Spirit of the Night (1952) by Remedios Varo
The threat of death changed me. I’m in love with pointless excess. I expect the impossible. I want to walk on some thin slice of land between memory and fantasy, embroidering the sand with my bad ideas, filaments of hope, strands of resentment, curling loops of lust, licked by waves of self-satisfaction.
We get to be who we are, you know. Just because no one offers up their thoughts and opinions about each other’s bizarre personality defects anymore, just because we can’t point and jeer at each other’s odd habits and quirks anymore, doesn’t mean we can’t
what other people think about us.
But don’t guess!
Don’t imagine what people say about your fucked up personality. Don’t gather evidence on the internet, collecting proof from the dull, dumb things that avatars say to each other in cramped online corridors, squatting under bright lights, hoping for some hollow simulation of desire, connection, satisfaction, passionate communion. Don’t listen to them at all.
Hug your verbal excesses and minor failings and casual missteps close, no revisions, love them like little children. Continue to blunder, now unimpeded by imaginary criticism. Don’t let your superego mow down every inch of wild land, don’t become a maze of quartz countertops and floating vanities just because someone went dark when you told them the truth.
Of course they never said a word. Actual verbal feedback would’ve been interesting and lively. Who wants that? Why not wander in a vacuum instead, so you can start picturing where you went wrong, so you can analyze just how wrong you must be, every day, just by existing, as casual acquaintances and bots and gray eggs loom like realtors patrolling a house that just hit the market, proclaiming, “This kitchen needs some updates.”
Keep your bad cabinets and hug them close. Keep your beige vinyl flooring and your ugly faux-brass doorknobs. Install seventeen enormous picture windows and keep everything else, blue sinks and faucets shaped like gear shifts, they’ll come back in style eventually, like self-deprecation and rambling digressions, like mocking and teasing, like stiff drinks and 2000-piece puzzles, like extramarital affairs and handbag dogs. Lord, give me the good taste to embrace my bad taste, to escape these virtual dead ends packed with fearful clones and hovering drones, to wander out into the wild and conspire with the Chinese fringe flowers and the baneberry, to push boundaries with the Black-eyed Susans, to join the bloodroot and the Solomon’s Seal in welcoming the first frost with jeers and insults and inappropriately long hugs goodbye.
The doctor walked in with an intern and a nurse. No introductions, no explanations. So I sat there, naked, and gave them a short tour of my surgeries, how they started out scary and then turned eerie and got more fun from there, the shock of persistent pain, the strange satisfaction of severe bruising. Imagine bearing witness as your natural landscape is redesigned! Saviors mow down wild land and leave the dust to settle, expensive fixtures are purchased but never added, sunsets and sunrises are viewed through a sweet haze of Percocet and Gillian Welch’s “I Dream a Highway.”
No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t drag all of my oddities out, like sweet, weird children, under the neon lights. I just wanted to explain these dirty pillows, as an amenity, a concession, a courtesy, a fun trip for us to take together, because it’s interesting, because they’re hand-crafted by an artisan, because it’s wild and strange, to take from here and add to here, because science is also art, because medicine is also engineering, because doctors are also architects, because flesh is like concrete, blast this open and fill in this gap, knock down this wall and build another one over here, take this body down to the studs and make it more modern (and also less doomed).
I wish you knew me, Jack of Diamonds.
But the doctor and the intern and the nurse didn’t even look curious. The doctor was in a hurry. The intern made a sour lemon face. The nurse never looked up at all, but the side of her mouth tightened like a pulled thread. Together they silently tabulated personality defects and conjured words like disfigurement, denial, despair. They were picturing what was missing, as if it wandered off on its own accord, like I wasn’t right there, saying take it and throw it away, don’t even mourn, don’t slow down and feel this, that would be like crying as your contractor scraped off the asbestos ceilings that have been plotting to kill you for decades now.
But everyone craves a more efficient transaction. Improvisation is dead and curiosity is mortally wounded. If it’s awkward then it’s bad, most people think, when in fact the opposite is true: Awkwardness signals value, a chance to discover something unusual, something unnerving, in the silence between the words — at the fringe, in the cringe.
On my way home, sunshine dancing through yellow and red trees, leaves migrating in herds across the road, I thought, I need to make sure this place doesn’t change me.
I don’t want to become a more appropriate person, quieter and more polite, friendly but tight-lipped, sweetly listening without saying a word, an obedient saint in the Southern part of Heaven. I want to keep these blind San Francisco corners and steep cliffs cloaked in fog. I want to save these brash suburban fixtures and pointless Angeleno digressions. I want to stay wide open like this endless shimmering expanse of sea and sky.
I like this stranger from the West, this garrulous monster who welcomed an artisan’s knife, who celebrated the novelty of seeping blood and queasiness and subtraction, who called almost-friends to recount wandering through the wilderness of 3 am (a knife into my bed, arsenic when I’m fed), to describe the way feelings warp and bend when you’re focused on survival, clinging to this thin slice of land between memory and fantasy, between formal pain and barbarous comfort, between the civility of humiliation and the savagery of invention.
I don’t want to become a different kind of woman, hard shelled and impervious to threat. I don’t want to rewind the tape and make edits, say less, close the shutters, lock the gates. I want to relish sour faces and disapproving silences, revel in the way disfigurement twists into disillusionment, then disassociation, then discord. I am disentangling, disoriented, a disciple of disturbances, of dissolution, of discovery.
It’s pretentious. Sure it is. Please step up to the plate and take some, I have leftovers.
It’s sloppy. Please give me your hands and tell me how safe you feel in your perfectly defended privacy.
It’s ambitious, a word we use for girls who got too big for the tiny britches some envious seamstress sewed for them a long, long time ago.
It’s remorseless, except for this: I want to return to the doctor and say more. I want to say,
It was hard, sure, but I feel beautiful.
Because I feel so beautiful now, down to the studs, like a handbag dog bathing in a blue sink, like a cringe flower exploding in hot pink bursts, blundering like science, breaking apart like ancient art, graceless and wicked, worshipping the jackhammer. I don’t have the patience of the architect. I can’t bite my tongue or slow down to get it exactly right, I have to speed toward this jagged line, this stalling plane, this fluttering heart, these trees disrobing without being asked, exhibitionists posing in the gray light of morning.
You can see it, in the straight line of their trunks, in the sweeping arc of their strong arms, in the curving reach of their delicate fingers, exposed but relaxed, curious but comical, frazzled but free: They feel beautiful. Do you?