She is telling a story as she has been telling a story for years — this imaginary person, this imaginary patient. This story is not one story but many stories nesting in each other, sometimes bursting into flight to land somewhere else and make a new beginning. She is a reliably unreliable narrator. It is not even clear when she plots beforehand, when she does not, when she is speaking for calculated effect, when she is speaking because she can not help herself, can not any more impede the rush of words from her mouth, She is present at once so carefully and also so self-indulgently. There are so many of her and and this crowd is not even one.
I am listening to her story as I have been for years — this imaginary person, this imaginary doctor. I am listening to her and I am making it up as she goes along. I am breaking it into pieces as she goes along. I am elaborating these pieces as they wake me up and develop fingers of dream that reach from her into me and touch me not in one way but in many ways. Listening to her is a kind of ecstasy that almost lets me stand outside myself except that I keep tripping on the threshold.
As she is a reliably unreliable narrator, I am a multiply and extravagantly unreliable curator of her story, not from malice, but out of that most peculiar hope of helping. This hope is imbued with pride and shame, the two sides of an exquisite fabric. Look at this side and it is pride. Flip it over and look from the other side and it is shame. Is there a way to see both sides at once? Possibly it can be done with internal mirrors, a fracture of points of view in the name of something like a higher degree of integration, but it’s always a good idea to be careful about altitude and attitude,
I discern a theme – or believe that I discern a theme – in the extravagant and unstable multiplicity of the story that she has been telling me for years that takes place on four different continents. This theme is her own insignificance, how little she matters, how in the scales of life she is held almost as nothing, asymptotically approaching zero. Yet this is the most significant of insignificances to which nothing else can actually compare.
This insignificance is her most precious possession. It possesses her in ways that are at once lavish and intimate, so intimate as to be next to unspeakable, ravishing, even obscene. It is this radical insignificance that licenses her demands, that lets her want so desperately and so defiantly and so much. It is this radical insignificance that lets her live wild outside of the fenced territory of satisfaction. It is this radical insignificance become hunger that lets her hunt and kill with only a thrill and no remorse. She stops herself only at the greatest cost and for reasons that are totally obscure to her,
This is only the beginning, or should I say more properly only a beginning, one thread among many that might be chosen, pulled out to glint in the sunlight. The going on is not simple and perhaps only a pretense, a simplification so extreme as to take the breath away. This is not to say that I have not gone on at great length in my mind. I have gone on at great length in many different directions, letting the roads unravel off the spool and seek distant cities, distant climes, distant wilderness.
The problem though is that my tongue is tied. She has tied my tongue in knots, deft and difficult knots, of which her surgeon father would have been proud could he only have found a way to travel in realms this abstract. I am forbidden to speak. I am allowed to know or to think I know, but forbidden to speak what I know, forbidden more strictly in proportion as I believe that what I have heard from her and what I have come to believe I know might be helpful to her. I pass some of the time wondering if she knows that she ties my tongue and glories in how adept she is at these knots. Or is she ignorant of the fact that she ties my tongue in knots and glories yet in the fact of the tying which she can not explain?
Sometimes I go so far as to flatter myself in this predicament with a thought that seems clever to me —hard as it may be to tell truth to power, it is possibly even harder to tell truth to powerlessness. But this only passes the time. She is talking and sitting there and looking at me and wanting something which, even if I could give it, she could not take because it would threaten to abolish her as she knows herself. The sun is coming in the window and I can see a few clouds sailing through the sky. She is telling me about yet another disappointment and I dare think I know that it is I who am disappointing. I don’t say anything because as her dearest friend and nearest enemy I have no right to deny her the satisfaction of disappointment.
Can I discern something of the impetus to write that gives rise to this? I speak with myself because I can not speak with her and yet I am with her in my speaking to myself. It is not only a portion of my soul that has come to be ingrown but also a portion of hers with it. Her telling of her story – to which she does not like to listen – and my hearing it and retelling it and turning into something counterfeit mixed with me has begun to spawn and to seed at a distance, to set forth into the world without either the need or the capability to declare its origins. It tends not only to the unknown but beyond to the unknowable.