I. Two to One
In 1912 in Jianshi, Taiwan, a husband and wife became one. They literally fell into each other. It was the product of years of wishing. They believed becoming the same person would make them happy. But the person they became was torn. The part of the person that was the husband missed being and talking with the part of the person that was the wife, while the part of the person that was the wife missed being and talking with the part of the person that was the husband. As a result, the person they had become regularly found itself at the mercy of competing passions. The person would sit in front of both the husband and the wife’s picture, frantically alternating her gaze between the two. And when the person wasn’t staring at pictures of herself, she played the board games the husband and wife used to play together, always leaving them half-finished, waiting for a partner. Life went on like this for her until 1928, when she died of colon cancer. She was cremated as a single person, nameless and absent a service.
In Krasnorask, Russia in 1956, a husband and wife discovered one day that they could not approach within twenty yards of each other without experiencing a powerful force pushing them apart. They had become, in a word, diamagnetic. This created difficulties in their home life, because they could not be in the same room together without being thrown into the walls or against valuable objects, and thus had to live on opposite ends of their home. They maintained this arrangement for several months, each becoming the other’s devoted eavesdropper, until they both became so crazed with depression and loneliness they decided to knock down the inner walls of their house. The process took several days, but eventually they found themselves standing in the same room together again, staring at each other across the scattered rubble of their house’s interior. They lived this way, wall-less and unmistakable, the rest of their lives. Neither one had the other by his or her side when they both died in 1967.
III. Distant Objects
In 1985 in Kunovice, Czech Republic, a husband and wife lost the ability to see each other up close. When they looked at each other, they saw one another as if from a great distance, as small indistinct shapes they were forever approaching but never getting closer to. The disorientation could last for days, so they decided to keep their eyes closed whenever they were around each other, which was nearly every minute. This meant walking around their house together effectively blind, holding each other’s hand and using the other to feel and grope in front of them for stray objects and obstacles. They became extremely efficient at communicating with each other and learned to move in tandem like well-drilled athletes. And sometimes, when the urge was strong enough, they would pause in the day’s activities to run their fingers over each other’s eyes, noses, cheeks, lips. It was during one of these moments of intimacy in 2012 that the husband died of heart failure. As her husband’s face fell from her hands, the wife opened her eyes to look at him one last time, but all she saw in front of her was an obscure shape in the distance that could have been anyone.
In Topeka, Kansas, 2003, a husband and wife lost their voices to each other—that is, whenever the wife tried to speak, her words and voice came out of her husband’s mouth, and whenever the husband tried to speak, his words and voice came out of his wife’s mouth. Alone, they were able to converse freely, but in the company of others, they could not be apart without causing mass confusion. It was difficult for everyone, and it eventually reached a point where the wife could not tolerate her husband getting credit for all her thoughts and ideas, and the husband could not tolerate his wife getting credit for all his thoughts and ideas. So they each took a vow of silence, and they went several years without speaking to each other or anyone else, until one day a curious friend of theirs asked them, “Don’t you just get a little bit sad you don’t get to hear each other’s voices anymore?” And after a very slight pause, they replied in unison, “Yes.” And for the first time in a long time there was no mistaking whose voice belonged to who.
And now, in the current year, you and I have learned we are not the people we thought we were. Your name is not the one you gave me, and my name is not the one I gave you. I am not as tall as you thought, and you aren’t as short as I had assumed. Our hair is not black and brown, but blonde and red, respectively. You didn’t grow up in Alabama, and I didn’t grow up in California. Our families are not our own. We had to go through the process of meeting them anew all over again. Your dad proved much more accepting of me this time, while my mom ended up disliking you, which has never happened before. What’s more, we had to repeat the process of meeting each other. The first date was awkward, as they always are. I showed up late, you only ate a salad. Though we become strangers to ourselves every year and grow farther and farther apart from the people we first knew each other as, we do not go our separate ways. We understand that all the other people we could meet and love are the people inside of us we’re destined to become.