Rappahannock Review | Brian Oliu
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The Princess, The Stranger, and The Suspension of Disbelief

This is the biography of someone who does not exist. This is not because of the fog of remembering, that imperfect mechanism, the eyes and guise of wonder and the inability of recall data that was once burned onto metal, the compression of programs and instances and documents, all shrunk down to hardware, this physical manifestation, this enabler of all things, a vitamin, an extract. This is the story of a network, a spiderweb, the decaying of a reef and the inhabitants of living things inside this thing that does not exist that we are telling you about today as you run this program that also does not exist, this paradox, this explanation of things despite the framework of the network. There is an illusion here; we run an upgrade only to find out it is nothing, a virus tricking us into thinking these versions are linked somehow: a graphical upgrade, perhaps, a system being brought up to date and characteristics improved. Let us now praise you, O, majestic while in an internal or external social network, all information true but controlled. Let us now praise famous you, O, all information controlled and deliberate; exclamation points where there is no other way to show emotion, chosen words a summary of all of the good parts, a commercial selling point to no one, selling someone who does not exist, but someone who is loved dearly for the juxtaposition provided. The snow and the ice kept us from going anywhere back then, the cold air contrasting with the warm floor, my feet splintering and cracking like the sound of a dial-tone and computers connecting. I did not know how these things worked, a clicking of a button, an empty phone line that had to be kept open at certain points so that we could get reports from friends whose cars had drifted from the melted tire lines in the road onto the white powder causing a lack of traction like when running up and out of an emptied water basin, the slide down euphoric until having to make the run back up in my father’s white shoes and old army coat, my nose bloodied from the falls and face hitting ice where the neighborhood kids whose computers I later attacked and whose faces I never attacked poured water down the hill in hopes of having the ice build layers upon itself to make our sleds faster, make our runs faster, our tailbones bruised, our arms broken, our noses bloodied. As the static hisses from a foreign speaker, one never used for playing layered audio, a noise so mechanic, so emitted from the machine, I remember packing ice up my nostrils as the rose red blood dawned on the blank ice. I am going to die out here, my blood will freeze and it will grow dark and the children will leave me here at the bottom of this depression, the parents of the children will call their names and they will go running back to their houses with their red noses, get yelled at for not taking their socks off which had frozen over in the water and are now making spots of damp across the carpet before they take a warm shower and get ready for dinner, and I do not think I will ever be found; the eyesight of cars cannot see down into the pit and they will never see the garbage can lid I begged my grandmother to use, my father’s old coat in her attic, the blood mixing with the melted water as these conversations about memory and loss and my grandfather going on runs in the park and getting lost and my grandfather going on runs in the park and forgetting he went on a run in the park and going on a run in the park and getting lost when he had never gotten lost before while his grandson is lost in a crater of nothing, a structure assembled for a practical purpose but used for excitement and exhilaration, this dangerous fun of putting on layers and sliding into the inescapable.

This is the story of disconnect and the anger at disconnect, the sound of a modem clicking off, the slight delay while connected to someone, anything, and the blankness that follows, a message sent and no response, all and no things made possible by a hierarchy and packets sent across county and country lines. This is the story of failure.  This is the story of trivial things and trivia, knowledge bases that exist only to be known, no practical usage, unimportant items of information, this collection of seeds, dead seeds that cause no growth or nutrition, three roads split. This is the story of informal conversation made formal. This is the story of a phone call to my house, a road not traveled, never traveled, of a room imagined. This is the story of neither of us knowing where to go at a certain point, myself with my bloodied noses and candied heart, blisters on my fingers from carrying books and the catching up of the body to the mind, the knowledge that there is something wrong, that things do not feel right and that there is a role to be played in this world that is horrific and pre-determined, that there are no choices in any matters, that all things are exercises and that you, with your brother dying and your Spanish mother, your hair bleached blonde to prevent them from ever finding out that your last name meant anything more than your last name, that there were people represented by text, that there were people represented by text that knew nothing of you, that they knew your response to questions, at-symbols before names, periods before responses like sentences in reverse like the upside-down question marks your voice had for me, this immediacy of language and inability to stop and think and formulate responses about what I loved about love and what I loved about you, what part of your body I wanted you to touch and words that I had just read about with doors closed, caches purged at disconnect, no paper trail, no knowledge of knowledge, no thirty-second lock-out for an incorrect answer, just a stream of incorrect answers perceived to be correct without a moderator, without a central server, no ping, no lag except for the signal-based event converting into function. Somewhere in New Jersey, we looked at animals in cages, tongues licking around bars, mouths sideways. We watched phone calls kill actresses, men in black sliding in between sliding glass doors, knives plunged into chests while your mother sat behind us shaking her head at the violence and the expletives, the first words she learned in English as a child, as we were, curious to find out what and where. We were not concerned with why. Our last conversation, you asked me why I did not sit next to you, why there was a coat between us, a coat we screamed over and I glanced over a few times, your black roots coming through the bleach, my elbows and forearms nowhere near yours, a question I could never answer.

This is the biography of someone who will not exist soon. A pretty girl with short hair and a lip pucker with something that cannot be fixed, error, her body will fail, it will fail, she tells you, in less words than that, more words than that, words you do not comprehend due to the directness of the statement, the directness of death, again, never understood. This viewpoint will tilt to the left and fall and this might be the last time you hear this, this might be the last time things run this way, and so we celebrate like we are young again, revisiting photographs stored in secret folders, disguising the people we think we love with numeric file names, not names, not placeholders buried under file structures and trees where no one would ever look, system folders with extensions never considered, orphaned files with no way to be executed, to exist vegetative and without hope of re-installation, outdated programs, games and tricks that remind you of elementary school libraries, one machine for us, all of us, a voyage to be taken, a problem to be solved while surrounded by book glue and the yellowing of pages, a converted closet, the small window we would peek into while going someplace we shouldn’t, descending.

Things make a noise before they die. A gurgle made by the accumulation of respiratory secretions, the inability to swallow, cold in the extremities no longer let to go about our business of building bodies, driving down coasts to make sure people breathe correctly while lifting burdens over and over for muscle memory (the holding of the breath does nothing), our business of handshakes and sleeping in and trying to remember what our body will not let us will to do. This sound, this rattle is meant to signify a passing, our lungs willing to suck in water and fluid like when we were born, the hot air expelled making a whirlpool in our throats, all things cyclical. What it is not meant to signify is one last breath and a chance for living, a sound of hope. Things make a sound before they die, a spinning click under the left palm, a scratched grind, a pushing of air through teeth before a timeless delay, before the erasure of everything and the end of function, the flicker of red lights, the pulsating blank of static. This is why cold nights, still alone, I imagine little deaths, les petits morts, you on top of me before the grand quickening, the busy wait spiraling and moving slower than it ever should, watching each rotation like a ceiling fan after the power goes out, counting each blade cut through the air and cut off power to muscles, instantaneous rigidity signifying the crystallization of the last activity before dying out, the ghost burn in, the proof of life before hitting the water. Stop. Stop thinking such thoughts, never finish on such thoughts, this final access before whatever it is that is broken breaks and you dead for however long it takes to become interested in the living, see that I thought such things, even for a second, this eroticism in dying, this desire to be needed, the power seen of desperate resuscitation, the pressing of palm over palm into breast, a gentle touch, never, it is all ephemera now, there is a job to do and not an awkwardness to be addressed, the return of spontaneous circulation or a declaration of death, the quick puffs of air and the lifting up of the chin being sloppily reduced to mouths pressed against mouths and lust for the dying. And so I am very sorry for all of this, these ideas that appear in my head of treating you like an object and a means to an end in this situation imagined by myself that do not correspond with the reality of you losing your beauty and your body, hair falling out before the explosion of a diver off the springboard, a life like a jump from a tower.

And at some point, there is a fear that this glow will end; clouds roll underneath where goddesses stand, no eye of Athene, a beam of heavenly light like a beatific vision, la gloriosa donna della mia mente seeing me as I am, no longer enhanced by light and distance, angles and the blurring of lines and the matching of skin color and resolution, this scouring of the earth for an ideal that I can attach myself to somehow yet still stay hidden, that there is some sort of work to be done before I vanish, some advice to give and someone to make happy regardless of who I am and what I have stood for, that there needs not be any visual to be able to listen to what I have to say and care for, but there needs to be something to set me apart from all things humble, all things that I am. There will be a time of serendipity and exposure, stature smaller, curls like rotten flowers long after bloom, all faults larger and I have no choice but pray it will be gradual, that the light from the gods will not go out suddenly like a tripped breaker, all things dark and hideous, dark and real. And so I must set sail and cut off all communication, no reply to distant calls and the temptation of sex and breasts, never bathing in the river, never free of the brine that transports heat from place to place, the salt preserving and aging, and I must pray for something else, something better while the waves break around me, a gift from the churning rage of water.

 

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