He sent me a message celebrating my return to the city we once again shared. He expressed his happiness for me. He confided he felt his profession, the one I had left, was soul-sucking. He said “good for you”. I pointed out his soul still seemed to be in tact. He wasn’t so sure but thanked me for the compliment. He said he was so worried for me when I vanished. He was so worried, I thought. Anxiety consumed him, I thought. I was in the forefront of his consciousness, despite every other possible preoccupation. See, I said, proof of your compassion. For selfish reasons, he continued. You are eye-candy.
It made me wonder how satisfying looking was. Sometimes I am all they see and I wonder if it is such a bad thing. What if a person’s life purpose was only to be seen by others? I suppose it wouldn’t be terrible. Maybe they find a comfort in the crook of my nose, I thought. Maybe my height gives them a sense of security. Regardless of cause, their looking was capable of more than seeing; their eyes knew things. I was repelled by this idea, by the focusing agents they had been rewarded, seemingly upon birth. I mused about how stifled I would feel traveling the lines of my palm as they laid there. What should I do in the meantime, I wondered, while they looked? Perhaps I would try looking too, as a stunt, as an experience. Where do people go when they want to look?
I strolled through the biggest store I could find. I had only been to The Mall as a small child, the guest of a regular, never since. I bought clothes on the Internet, plain t-shirts of solid, dim colors, no discernable brand. It isn’t that I was apprehensive to pledge allegiance to certain clothing companies, it was just another of my feigned attempts at disassociation. Once you commit to a brand, you commit to a people. Once you commit to a people, you commit to a lifestyle. A brand of living. Soon you are amidst a career suited for the lifestyle you have hung in your closet, you have found a certain select people amongst the larger people you’ve adhered yourself to. You make one decision and the rest follow. The clouds become the earth. After you learn to crawl, then toddle, then walk, then run, there is the briefest period where you learn to float. Some skip this step entirely. I would rather make a home here, in the clouds.
I journeyed through the store and collected some research samples. I stuck myself in a dressing room I tried on a tailored sports jacket with a pair of grey sweatpants, which had elastic around the ankles that felt like shackles. I tried on a pair of denim jeans with a slimming wash and thin leg openings, situated with a turtleneck, both of which felt as if they were suffocating me. I tried on a floral print button-up shirt with a pair of brown corduroys and a yellow bowler hat in hopes of emulating a landscape, but the hat seemed to cause a flash of heat to sear my face and travel down my spine. I tried on a head-to-toe camouflage ensemble, but my shadow appeared darker behind me. The store finally was about to close, someone rapping on the door saying your time’s up! and asking me to take my final selections to the checkout counter. What if I haven’t made a final selection? I thought. I need more time. The store attendant only continued her assault on the other doors. Time’s up, time’s up, even though those doors were unlocked and no one was inside of them. Everyone seemed to have already made his or her final selection.
I passed by the line of people at the checkout, all of whom seemed to be in a hurry but were nonetheless pleased to be standing there with their with success folded over one arm, each with at least one thing that felt right on them. I leave wearing what I wore when I got there, only now less satisfied with it as the search for something that “works” has left me empty-handed. Where is self-actualization for sale? I wondered. They seem to have found it in their blouses and their trousers. In the looking.
I wanted to have made a final selection, too. I wanted to feel part of this experience but I didn’t want to have to make the choice and I didn’t want to wait in a line and I didn’t want a salesperson or a stranger to need to validate me. I finished this thought and picked up the first thing my eye rested on, which happened to be a plain white v-neck t-shirt, from a pile of other plain white v-neck t-shirts. I looked both ways before breaking into a sprint, heading toward the farthest exit. This is what it feels to be chased, I thought. I am teaching every one of these people a lesson. A lesson in being seen.
This is how it’s done.
When I lose myself in thought I drive ever so slowly, creeping along the highway, even when a foray into illegality increases my blood flow. I tried to distill this moment of floating and replicate it, to drift again as the snow over the road, but it wasn’t possible. My cloud had wrung itself from the atmosphere. I watched as a man drove past on my left at higher speeds than I. I watched in my periphery as a deer glided from across the beams of light emanating from in front of me closer into his. There were no horns or fireworks; the moments after revealed neither actor but I knew the road was stained, and so did the deer, and so did the other driver. We didn’t have to look to know.
When I was home, I wondered what about the incident I would remember, if anything. I had already forgotten the make and model of the vehicle. Was it an SUV? A two-door coupe? The night made it hard to see, and I was going fast. Was the deer a buck or a doe? Was its tail white or was that snow? The stain I remembered. The stain resembled a constellation of stars on a map.
My looking had become running. You can’t run on clouds, though it may seem all too possible sometimes. Soon my run would slow to a walk, to a toddle, to a crawl.
It turns out the t-shirt didn’t fit. It was much too small. I painted the t-shirt in the way I remembered the stain and instead of a closet I hung it in a frame. You look for something for so long and it’s as good as gone. You see something for long enough and it might as well be.
Profile: E.W. Hare