For a moment, I truly believed that the war had come home. People ran from the streets. Missiles, directed and released by an invisible enemy, exploded whole city blocks. Trees disintegrated. Angels beyond the clouds finally sang for us.
Families, friends, and total strangers clung to each other with no concern for body odors, bank accounts. Bankers held garbage men. Travel agents held architects. Children climbed into the arms of murderers, and I clung to you. You weren’t even there, but we were so close, I couldn’t tell whose hair was whose.
If you were here I hope I would forgive you for starting the war. I hope I would admit that it wasn’t all your fault, that the fault is shared by Everything. I hope I would remember that you and Everything also started some kind of peace.
Together, we could fashion a pair of wings out of old curtains and medical dressings. I could repeat the word ‘gauze’ into your ear until it had no meaning. If all went well, we would take turns sewing the wings to our shoulder blades, taking off and coming back. Taking off again.
Today I see I was mistaken about the whole thing. There is no war here, only my one shoe is missing. I had spent so many days taking it off and putting it back on, I don’t know what I’ll do now.
I was on employment insurance, out of work, having trouble structuring my day. Then my mind halved itself and inhabited two dogs. One of the dogs was a dirty stray, the other a house pet, small and trained.
As a house pet, I loved more than I ever thought possible, I followed and obeyed. I lay down on the ground like a fallen flower petal, upturned, a hand passing over my belly, like the sunlight on that petal. I paused for a collar. I ate what the masters ate. Only, I ate it from a bowl on the floor.
As a stray, I wandered. I became associated with many alleyways, many animals— squirrels and birds. I followed scents. I crouched and stalked. I stalked another stray dog. I fucked it. I felt my consciousness dissolve. I followed a homeless man and called him my pack. Neither of us were the alpha. Neither of us were the dog. We were the rain, the snow, the buildings built up in this city like inhabitable gravestones filled with living ghosts, marking a history had no need for.
Then the stray dog fucked the house pet. It was the most natural thing, fucking myself. It felt like walking into a pool of water the exact same temperature as the air. But the house pet’s owner hit me when he found me, and I split apart again.
Do you visit a place like this? A place where two dogs meet but it happens so quickly and ends so violently, you’re certain it doesn’t count?
I keep telling myself I could get out of my house by going straight, but I keep finding myself deeper into all the rooms. I’m not even sure it’s my house anymore. I never would have chosen sea foam green for the walls. I never would have upholstered a couch with seventeenth-century velvet. And I keep meeting people I’ve never seen before. Someone who calls herself my aunt, who walks around naked and drinks lemon ginger tea. Someone who calls herself my sister, but she’s holding a gun.
Letters keep coming for people who do not live here. Who do not live here anymore or haven’t yet arrived. I like seeing these thin packages slip through the mail slot. They remind me that I’m only a pit stop, a temporary invasion. Today, somebody delivered an arrest warrant for a person I’ve never met. Chances are, he is long gone. Still, I called the number and turned myself in, waited for the cruiser to take me away. I wanted so bad to get out of this house.
At the police station, a uniformed man asked me questions about my comprehension of the law, about my mental state, about my name. I answered the best I could, considering all the facts I did not know. He asked me, “Do you understand your crime?” He said the laws are the laws for a reason. I thought about all the crimes I have committed, but had gotten away with. I thought about all the actions I had taken that were innocent, but punished. In the holding cell, a man looked at me and said he did not do it. He said, “I know you.” Then, “On second thought, I don’t.”
When the guard came back, I was free to go. He led me out of the station, warned me not to confuse myself with other people, handed me the business card of a local psychoanalyst. But the address on the card was my own address. How did I end up back in this house? How did I ever leave?
Notes from Guest Reader Bernard Grant
What initially attracted me to “Three Ways of Getting Lost” was the language, its musicality, as well as the imagery. The writing is beautiful. But my confusion with this piece–I couldn’t tell if the narrator was insane or tripping, or grieving (at times I suspected all three)–made me want to reread it several times. The more I read and thought about it, each time coming closer to a conclusion about the narrator’s psyche, the more I liked it.