I had two conversations recently. Well, one of them was with a book. A one-sided conversation of sorts.
Barbara: At some point in your thirties, your coping mechanisms begin to slip. Everything that has gotten you that far in your life begins to fail.
Nick Flynn: Here’s a secret: Everyone, if they live long enough, will lose their way at some point. You will lose your way, you will wake up one morning and find yourself lost.
It’s as though I’m being invited into it. Beckoned. Into the disorientation, the bewilderment, the slippage. The moment when nothing is recognizable.
There was a trigger, there is always a trigger. A sin of sorts. A moment when who you thought you were and who you were, in that moment of being, ceased to line up. Ceased to be the same person, identical reflections in a mirror of self.
There was a face and there was distraction and then there was a new awareness of myself through the eyes of this person, this new person, a fresh lens on the world around me and its crispness and promise and beckoning options. All the promise of who I could be. All the promise of the many, the multitude of lives I could live, the choices I could make, the many different days I could keep.
And then, eventually, there was the long flight home, the smallness of home, the shabbiness and tightness of it, the unreality of the roles I’d bored my way into like a chewing worm, tight around me like wood, tunnels, caves, barely room enough for my shoulders to pass through. I walked through the house as if it were an old, tiny house; as if it were a childhood remnant, shrunk down now, smaller as though I’d seen it only through the eyes of the young. I went to work and walked through the buildings as if I were pretending to be the person who worked there, as if I’d seen them years before, as if I weren’t really there but only, in sleep, imagining I were there.
And then, slowly, the size of things grew back to their usual dimensions, normal-sized, big enough to hold me, the scenery went back to being scenery, with no fathoms between me and it, no sense of many images superimposed on top of each other, surreal, hyperreal, unreal. Things came back into focus. The world looked like it usually looked, home looked like it used to look.
But not everything. Not everything was the same. This is the holdup. The bewilderment, the lurking feeling of slippage, the disorientation become less pronounced—subtle, even. But they nag, naggingly always-there, until the question is looming, the question is unavoidable, the question is what’s different. Or the question is, simply, how do I get home. Or the question is a variation, a blankness, a great fallible gaping space.
What is different is a sort of loss of innocence, a loss of love’s solidity that was unquestioned, unshakable, where there were no other intruding faces, nor the threat of any other faces, no other street names, no other telephones, no other pickup trucks. And there still are not those things, though perhaps for a brief moment there were, but the possibility of those things has intruded, has begun to exist, lurking around edges like the undeveloped, blurred edges to a photo, like what has been cropped out, or like what was taking place around, outside of the space that the camera can capture.
Nick Flynn again: What I’m trying to say, maybe, is that I don’t know what it is I’m capable of transforming into.
The world was unfamiliar, and then it became familiar again. But I’m haunted by those moments I woke up an imposter, an interpreter, a stand-in, someone hired to carry off my life.
It’s a slippage along the faultline, along layers of loess and mud: the loss of what’s been constructed and reconstructed, the loss of steadiness, the loss of self as singular, continuous, unshakable. We choose to be blind to the possibilities in ourselves, the multitudes, the many we can be. To the plurality of self, as a state of being.
We do it to keep things safe. To keep the ground under our feet solid. But, it turns out, everything can tumble in an instant; can shrink or distort or crack open; everything we’ve made our world can become strange. We can wake up and find ourselves lost, unrecognizably transformed, holding in our hands only the question how do I get home.