1. “Finally, distrust most those stories that seem most innocuous, regardless of what section they appear in. For example: an article about a circus unicorn. Great, you think. Harmless. You’re reading. OK. But the unicorn turns out to be a goat whose horns were diabolically fused together to make one mythic horn, center head.”
2. “I have a present for you,” I tell her.
“Does it start with a J?” she asks.
“No,” I answer, and wonder what starts with a J.
3. It has been nearly five years and in the meantime we have both lost some people and become others. We are both new, old, and have particular and different failures of memory.
In a text message she asks for a place to go and, although I hate making recommendations, feel hesitant to give someone I like so much and know so inadequately, advice, I venture an idea. A few dozen characters of tenderness and I send her to a series of rooms with rotating exhibits, a small free museum in New England that she already knows about, and one of the places I remember being happiest. Despite the fact that we were never there together, that our memories–when functional, are different, I send her to a place where I can reliably achieve the elation of memory. For some reason, visceral seems precious, even if it’s just visceral to someone else.
In the past I’ve steered others away from the same rooms to keep them safe.
On my first trip to the museum I had a notebook in my pocket, a nearly empty bag, a cell phone that was temporarily activated, a pen, and, before going in, I hung up with someone in dire need of help after convincing them to give me their therapist’s number. It had taken time and my thighs were numb on the concrete bench outside the glass doors where I dialed the new number and left a concerned voicemail. They had finally crossed the threshold into an objectively dangerous madness and I could pass them off to a more qualified professional. I hadn’t realized how the pressure of holding them together had been weighing on me until I hung up the phone, realized I was no longer the only witness and, for the first time in a long time turned back to attending school.)
There I was to write a paper about a room cut by neon lights that the professor would mark me down for because I failed to mention the subway ride on the way to the exhibit. She found it an obvious connection, crucial to our experience of the installation on which we’d been tasked to write.
4. The following semester, I would experience a similar frustration in astronomy class with a professor whose grammar was too confusing to elicit the right answers on test questions. From one of her tests:
(short answer) New York only stars down to the third magnitude. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
5. If I made a list of things I loved the most in the world, this would be on it.