Hardly Noticeable

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A bit of a story that hasn't been finished


I am the I that is the sum of every I that I have already been.
Let me start over.

I am Gabriel.
My name is Gabriel.
I am Gabriel.
I am not only the sum of every I that I have already been; I am also the difference when all of the Yous that have ever been are subtracted from all of the Hes and Shes that have ever been. I am the one He that is not a You to Me. It could easily be sketched in a Venn diagram, if need be.
My name is Gabriel. I have blonde hair, some say dishwater blonde. I have never seen blonde dishwater, so I say dirty blonde. Dirty like the dirt on the dry, unpaved road that led to my grandfather’s house when I still had a grandfather. Like when I’d be riding in the back seat of the car at sixty miles an hour watching the dust follow me like an unfulfilled promise in the hot, dry air. My hair is the color of that dust that follows me.
Let me start over.

I’m sitting in my prison cell in Seoul, Republic of Korea. R. O. K. Was it a drug bust? Burglary? Loitering? Murder? Probably: I can’t really tell. My breath smells of Soju. I believe that Soju is made by adding gasoline to Sake. The prison cell and I do not get along. There is an infestation of Soju bottles and frozen food wrappers. It reeks of time and I. The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure why I’m here. I often lie when I am drunk. Sometimes, however, I forget to tell the lies I tell myself.

I haven’t seen the sun in three days. If that is true, I must be forgiven if I write with too many ornate descriptive flourishes. It’s hard for me to imagine things in such a cramped space; my only recourse is to imagine things in such a cramped space. It’s not my fault: it’s my genes. Of course it’s my fault. Of course it’s my genes: I squeeze the middle of the toothpaste tube because of my genes.
I lie when I’ve been drinking. Have I said that already? I haven’t been drinking. Or do I lie?

Antonio Gramsci wrote about hegemony while he was in jail. I am in jail because I am hegemony. That is the last I’ll speak of hegemony. Didn’t I say I was in prison? Lies build upon each other like stones: soon I’ll have a castle.

Dirty blonde hair. Blue eyes. Brown eyes. I have brown eyes, and my chin and jaw are strong and perpetually covered in reddish stubble. I am six feet tall on a good day. Today is not a good day. I am lying on my chest, so I cannot tell you how tall I am, only how long. I exist in three dimensions, but right now I can only manage two. Length and width seem to be okay, but height is a bit of a problem. My grandmother called me today and told me to come home. I told her I was in prison and they won’t let me leave.

Extradition, embassy, escape: perhaps she said these words; perhaps I just like the letter e.
Egress windows are there to help you escape from a fire: I know that’s true. Basement bedrooms in the Lower 48 must have egress windows that measure “XX inches by XX inches”. I could fill in those Xs, but even if I did how would I know I wasn’t lying?

There must be a story somewhere. It could be that I am just a liar with a typewriter. Or a computer. Or a pen and paper. Truth is, I am the only I who can tell this story. I am the subjective I that roams and scans and lies.
There is a reason that I’m here. It’s not a coincidence. It is definitely not serendipity. Truth be told, there’s a reason for me being here just as there is a reason for everything. I know why I’m here.
But not yet. I’m not ready yet. Maybe when I’m sober.

Here is the beginning of the story:

The day after I graduated from college I set out on a crazy, naïve quest for truth. I had always imagined myself as some sort of intrepid hero, the kind in storybooks and legends, my armor polished to a sterilized sheen, my sword in hand. Still wearing my cap and gown, resplendent with garish golden cords—summa cum laude—I stepped into my parents’ house and announced to the tables and chairs that I was leaving the next morning for the eternal memory of historians and saints. Then I lay down on the couch with a pretentious sigh of self-satisfaction. I believed that I could find the truth, as though truth were something that could be poured over cereal in the morning.

Wait. I have gone too far, and become too ridiculous: I know I am not a hero. I cannot start there, because this there is not the there that initiates the here where I am now. I must go back, must reverse.

I was born at exactly six-thirty on a Sunday morning in October. It was cold outside; there had already been two inches of snow, and more was expected. Nature was an imprecise monster that year, so the leaves on all the maple trees were still clinging to their branches like withered old women attached to ventilators. Inside the hospital room there was a jungle of tubes and wires, flowers and balloons. At birth I weighed eight pounds, fourteen ounces. That’s exactly four kilograms. I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck with my left arm pushing it away from me, my body covered in slimy amniotic fluid. That is why they called me Lefty. At birth I had a full head of black hair and two blue eyes that glowed like sapphires and could devour whole cities in their gaze. My mother thought, “Only three months until I work off this weight.” My father thought, “Is there anything good on TV tonight?”

I have gone back too far. Nobody has ever called me Lefty. All the heres that I could narrate start with this there, and therefore this there is not the particular there I need for my Soju-infused here. This is the there that is the derivative of any here that is a here. This there is too self-negating: my birth was not a curse. The curses came much later.
I realize now the there I need in order to find my here.
Here’s the true there:

During my second grade summer vacation I lived outside the city limits at a small country house my father had purchased during our family’s initial years of prosperity. It was two bedrooms on five acres of land about fifteen miles outside the last hiccups of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s suburban sprawl. We spent the first summer we owned it there instead of at our condo in the city. I can still remember how the time began: my fingers in the soil; my hands covered in the blackness of the humus, the amniotic fluid of the fecund earth. I felt like the earth was trying to call me back home. My arms were umbilical cords connecting me to the soil, and I dug using my fingers instead of a spade. I appropriated the area the former owner used as a flower garden and I planted crooked rows of strawberries and carrots.
I don’t know why I wanted a garden. At first I just wanted to touch the soil, and I might have been just as glad to hunt nightcrawlers instead of plant strawberries in rows as parallel as I could make them. The backyard was like that, was all geometry. I had a square, the lawn circled the house, and there was a henhouse that took up a rectangle of dusty ground.
That old henhouse was a wreck. It looked absurd when observed alongside the simple elegance of the house. Its roof was partially caved-in, the formerly red paint peeled like paper held too close to the fire, and the fence that tried to mark the rectangle was a tangled mess of cockeyed wires strewn about the weedy, khaki-colored ground. Inside, things were much worse: the interior was gutted; the only thing left was the floor, and that had two boards missing. Yet, I would have loved to have it as my own. Maybe a hideout, a clubhouse, something. But there were no neighbor kids and no cousins that visited. It was me me me every day. Me and the black black ground.
It didn’t come easy. While my parents were moving in I looked in the garage and found books full of diagrams and botany tips and tricks, old books that reeked of mildew and the slow decay of time. My nine-year-old brain didn’t understand much about gardening, but I tried my best to read the books and soak up their knowledge. They told me to put up a rabbit fence, so I did. The books made me love the rain, and I loved to grab handfuls of wet dirt and squeeze until it squirted through my stubby fingers. I loved to listen to the rain argue with the ground; the concrete patio at our condo couldn’t talk like the soil. Even though my vegetables wouldn’t sprout and my strawberries wouldn’t blossom, even though the ground was practically barren it at least had a voice to argue with the rain.
Seeds refused to sprout, silent like unloved children. My father, however, began to take root in the yard during our second week there. He had spent most of the first days there inside, and in the mornings he’d look out the picture window onto the backyard. Then one morning he was outside with tools, and he hammered and sawed and created and destroyed. He destroyed the henhouse as it was, and in three days it was resurrected.
Or maybe it was four. Its exterior walls were deep, red-licorice; the roof was re-shingled and the perimeter fence was strung taut along a rectangle of posts, on the side bordering my garden my father used my rabbit fence rather than putting up a fence of his own. It was a week before he got the four white chickens, but when they arrived they immediately began clucking their way from side to side. I had been steeped in solitude, the quiet, the silence that was echoed by my sterile soil, but after the chickens came it was all disrupted with their inane chatter. They had that smell, the heavy smell of life, while I had the stink of cow dung stolen from the farm a mile down the road.
When he wasn’t at work, my father was tending the chickens. He cared for them clumsily, the only way he knew how, giving them water and feed. He did not know the intricacies of raising chickens: he did what he thought was best without asking advice. And even though his care was clumsy, the chickens laid eggs for him. They always clucked and followed him when he was outside, and he was devoted to them.
My memories seem to be infected with smells: I remember the flaccid smell of cooked eggs that would hang in the air in the morning on weekdays. My father would have to go to the office in the morning, but before he left he’d go outside and feed the chickens and steal the eggs from their nests. I’d wake up to find him drinking a cup of coffee, reading the Wall Street Journal, pecking at the last few specks of cheese omelet that dotted his plate like a cryptic message. He never offered me one, but that didn’t bother me at the time.


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