whenever I ask my friend Brian how his cat Gregory is doing, he gets the most beautiful look on his face. it’s that scrunched up look of love so pure that it turns to pain, eyebrows tilted upward to express the truest forlornness. although I care how Gregory is doing, I am usually sure that she is doing fine and mostly ask this question to see Brian make this face. he always responds in the same way, suddenly transforming energetically into a mother who is watching her children run and play in a distant field, amazed at how much they have grown--a moment of pride and grief over the passage of time that is truly her own and can never be shared with her offspring. her memory of their lives as infants who couldn’t walk or talk or sit, who over the course of long days and short years, endless school drop offs and sleepless nights, became humans who could scamper off on their own without supervision.
then, his eyes return to me and he says, “she’s so good.”
My great big foggy day
There is this famous book by Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. In it, he is describing these absolutely mind-boggling (pun intended?) neurological conditions he has encountered as a brain doctor. The man who can’t tell the difference, literally, between his wife’s hand and a hat. Who looks at a glove and thinks, it has five distinct pockets, there is some kind of opening over here, but hmmm, what is it? What could it be for? There is another man who palpates down the side of one of his legs and insists that it is someone else’s--he wakes at night in fear and screams, feeling the dead man’s leg in his bed! These are all from my memory and I don’t know how accurate they are.
But there has been one that has always haunted me. A woman who has lost her sense of proprioception. Again, all of this from memory: she feels like a giant piece of dough. I remember an image of her looking out of a car window. She feels as if she is not there in the world, as if nothing of her body makes an impression on anything. As a human who has dedicated, at this point ALL of my adult life to dancing, this is one of the most terrifying things I have ever heard. And this book is kind of wild in that, to my knowledge, it doesn’t really give you anything to conclude about each of the cases. There’s never a chapter that ends with a cure, a life-saving therapy, a miracle drug, a fund to donate to. It’s just like, isn’t that wild that the human brain could do that? That you could trip over one wire in the brain and suddenly, this happens?
At least the man who didn’t understand gloves seemed happy. Puzzled, but not shaken. There’s even something cathartic about the man with the ghost limb, releasing fear into the night via blood-curdling screams. But the dough-woman just felt…nothing. Just sad, still, lost, depressed. She felt like, despite the fact that she knew she existed, she was nowhere. And the text offered nothing, other than, I suppose, some kind of detached amazement and bewilderment at the way the brain works.
I wonder where that dough woman is. I wonder how dramatic it would sound to her or to you if I told her that my brain, ever since contracting COVID on June 1st, 2022, feels the way she describes her body.
Like everything about my brain is wrapped in cotton, or quicksand, every perception sinking in for just a little too long. It just feels like being high is the less poetic way of putting it. Another non-poetic way of putting it is that it feels like my brain is in the state that immediately follows pulling an all-nighter, or coming back from Manhattan after a 8 hour workday. Except it’s always. The degree changes, but it’s always there. I’m not necessarily always tired, just wrapped in the residue of exhaustion. The fervor with which I have wished for lucidity over the past 9 months is staggering. I wish to open my eyes and find myself awake, for the first time in what feels like a thousand years. I want to look into a landscape and smell the air and not have to convince myself it isn’t a dream. Not have to do the work of reminding myself that this may not feel quite right, but I’m about 99.99% sure that it is, in fact, real.
In the early days I cried every day. I counted the hours, monitored the amount of coffee I drank, watched how the feeling morphed with each sunrise and sunset. I went to the doctor and was told nothing, although I was comforted by the old Asian nurse with the heavy accent who seemed to be calling it “brain frog.” I went on antidepressants, which did, something? I googled. I took the weird pills my dad sent me. I complained to everyone within earshot. When it appeared that complaining to people couldn’t make it go away, I stopped complaining. I stopped counting the days and started counting the weeks. I stopped counting the weeks and started counting the months. I stopped counting the months.
When I was home for the holidays I went down a rabbit hole I had to cut short for fear. My dad’s dad was schizophrenic, and I started watching TedTalks, video interviews, informational videos. Is this why this has happened? Is there some dormant schizophrenic gene in my brain that got stirred awake by the postpostmodern apocalyptic latestagecapitalism fever dream that is coronavirus? That released the little chamber where I like to keep my gray matter bundled up into a thick smoke that surrounds every perception? That’s how brains work right? If I learned anything from Oliver Sacks, and my neurologist friend Alex, it’s that, hmmmm we’re not sure. I couldn’t allow the thought that my brain was broken forever. That this unleashed it all. I had to put that one back.
My therapist keeps trying to get me to feel my feelings. I’m sure he’d want me to sit with the awful feeling, the fear that I am broken forever. But I don’t really have time for five crying sessions per day anymore--if I wanted to do that I would have moved upstate, where I could scream cry in my car everyday while listening to Mitski as the Catskills drift by. Since I’m in NYC, I’ve gone with somatic distraction. Moments that force me into some other part of my lived experience, or bear such a similar resemblance to what I felt before all the fog, that they are more or less akin to normal perception. These things are:
Well, this is a running list.
I am very thankful for performance and improvisation, knowing that they stick out within the list for being the most reminiscent of a ‘healthy’ lifestyle. When I’m performing, the pressing issue is doing the task at hand. My task has stakes because I know there are people watching. New addition to list as of this summer: Socializing with people I want to impress, shortened for ease. See same description for performance for why it helps me forget the fog. May merge with performance later and performance may grow subsections. TBD.
waking life now huddles in the timespace between bursts of electricity pinging off of the local cell tower. before my eyelids again assume stillness beneath tin foil each organ clasps onto itself. veins and arteries easily re-plugging like chords. a memory unwraps beneath layers of synthetic fabric: Lydia clutching the family landline with the laughter in her teeth. Yellow kitchens of America. the coalescent waves: yellow laughter, America’s teeth. somewhere between dreams I hear the ping of a dial tone submerged by water. in most versions of the recollection Linda emerges blind from a metal house and the villagers wander the Arizona desert searching for pieces of my silvery body. in euphoric recline, a single vertebrae beneath 200 metric tons of sand.
long before I was born there was a woman ascending a mountain.
it was in hawaii, and unseasonably very cold. this woman had a baby, and knowing the wind chill would be too much for his newborn skin, she wrapped him tightly in summer blankets and mounted him on her back.
to say I have sat and at length imagined the look on her face would be a lie. to say that I can approach the quiver of her lips, the trembling of her bones, the desperate clawing of her fingers would be a lie. so instead I undress my ghost, lay her out in a cove just far enough away so that I can barely see her with my eyes glazed over. so I can only feel her body with movements in my own, a kind of proprioceptive knowing. so that I can only examine her grief through the lens of my own self image. because without the veil of time our bodies are one. because that’s what one must do with ghosts.
and if you’re waiting for me to announce that she was my mother, she wasn’t.
I’m not sure who this woman was, or if this was Japan or Hawaii, or if she had my cheeks or not, or if her skin was creamy yellow like the moon shining over her, or if her skin was ghost white. or if she was my mother hiking Malibu cliffs as it was getting too dark to see the trail, or my great grandmother, freshly immigrated and freshly un-pregnant, alone on a mountain except for her baby, for the first time.
I only know that there was forward motion, a propelling of she up the mountain with him clinging behind her.
is english her second language? is this baby her first? it must be. the baby is always referred to as a boy. the first boy. and she is always referred to as baban, the Japanese-Hawaiian hybrid word for grandmother. I don’t even know what language she speaks. should I try to ask the question in my shaky Japanese? should I try to ask the question at all?
to be in that question before the answer arrives. is that a feeling one can even express to another? up there, cold, shivering on the mountain? I don’t need that question answered.
I move to the other side of the room again. hold up my hand and squint to obscure her upper half. my ankles brushing fields and fields of sugar cane. how did you endure that walk back down? what plants did your ankles brush as you made your way? what leaves did your tears settle onto, forming perfect crystal orbs? could you see the moon as you tore through the brush? who held you? who warmed your body despite your desire to be cold? what images will never escape their tether to that evening?
I don’t need that question answered. I sit nearby with my bundle of words: she, mother, mountain, time, passage. they quiver sharply in the spaces of overlap. as I reach for the distant rivers of your mouth.