Once, my dad and I pulled over to the side of the road on the way up the Beartooths. He had just driven thousands of miles to my geology station and we were going to make a roadtrip of our return. The sun was coming out from behind stormclouds and I was still in that foggy phase of transition between being in this cut-off fantasyland of people only my age, shacked up in tin cabins in the middle of nowhere, and the return to the “real” world, where I had a family and a history and obligations. We got out to take pictures of the suddenly-orange mountains catching fire as the sun clawed its way free from the storm. Bright pink flowers I recognized as fireweed lit up the edge of the road and I had this moment of intense dissonance: I knew the name of those flowers because I had played SimPark religiously for a year or two as a kid, back in my home where my dad too had lived, on the other side of the country, with this whole life path constructed. Toward which I strove.
And here I was on the side of this mountain, coming back from months of geology study of all things, and Dad had a big hat on whose purchase I could recall, from a place whose name I could articulate. But neither the person who stood in that store listening to Dad talk about the hat years ago, or the girl who’d studied non-science so hard, or the woman who’d cracked jokes about dolomite with a bunch of one-time strangers in the Rockies, seemed to have anything to do with this person who stood at the edge of the fireweed aiming a camera at the mountains. Nothing at all. It was like someone was stringing together a necklace with a pearl and then a feather and then a lump of rock with a hole through it. None of these people had anything in common with each other, or with the feel of the boots on my feet or the camera in my hand. I felt its buttons, its strap. It was foreign. I hadn’t planned for it. For any of it.
And then Dad said to get back in the car, to hurry up to the top of the pass while it was clear. And I snapped back, and spoke phrases I knew were mine.
That still happens. Sometimes it’s with my husband, sleeping as I stare at him and think, “how did I shake the kaleidoscope of me into the right patterns, pleasing patterns, often enough to arrange for you to be here?” Sleeping, unconscious, vulnerable, at my side. Sometimes it’s when I have to remind myself to apply a filter–“you have shared worries of this level with this person; you must ask after them now, and you can share a little, but not display concerns too personal; they will flee.” It’s a reminder. A mantle I have to remember to take off the wall and put on, before going out into a series of expectations and pre-constructed notions. Out into life.
These dissonances are most useful when they allow me to look at something painful without being hurt by it. Memories of Japan. Someone’s loving paean to their parents on social media. I can look at a weeaboo having a gushing japanophilic moment and think, with clinical distance, “usually I resent this in you, however irrationally, because some people in the country whose praises you sing let me be assaulted and only watched while it happened.” Or I’ll read a post claiming superlative status for one’s parents and think, “perhaps they were the best for you. Mine rescued me, didn’t warp me, knew more than most others and weren’t abusive in their knowledge. And they deserve the health denied them; the health yours have.”
Usually, though, these dissonances are not so instructive. Nor do they last long enough to become so. It’s just a moment of the clothes on your body, the schedule on your calendar, the texts coming into your phone seeming to belong to other people, far away. People who are strung together of sensible parts, in a pattern of which others can make sense. Red, yellow, blue. Primary colors, of which all else is made. Not the middling in-betweens that paint the roadsides of mountain passes.
Then you blink and shake your head, and you remember there are only really in-betweens anyway, ever. And you carry on with your day.