Something staticky and paranormally ventilated about the air, which drifted through a half-open window, late one afternoon, caused a delicately waking Paul, clutching a pillow and drooling a little, to believe he was a small child in Florida, in a medium-size house, on or near winter break. He felt dimly excited, anticipating a hyperactive movement […]
Something staticky and paranormally ventilated about the air, which drifted through a half-open window, late one afternoon, caused a delicately waking Paul, clutching a pillow and drooling a little, to believe he was a small child in Florida, in a medium-size house, on or near winter break. He felt dimly excited, anticipating a hyperactive movement of his body into a standing position, then was mostly unconscious for a vague amount of time until becoming aware of what seemed to be a baffling non sequitur—and, briefly, in its mysterious approach from some eerie distance, like someone else’s consciousness—before resolving plainly as a memory, of having already left Florida, at some point, to attend New York University. After a deadpan pause, during which the new information was accepted by default as recent, he casually believed it was autumn and he was in college, and as he felt that period’s particular gloominess he sensed a concurrent assembling, at a specific distance inside himself, of dozens of once-intimate images, people, places, situations. With a sensation of easily and entirely abandoning a prior context, of having no memory, he focused, as an intrigued observer, on this assembling and was surprised by an urge, which he immediately knew he hadn’t felt in months, or maybe years, to physically involve himself—by going outside and living each day patiently—in the ongoing, concrete occurrence of what he was passively, slowly remembering. But the emotion dispersed to a kind of nothingness—and its associated memories, like organs in a lifeless body, became rapidly indiscernible, dissembling by the metaphysical equivalent, if there was one, of entropy—as he realized, with some confusion and an oddly instinctual reluctance, blinking and discerning his new room, which after two months could still seem unfamiliar, that he was somewhere else, as a different person, in a much later year.
He kept his eyes pressurelessly closed and didn’t move, wanting to return—without yet knowing who or what he was—to sleep, where he could intensify and prolong and explore what he residually felt and was uncontrollably forgetting, but was already alert, in concrete reality, to a degree that his stillness, on his queen-size mattress, felt like a kind of hiding. He stared at the backs of his eyelids with motionless eyeballs, slightly feigning not knowing what he was looking at—which also felt like a kind of hiding—and gradually discerned that he was in Brooklyn, on an aberrantly colder day in late March, in the two-person apartment, in a four-story house, where he had moved, a few weeks after returning from Taiwan, because Kyle and Gabby, to “save their relationship,” had wanted more space.
It was spring, not winter or autumn, Paul thought with some lingering confusion. He listened to the layered murmur of wind against leaves, familiarly and gently disorienting as a terrestrial sound track, reminding people of their own lives, then opened his MacBook—sideways, like a hardcover book—and looked at the internet, lying on his side, with his right ear pressed into his pillow, as if, unable to return to sleep, at least in position to hear what, in his absence, might be happening there.
In early June, after four more parties, two at which he similarly slept on sofas after walking mutely through rooms without looking at anyone, Paul began attending fewer social gatherings and ingesting more drugs, mostly with Daniel and Fran, or only Daniel, or sometimes alone, which seemed classically “not a good sign,” he sometimes thought, initially with mild amusement, then as a neutral observation, finally as a meaningless placeholder. Due to his staggered benzodiazepine usage and lack of obligations or long-term projects and that he sometimes ingested Seroquel and slept twelve to sixteen hours (always waking, it seemed, at night, uncomfortable and disoriented and unsure what to do, usually returning to sleep) he had gradually become unaware of day-to-day or week-to-week changes in his life—and, when he thought of himself in terms of months and years, he still viewed himself as in an “interim period,” which by definition, he felt, would end when his book tour began—so he viewed the trend, of fewer people and more drugs, as he might view a new waiter at Taco Chulo: “there, at some point,” separate from him, not of his concern, beyond his ability or desire to track or control.
When he wanted to know what happened two days ago, or five hours ago, especially chronologically, he would sense an impasse, in the form of a toll, which hadn’t been there before, payable by an amount of effort (not unlike that required in problem solving or essay writing) he increasingly felt unmotivated to exert. There were times when his memory, like an external hard drive that had been taken from him and hidden inside an unwieldy series of cardboard boxes, or placed at the end of a long and dark and messy corridor, required much more effort than he felt motivated to exert simply to locate, after which, he knew, more effort would be required to gain access. After two to five hours with no memory, some days, he would begin to view concrete reality as his memory—a place to explore idly, without concern, but somewhat pointlessly, aware that his actual existence was elsewhere, that he was, in a way, hiding here, away from where things actually happened, then were stored here, in his memory.
Having repeatedly learned from literature, poetry, philosophy, popular culture, his own experiences, most movies he’d seen, especially ones he liked, that it was desirable to “live in the present,” “not dwell on the past,” etc., he mostly viewed these new, mnemonic obstacles as friendly and, sometimes, momentarily believing in their viability as a form of Zen, exciting or at least interesting. Whenever he wanted to access his memory (usually to analyze or calmly replay a troubling or pleasant social interaction) and sensed the impasse, which he almost always did, to some degree, or that his memory was currently missing, as was increasingly the case, he would allow himself to stop wanting, with an ease, not unlike dropping a leaf or stick while outdoors, he hadn’t felt before—and, partly because he’d quickly forget what he’d wanted, without a sensation of loss or worry, only an acknowledgment of a different distribution of consciousness than if he’d assembled and sustained a memory—and passively continue with his ongoing sensory perception of concrete reality.
Tao Lin is the author of seven books of fiction and poetry. Vintage published his third novel, Taipei, in June 2013