“…and a third woman whom I recognized, though I was also positive I’d never seen her before.”
-Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body And Other Parties
I’ve been wondering what comes next: visualize it, and all that. See the steps. But if the world is an ocean we wade out into, the nighttime swells like quiet dreams, then maybe sometimes we can’t see what’s inside until we’re swimming.
Machado’s line plays with a sweet little contradiction. In the last years, as I’ve moved from place to place, I’ve often ended up “recognizing” someone I don’t know. Sometimes it’s a certain person: that’s Mike, that’s Michi, that’s Sasha, my memory making the glimpse of a face into the face of a friend. Sometimes I’ve even run to catch up, and realized, no—though it was always unlikely that Shreya from Rishi Valley in Andhra Pradesh would be walking along this street in Illinois. Unlikely but not impossible: my mind jumps back, snapping like a rubber band around the shape of what I might find. Sometimes it’s not a certain person, just a general sense—the man over there would be like this. Like that. Like someone I’ve seen before. ‘Recognize’ itself comes from to know again. There’s something sweet in this moment of ‘seeing’ an old friend, and I like how it opens me up to the world. Then again, ‘seeing’ Shreya’s face isn’t seeing whoever’s there. Maybe we can’t see past a surprise.
This week I read two stories by fellow MFAs. In both of them, the moment of transformation came at the very end. That’s not the traditional form: the “usual” arc involves a resolution, a glimpse of what happens after. The Death Star blows up: the Rebels join to celebrate. Chewbacca roars. That gives us an idea of where we’re going, of where we’ve come. What about changes so subtle, so complete, that they lead us to a surface we can’t see past? What about friends who can’t be known again, but only met for the first time? I like stories that imagine something new. I like stories that open up a road, and bring me into another world. I think I also like stories that imagine so much newness that they can only bring me to the shore, the sea, can only breathe me out for one moment above the waves. One jump, one fall. In a moment I hope the water will open, in a moment