Letter From The Avoidant to the Stranger
I have been myself for as long as I can remember. But pieces have been replaced. Blood is lost. Skin is shed. Follicle of hair get caught in brushes. I’m like the Ship of Theseus, beside some marrow and some brain. I leave parts behind.
You could scour the world for my DNA, see where I’ve been— or better yet, track remains the air has carried. Skin dissolved in a lake I never touched. An eyelash on a stranger’s shirt. Is it me in those long-gone worlds? The ego says no; I huddle in my body, indignant. Those missing bits are, at most, genetic shadows.
Yet if I abandon myself for a moment, I can imagine my very core scattered. My codons hug time and space like the sky hugs the ground. In my dispersal there is a hint of the beginning, where the shred of energy that later became everything was still curled upon itself, delighting in primordial heat.
But that was not me, not really. I exist only between the walls of this body. I am now. I am delicate. I am seawater cupped with tight hands. Someday the fingers will tire and I will seep through. I am not my body, but without my body I am nothing.
You are like me. You are old or young, hiding beneath the fluffy lip of a hood or behind the eye-glaze of a memory. I see you at school, at the park by the big tree, in the tissue aisle at the convenience store. Maybe you look at me. You hear the sound of my boots and you look at me, and you are almost always beautiful, because inside there is seawater cupped with tight hands.
But sometimes I do not think. Sometimes you are the opposite of human. Sometimes it is too nauseating to acknowledge yet another hidden world, one whose riches I only glimpse in the twitchy brightness of your movements. We are always going and going, even when we are still. The pupils oscillate to snag an image. The lungs swell. The heart clenches, fighting inertia. A life is a note belted into a bottomless night. And soon the sound is lost. The water seeps through.
So I choose not to see you. To me, your eyes are merely cameras. You are too clean to be human; under your matte skin there is a skeleton of steel. You turn off at night. Every month someone changes the batteries. You never malfunction. Your problems are never bigger than your body. There is no you. This is what I imagine. And this, I think, is what we all do. We reduce strangers to robots, or sometimes animals. We say, there’s that old man; that fat girl; that cashier with the owlish eyebrows. It is impossible to remember that each person we pass has had a billion thoughts leading up to this moment, that they will have a billion after, that they have scattered themselves in the simple act of being, that the air laughs when they move.
Nobody, to another, is himself.
Even the closest of friends are only bumping electrons. There is endless space in-between. And as we walk through our schools and our parks and our convenience stores, we move through the genetic shadows of strangers and feel nothing. I am a world. You are a world. We see each other and we are nothing.
Forgive me, then. Forgive me if I do not look, or say hello, or seem interested. I am seawater cupped in tired hands, and we say it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, but one glance and the fingers go limp.