She knew–she knew by now–that there really can be a person, one at least, that you can embrace as easily and wholly as though the two of you were one thing, a thing that once upon a time was broken into pieces and is now put back together. And how could she know this unless he knew it too? It was part of the wholeness, that he must: and that too she knew. With her he was for a moment whole, they were whole: as whole as an egg, and as fragile.
It is unfair, you know–it is grossly unfair–that John Crowley was born in 1942. And that in 2002 he published these words, and went on to write so many other things I haven’t yet read. He still gets to do this to people.
When he published this he was just two years younger than my mother when her surgeries robbed her of her mind even earlier than she was scheduled to lose it. They warned her it would happen and she asked me if there was anything I wanted her to do, or say, first. I started crying at the time and said I would get back to her. Later I said, though I wanted no kids then, that it would be great if, just in case, she could write to any as yet unborn children I might have. Write a letter, as herself, so they would know her.
To my knowledge, she forgot. Or if she began a text, my sibling likely absconded with it. But had she been able to finish it–to make herself known to people who’d hear all about her, but as someone else–someone she doesn’t get to be anymore–I like to imagine that many years down the line, as teenagers maybe, they’d get that here was someone who knew more than a prescribed life. She had been chased by rhinos in Africa and taken knitting as payment for outpatient services rendered in rural America, in lieu of money her patients didn’t have. She had sung along with the radio in the aisles of the supermarket, because it really didn’t matter what people thought. She’d lived that, and not just spouted it to try and feel like she was giving her kids armor. She lived it.
It is unfair that the only instrument through which to translate her experience is the one by default (and rightly so; I understand why) the most questionable*. Me. I hoard her stories like the skeins upon skeins of yarn bought on my travels–the ones from which anything I make becomes instantly inferior to the possibility they held in skein form. The rhino story becomes just about rhinos and adventure–not about having the gumption to leave behind everything you know, and to save yourself and your friend from a situation you grew enough, that day, to realize was foolish. Put those words in a parent’s mouth and they are mere fable: instructive, purposeful, intended to prune growth, and not to flaunt it. That’s the only lens you get to shine through, and it sucks. She would have done such a good job of it herself.
“Are there really different worlds?” she asked. “Do you think that? Is that why you wrote that?” It seemed to diminish it as a poem if he did, and yet to make him himself huger.
He seemed to ponder. “No,” he said then. “No. There is but one world, only there are many worlds within it, for it exists in more than one way at once; and these different ways cannot be translated into one another.”
* It is also unfair that my dad seems intent on dying before he can share his own stories.