Perspective: A Lack Thereof

An essay I wrote for The Neo-Futurists for their Arrow auditions last fall. The prompt was as follows:

I had never known what I was like until I stopped smoking, by which time there was hell to pay for it. When the haze cleared over the charred landscape, the person I had always assumed to be behind the smoke was revealed to be a tinny weights-and-balances apparatus, rapidly disassembling on contact with oxygen.
— Excerpt from "Days," by Deborah Eisenberg.

Here's what I wrote. 

Perspective: A Lack Thereof.

Those outlines, from Hiroshima, the flash burns the bomb left when it went off - do you think if those people came back, do you think they’d be able to find theirs?

Because in my mind, there exists a version of that city that lies just beneath the real one, stopped, stock-still, and it is covered in these silent silhouettes. This sprawling necropolis, laid out like a memorial - in that it’s tidy and empty and everything of note is spaced very far apart, because the weight of all those heavy things too close together would alter gravity, and isn’t it enough that we built the thing, we shouldn’t have to get sucked in by it too.

Would they (and how else do you refer to them - the victims, the lost, the ordinary people turned to spray paint, aftermath made manifest), would they know where to go? Would they remember where they were, or had been, or would they have to search for their suspended selves, as you might for the neglected grave of that family friend you dropped off at a nursing home and promptly forgot about, now, years later, putting on this show of guilt meets gratitude, this listless and too late compassion play for no one in particular, for yourself really, the flowers too cheap, or too expensive, knowing you?

Let’s say they retrace steps of their morning until they stumble upon their shape, stopped midstep, almost overtaking it in their search, finishing the stride they never did, and effectively time-travelling on this moment mapped-out. How would they appear to themselves - impossibly small, or larger than that life? And the ones distorted by their attachment or proximity to another person or people - worse, do you think, or better off? - than those that are able to see themselves clearly because of their separateness, however temporary, made permanent. Firmament. The relief they must feel watching the embarrassed uncertains, waiting their turn to line up against as-of-yet unclaimed shadows, trying them on and shrugging them off til they find the one that fits.

I fall especially hard for my own romantic notions. And it doesn’t matter how dark the origins, how self-serving the comparisons, or how flimsy the base assumption on which I’ve built my tidy or sweeping life-metaphor - I will follow it around like a lovesick addict, refusing to see the flaws in logic and telling my friends that it actually sounds really great when we’re alone in my head, it just falls apart around other people, I promise.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that I am in fact using one of the most devastating events in human history to frame my inability to really see myself in the moment. Instead, I come by the understanding hard, slowly, painfully, arduously, it’s almost like I birth it (you see, there I go again), until eventually that particular truth breaks over my consciousness so bright and clear and cold that it takes my breath away. Except it’s eight months later now and anyone that cared just doesn’t anymore.

And I think about these death refugees I’ve made up, looking back on their “before” selves once they’ve become the “afters,” and that moment, when you look at that hole that’s been left in the world, the same one you’ve walked by twelve times, each time dismissing it as someone else, but this time around you step just to the left and all of a sudden it clicks into place. Standing there, filling it, it’s quiet and satisfying and sad, because ultimately, seeing it now for what it was doesn’t change what happened after. In fact, both these versions, you and this trapped-in-time twin, only exist because you didn’t know what was about to happen. Not that that makes the vastness between you any less dizzying.

But in reality, they’ll never actually have the distance to see themselves like that, my Hiroshima ghosts, and while I worry I’ll never have the proximity, that one day I’ll look around and the ground will be so black from all my disparate selves that I’ll be trapped in that silent city that lies just below my life - at the end of the day, I probably shouldn’t complain.


The newest installment of The Arrow - The Arrow Drops Anchor - is going up this Wednesday at The Neo-Futurarium. Their prompt was this video: Go see what those watery geniuses did with it.