn’t even noticed till this man made me notice. He could tell what the barometer was doing with the cartilage in the joint of his left knee.
The small steady steps of the rain pass back and forth over the roof, the wind pushing the pacing from one end of its room to the other. I try to imagine what would be on the walls and who walks on my roof when I have nothing else to think about. Sometimes it hails, and the steps become tapping, and I cannot tell which part of the roof my friend is dancing on.
My radio brings in the French station from across the border. I listen to a talk show host spouting separatism until the news comes on, and the French becomes peppered with English. I don’t like the news, but I like hearing it in French and imagining I live in a country where what I don’t like is going on in another country.
She was not as lonely as you might think, this girl that I am. She had learned to enjoy her time alone, and she liked entertaining herself, but it was getting harder and harder to surprise herself with new dimensions of her personality. After a while she started to think that having somebody to get mad at wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but she wasn’t thinking about that when she went to the drugstore, which was strange because she was thinking about corned beef, which they don’t have at the drugstore.
The room was holding its breath and mine was holding me apart from its vast indifference and inexhaustible patience. I had no idea there could be that much emptiness between me and my space.
By then her grin had popped open, and she leaked giggles and icy hesitation set far apart from those she eyed. So then, much later, we remembered the moist breath of us and the saturated delight, bodied into the aged receptacles we had become with so much holding on.
Maybe it had a story to it or a conclusion we may not have deserved. Maybe it had something to say and an ear and a fingered paw to scratch where it cupped itself and flopped down on the exaggerated dust.
I think about many things when I am alone, and I am not able to identify the reasons for this. If there is fear involved, it is not the ordinary kind of fear, as crucial as that might be to the lives of many people alone. I do not think of fire or flooding or terrorism or pizza delivery boys with rampant libidos. Instead, I think about the coziness of sardines and the irony in that, and I think about the life cycle of the bumblebee, and I think about the color chartreuse and the history of its popularity, and I think about fruit cake and the unfair reputation it has acquired in the United States, and I think about the relative health merits of skim milk, and I think about the little hairs between the knuckle and the first joint on the back of a man’s hand, and then I think about toast in all its various manifestations.
Another reason I know that my fears are not ordinary is that I know that nearly every day I have passed someone who is planning a crime, and I do not assume that the target of that crime will be me, even when that someone looks directly at me and will not lower his eyes when I glare. And I am not afraid of the night because more bad things happen when people are awake.
I have watched them often, and what the crows do is definitely more than prayer. I can see them out the window, picking up the dead, especially when another white carpet has fallen on the still earth. You take what is offered, in gratitude. A morsel is all we should expect and more than a morsel is tomorrow’s, when maybe no one will have to leave us.
So I think about the summer, and I like knowing that donkeys, like the one in my neighbor’s back yard, who stays hidden away in a small stable during the long winter, at least won’t pay attention. Like the better parts of my life, that creature can eat and ignore me all at once, but what he’s thinking isn’t so obvious. The cats that live in the stable, underfoot, own a kind of pretention I’d like to say I could have taught them that means they might be listening, but they don’t want you to know it. How many annoying small creatures could be living like that, free of fluctuation and too much attention, looking irrelevant?
I know that it is not what I say but the way that I say it that makes me dangerous, and I know that this is not something that most people can observe. Like me, they are blinded by their desire to see the world as a safe place, which it is. In places. But those places don’t stay in the same place. Every day the places that are safe are in different places, although they do, just like people, have some places they like to be more than others. But any place can get boring and go somewhere for a little excitement. I’m not the kind of person you would think would need any excitement, but I do. That’s what makes me dangerous.
In 1971 an advertisement for the removal of selected appendages first appeared on network television: convenience, component part advantages of individual replacement, storage considerations, ease of travel . . .
In 1975 the side effects of this procedure began to receive attention: It might appear that I have no legs, but this is not true. I have legs. I just don’t know where they are.
I suppose I could have dreamed it.
Brief interlude of cows dancing on a hillside.
Hands clasped in ecstasy, a legless man watches, suspended in the air as if his legs had become unnecessary.
Today I have been thinking about goldfish, and I want to tell you that my Gerald has beautiful long lacey fins and a bright silvery gold body that stays lean because I do not overfeed him. He welcomes me home generously with a popping of air and sometimes a slapping of fins, and I do indeed talk to him sometimes in baby talk, but I also speak to him maturely about my difficulties and as best I can imagine them, about his. I can tell by the motions he makes when I have got it right, and I know this is not merely a reaction to the possibility of food because Gerald knows I never feed him more than once a day although I do know that his attention span does not exceed three seconds, and it often takes me longer than that to say something. No wonder his cousins outdoors can get so fat and heavy. They can’t even remember they just ate.
Gerald was not always a beautiful mature specimen, however. He came to me with three brothers, less than an inch long, purchased for a dime from the feeder fish tank at the pet store to eat mosquito eggs from the large bowl of water hyacinth at the end of my driveway that holds several gallons of water and is deep enough for small fish to hide from raccoons in. They were all ugly and gray and small–finned then, and although they all turned golden, and their fins grew, only Gerald became the amazing specimen that greets me every day now. You might think from that description of things that I disposed of the less desirable ones, but that would not be true. After that first summer outdoors, I brought them all in for the winter and just never put them back out, and one by one, the others died of natural causes, and because the size of a fish is partly determined by the space available to him, Gerald grew larger and more beautiful with the passing of each of his companions, and he is alone now. Let me assure you that I spoke to him at great length about his sorrow and loneliness, and he now seems quite well adjusted.
I can see right now that the boy next door is pulling the feathers from a dead bird. I do not know what to think of this, so I do not think of it. This is not the way I usually deal with confusion.
Sometimes when I think of something interesting, it wakes me up. Most likely, sometimes it does not, but I wouldn’t know since I didn’t wake up that time, which is also the reason I don’t know how often I think of something interesting.
I’m talking about the daytime now.
I was reading a book about disturbances of the inner ear when I began to feel dizzy. I had been fighting a persistent virus that sometimes made the inside of my ears itch or feel as if there was water inside, like it feels when you just got done swimming for a long time and the feeling of the water is still carrying you forward, even though you know it’s really your own muscles, and it gets so steady that it goes right along with you when you finally get out of the water and makes you feel as if you will lift right up off the tiled floor they conveniently placed around the edges of the pool, and it’s a kind of dizziness but not the kind that makes you feel as if you might pass out, just the kind that makes you feel like your feet aren’t going to stay there down below you where they belong now.
I supposed I could have been feeling light-headed because of the book I was reading, but I was reading that book because I had been feeling light headed and wanted to know what that feeling was all about. A friend of mine had Minier’s Disease from an inner ear problem that was not attended to and lost 80% of her hearing in one ear, and I didn’t want that to happen to me. So I could have been empathizing with her difficulty or something and achieving sympathetic symptoms, or I could have been procrastinating dealing with a potentially serious debility, or I could have been stuffed up in my head in some way that included the ears.
After a while it went away and I never thought about it again until now.
I have discovered that most silence is not lack of noise, but the same noises again and again, so that the body’s anticipations can be regularly satisfied and thus ignored. I’m not very good at this kind of ignorance.
My pillow does not smell like me, and it seems that it should. Neither does it smell foreign or manufactured. I find it difficult to place the odor, which is faint but pervasive. At first it kept me awake with thoughts of whose smell that could be. Was I missing out on the enjoyment of some part of my life I had forgotten? And then gradually I thought that I would adjust to this interesting aspect of my life that would not follow reason, but it continues to reach me, in the deep absences of my conscience, when I am thinking about something else.
I am very far away now, on the other side of myself, where it might not be me. I am holding still, and I am limping. I am reaching for myself who is not there. I am about to hold her hand.
Sometimes I like to go around just touching the edges of things, especially things whose edges I hadn’t even noticed before. Yesterday it was a stop sign with bullet holes in it, a sign whose edges had been questioned. And after that it was a light pole. So many people had walked past that pole without touching it, or worse, touched it without even realizing what it really was, disconnecting its touch from its light and not even looking up to see what it was really doing. And today it was a song on the radio. I don’t even know its name or the name of the singer who sang it or the names of the musicians who played it, but I let it touch me with its edges.
This is not a shallow thing, this touching of edges, because you have to know the extent of a thing before you can let it in and experience the completeness of what you are learning. It creates a kind of knowledge you don’t want to run away from, and like a lot of things in life, it’s not just the rightness or wrongness of what you do that matters, but the intensity of the desire you build up for that thing before you get it.
If you learn all the edges of a thing, it’s not a prison but a way of bringing that thing back when you can’t be around it, and you can keep it from disappearing into another thing. It’s not something you do to control things, but something you do to recognize what they are, and you have to keep right on doing it because the edges are always changing. They don’t lie to you and then turn out to be something else, but you have to let them make adjustments for what they are experiencing the same way you become changed from what you are doing with their edges.
And if you do this well enough, then whenever something intersects one of the edges you’ve learned, then the whole thing comes back bright and clear, and it’s as if you’ve experienced it all over again for the first time all at once this time, and it’s not vague and hazy like most things you remember are, and your life feels fat and layered and just about to put right back the things that are over, which may not always be a good thing but makes you feel rich and deep with your own experience, even when it’s about something that’s happening right then at that moment.
It’s like when you get carried away with a person, only better, because with a person, you keep trying to experience all their edges, and they keep moving around faster than you can experience them, and if you like that and you get overwhelmed, you might tell them you love them, but what you really love is the way their edges are moving right then, and those edges don’t stop moving, even if they’re likely to keep moving in ways that you like, and it makes you feel sure of yourself. You can’t know where those edges will move. And then later, when remembering an edge leads to remembering the rest of the edges it seems incomplete because you know those edges are somewhere else now.
And that’s where I was when I went to the drugstore and met that man, and I took him home with me and got to know him better, and we stayed together, and we both changed, and we still wanted to stay together, and we both kept right on changing, and I’ve lost him many times, and I seem to just keep right on finding the new person he becomes and I suppose the same thing happens with different edges for him, and somehow when I get back the edge of a thing, and the whole thing comes right with it because of what I did with its edges, that seems now like it would look a little scary to watch although it didn’t when I first started doing it, well, that’s like having a warm and comfortable house to come home to and continue living in with all the new edges of yourself and the very same edges of your things, even the holes in a stop sign that just keeps right on letting things through.