Archive for December, 2008

Like Turritopsis Nutricula

I came to the aquarium as I always do, when it is quiet. The crowds come for feeding time. They are chasing the agitation, the water filled with bubbles, the frenzy of desire. I come for something else, to watch the creatures swim slow loops or float, hide in their pretend reefs and wait. That is how we really live, isn’t it? Always returning to the places we just left, always waiting for something else to happen.

That day, you were standing with me in the tunnel, rigid and transfixed. The ocean under glass, you told me. A minute later you asked, did I want to see an immortal?

You led me by the hand into the research section, a place that reminded me of university—data posters on the walls, desks with computers and stray bits of equipment. Then into your office, full of the fossils of sea vertibrates hundreds of millions of years old. Some of the species you showed me live now. Some of them are extinct, including your favourties. I don’t remember all their names. I remember the jellyfish, Turritopsis nutricula, tiny and nacreous, never dying, but as you explained, a reincarnation that comes at the cost of its memories.

We could play a game like that, take a drug that prevented the formation of memory, meet each other again and again for the first time. Unlike these jellyfish, we could take notes for our future selves. But I know those movies have been written, and I know all of humanity has come before and left us their notes, history and literature. You added, all of natural history has come before and left us its notes, and you put a fossil back onto your desk.

I remember the poster you backed up against, algae populations against ocean depth, as you drew me to you. Not the lips, you said, opening the neck of your blouse and bringing my head there.

Who would not want a return to childhood, to live again and again, endlessly grow old and revert to innocence? But even the immortal medusae are vulnerable, you said later; even the most wonderful of creatures are sometimes lost.

You must know that I still visit the tunnel under the aquarium.

Something that Will Never Last

Yesterday I got rid of all my old photos, my old letters and emails, my old trinkets and souvenirs. Isn’t all nostalgia false? As I scrubbed, I examined these things, things for years I had saved like treasure. I am glad I remember the truth. These were not honest records, let alone mature or expansive ones. They were poses, apologia, propaganda, wishes—separated by voids of convenient omission.

Isn’t it a terrifying thought, that one day you could lose your memories and in their place absorb from your own shoeboxes and shelves of talismans the frozen smiles of snapshots, the bias confirmation of postcards, the revisionism of letters, the tawdriness of keepsakes, and the oblivion of the unmentioned, as true? As you?

I want us to make something that will never last, that was never meant to. A winter dusting while the city sleeps. A snowflake caught in an updraft, lifted but not melted. My breath, a mist that vanishes and resurges.

I will take my shovel to the roof and form a sculpture of pure expression and snow, something beyond irony or reference or didactics, and that only a handful of people will ever see, the executives still at their desks at midnight, the janitors, the security guard taking a break from his beat to gaze down from those great heights surrounding me.

An instant can last until the instant you die, but what takes years to accomplish is brutally abbreviated by memory. I want a second in slow motion with you, the silence anticipating your laugh, the steams of our breath touching, with snowflakes fixed into this picture like a constellation.

I want to call a perfect stranger and tell him that I love you, that I am bursting to tell you so. But I will not ask for advice, I will not want to be released. I will hope the need will never leave me.

Photographers take thousands of pictures to keep just one. I want to spend a day with you, culminating in a look, a touch, a sound I will never forget, and perhaps if it is perfect, I will never see you again.

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