So, you’ve come back from the dead. You’re sitting in the back yard in Denver watching evening fall as the late summer breeze eddies in your empty spaces. There are gaps in your body now—things blow right through you like someone tried to put you together without looking at the instructions. The pieces that are left are connected to one another, barely, and it’s not quite clear that they make the shape of a human. Interpretation is an art form you never learned because you never thought you’d step into the world deconstructed. And, whatever, because the creator of this cubist rendition of a girl is no where to be found so good luck getting clarity.
It’s dark now. You’ve been sitting for a long time hoping to catch glimpses of the future. But you are beginning to realize that when you came back into your body you were cursed to live in the eternal present. So you sit with Now like it’s a friend instead of a set of bars that keeps you from moving more than a few feet in any direction.
You don’t understand until years later that after trauma people often lose the ability to to conceive of a future. You look, but: nothing. You reach out but you find your hand buried in one of your empty spaces, fingers pointing inward. Every night it’s the same. You sit in the dark and keep company with Now watching satellites transit strategically overhead.
One day you wake up and begin systematically running you hands over your broken body, carefully fingering the edges of your gappy space. It’s familiar terrain. Your fingers follow every line, every pucker of flesh, every lump, and every stub with the precision of a plastic surgeon deciding where to cut. But you’ve already been cut and there’s no point….except…
There. You can feel it. Something new. Something completely out of place. It’s a word. A single word. You probe its contours again and again. A word!. You say the word, and when you do the caves in your speech collapse into meaning. You’re a terrible writer, but you don’t care. Saying doesn’t happen just like future doesn’t happen. And yet, here it is. A gift. A word.
For three months you alternate between screaming at the universe and laying in the fetal position on the living room floor. You’re screaming because you’ve realized that your entire body is curling itself around an alien life form. Something inhabits your spaces—there are more of them than there are of you—and you’re losing control of your own life. The experience of being moved by something other than self is terrifying. It won’t relent no matter how much you scream. Day after day after day a story unfolds: characters pop up and do things you could never anticipate (how can you be writing this?), places emerge that are terrifying and wonderfully strange. Ideas that you never dreamed of having start scratching themselves onto the dirt floors of your caves.
You name yourself Ophelia because why not? Your traveling companion is Eloi. It will be years before you realize that Ophelia and Eloi are parts of your fractured psyche working to come together to re-create a single, whole human being. Eloi is the pure embodiment of the executive control center in the brain. Ophelia, on the other hand, is the pure embodiment of childlike wonder. You write 15 different endings before you even get half-way through the book. Every ending ends with you screaming and the unrelenting universe pushing, and pushing, and pushing until you finally let go and let the ending write itself. The end of the story is where the future begins. It’s always waiting to begin. And it makes absolutely no sense from where you’re standing. But there it is. A novel-length allegory that contains a blueprint for how to move past the eternal now. At the end, before they merge into a single being (well…there’s more to the story….), Eloi gives Ophelia a key.
The only person to ever read the entire thing cover-to-cover is Crazy Ellie. A friend of a friend. She can’t stop raving about how great it is and you realize that perhaps you’re destined to be a muse for the mentally ill.
You become the story. You’re moving again. Ophelia never stops moving. She’s a restless spirit and the thing she wants most is wisdom and she’ll go anywhere to get it, no matter how scary of painful the journey. You have a master’s degree in business but you take a part-time job below your pay grade and sign up for philosophy classes. You start reading. You fully inhabit Ophelia’s journey and it feels ok now because a future of hope, and redemption, and surprise has written itself into your ending. An ending that still feels far, far away.
You discover that you are exceptionally good at one thing: trying. So you just keep trying. Eventually, you become so good at it that you forget the story entirely. You have momentum. You fall in love with movement. The future can wait.
You came out of your grave kicking and screaming because goddamn it, you aren’t done yet. And it took you a long time—ok, like 14 years—to finally understand that the silly story you wrote was an expression of pure desire. An not just pure desire, but desires that can only arise and be fulfilled under the condition of having nothing left to lose. You see, when you’re dead, you really have nothing left. But when you’re alive again, you’ve still lost everything so loss takes on a completely different meaning. Striving for things in a possibility space that the average person would never even entertain becomes something you can’t stop doing. And given the fact that your only real talent is trying…
Fourteen years after your screaming match with the universe something happens. You can’t sleep at night because the story…well, there it is, scratching at the window and mewling to be let in. The ending never made any sense, so why should it be pestering you now?
Ophelia finds herself in a garden. It can only be accessed through a bizarre spatio-temporal manifold that she stumbles through while chasing curiosities. In the reflecting pool she sees herself whole for the first time. Then she notices something moving beneath the surface of the water. Why would a reflecting pool be so deep? She slips in, head first, because this is how Ophelia does things. Always head first, always chasing mysteries. The world beneath the surface is exotic, and yet womblike. The entire space is suffused with a primitive and pure light that grips her core. She drifts dreamily until she needs to breathe.
“…as she hovered on the edge of losing consciousness a primitive cry broke through the dimly illumined space. Her heart responded involuntarily and she found herself bursting through the surface, crying out in the same tone—a perfect echo of the strange voice…”
Some guy (who are you and how did you get into my story?) pulls her out of the water. Their dialogue is terse but rich with conversational implicature.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she said.
“Then why are you here?” he replied.
All that anyone (author included) knows about the character is that he has everything except the one thing he wants most. His emptiness is implicit in the fact that he takes Ophelia as seriously as he does when she slips into his space uninvited.
You get up in the middle of the night, open the window, and let the story in. It crawls up on your bed and purrs like a satisfied kitten. You open a robust dialogue with the universe.
This was’t supposed to happen, you say, accusingly.
Then why are you here? comes the reply.
You take the inflection on ‘here’ to imply ‘alive’ and realize that you really have nothing to lose.
You start pinging the water. All you have are words, but words will do. You send out a ping and listen. Adjust the frequency, then ping again. Adjust…ping…listen…listen…listen…
You know exactly what you’re looking for. The sound, when it comes out of that murky, lovely space will be unmistakable.
And one day, it’s there. Bright, pure, intelligent, creative, and perfect. It’s just…perfect.
You take a step back. The world is changed.
How is this possible?
Even you are surprised (and you know how the story ends). You’ve approached this with the attitude that you have nothing to lose, but are suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that you have everything to gain. It’s terrifying.
Your lizard brain seizes control. Before you even realize what’s happening, you squirt blood from your eyes and run away.
That’s really what happens. It looks like a horror film and you feel like a monster. You can’t tell if there are any serious wounds, or just a lot of blood.
You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You’re miserable. You consider screaming at the universe but you’re too tired. Words cannot even express how sorry you are. You console yourself with the story, because, that’s actually what happens. Ophelia runs away.
“She tried to look away but his deep gaze held her. A warm heaviness coursed through her being, bending and reshaping with an inexplicable force. She felt buoyant and yet locked into something both comfortably familiar and nascent. The earth beneath her seemed to yield and the light in the garden flared almost imperceptibly. She finally tore herself from his gaze but it was too late. Everything around her appeared irrevocably altered in subtle and peculiar ways. She took a step backward. The ground was firm.
“How is this possible?” She whispered.
“Who are you?” He blurted.
She hesitated and shivered. “Ophelia.”
“Just…” She felt faint. “Eloi’s Ophelia,” she finally replied as she ran for the gate.
You know this isn’t the end of the story, so you do what you do best: keep trying.