There is a holy book in an abandoned house in the woods, hidden within the chronicles of time. It is the earliest book ever written, pulled screaming through the spread legs of the Great Mother, long before Gilgamesh or Adam or Odysseus ever stepped foot through a worn page or whispered a syllable of their own stories. You'll have to blow the dust from its cover, your breath will be the hovering spirit over the sacred, and it will unlock the replay of history. The language is different, there no letters, no type, you will not be able to recognize it at first because we have traveled so far from the truth of ourselves.
When you pull open the cover, light will explode, it will blind you at first, you will have to look away, but then your eyes will adjust, and you will look back. The illusory aspects of time, numbers on clocks and watches strapped to our wrists will dissolve, and you will be your truest self, whatever age it is you live trapped within—the moment of your earliest trauma, the second you realized that you are a certain race, a gender, an ethnicity, an object—and that is all that will exist.
Writers before have compared life to a journey, love to a house, bodies as stories. Fine, whatever. It doesn't matter the metaphor, the intangible will shatter all its windows anyway. You will have to step outside your own rendering of reality to get there, to that forest, that house, book, or body that is your true home.
Stephen Hawking believed the universe is so large that it is possible for all of time to exist at once somewhere within it. Other physicists also believe that a block theory of the universe is possible where all of time, past, present, and future, exists simultaneously. Some also believe it is possible that a mirror universe to our own was created, where time as we know it runs backwards. No more “time as a river” metaphors, but rather time all at once, a sea of all that was, is, and will be. Past and Future are both real experiences, though they exist as far as we can see from our perspective on a rather average mass of star-stuff in a Goliath universe, only in our minds. If we were able to look down from space as we look up at space, we would see all of time spread out before us, an ocean rather than a line.
If basic theories of carbon atom rearrangement are true in the premise that very few carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms are lost to outer space, then we are breathing, to a traceable or untraceable extent, the same air as the Christ, as Sophocles, as our great, great, great grandparents, and it is possible that our great, great grandchildren will breathe in the same oxygen molecules that have rattled their way through our blood systems as well.
Something in my bones sings in recognition of a larger language, a connectivity between what we imagine to be linear events and a wider idea of space-time liminality.
What if, to use one metaphor, our lives, our selves, every person we have been throughout our existence, and possibly a previous existence, could exist together within one structure?
What if there was a path through the woods, our own winding epics, that led up ragged steps to a crumbling mansion held together with only ivy and heat? In each room, a different scene. Before you, in the closest room, the first time you realized you were a Word, a Race: Latino, African American, Caucasian. There's that time Daddy told to stay away from that side of town, to keep your eyes on the ground, to be polite to the police if you don't want bullets nestled in your bones, if you don't want to go to sleep to a steel lullaby before you've danced at your prom. You remember sitting on the counter, your heels banging softly against the cabinets as he talks, CNN lilting in from the next room with words like massacre-AR-15-unnecessaryforce-unarmed black man. You don't really ever think that could happen to you, but the the coal of fear has been struck, and it glows hot in the eyes of each person you pass on the way to school the next day.
You back away slowly, nauseated by the remembrance of that first realization that the world is not a safe place. Were you eight? Ten? Younger?
Snarling and growling come from behind the next closed door, and it trembles in its iron hinges. The first time you understood what it was to exist as Woman. A stage appears in a clearing that once was a closed-door room, tangles of thorns winding up the legs of the collapsing structure. It's a Greek theater, complete with antebellum floorboards and crumbling Dorics.
In the center of the stage, men play with a doll that has your face, position her legs atop broken twigs,
stroke her hair, change her clothes, bend her legs like a turkey and tie them together, lay the plastic body out, make it look inviting, pile bread and wine and cheese around its head.
Good thing you don't eat meat –you are the meat, girl.
They will consume you again and again through makeup ads and strip club billboards and violently pornographic dead-girl-in-a-bathtub detective shows that emblazon television screens like torches in night-dark houses, like a burning bush in suburbia. Look how sexy your corpse can look, though, bra strap torn across an ashen, blood-smeared shoulder blade. They will follow you around a Walmart even when you are pregnant, watching you. You will grow teeth in the soft places between your fingers, lace keys through them, learn where to strike, tear items off a shelf at a salvage store because some creep is staring at you from the end of an aisle with his dick in his hands---eat grass, scream, make a scene, act crazier than what has been allowed to be called “civilized.” The animals are in cages, but all the monsters roam free.
Turn the corner, down the hall of fun-house mirrors. A mime of you stands in the center of the hall, you have to maneuver around her white makeup-ed body, her hands are pressed hard against invisible glass. The next room is when you became Buddhist or Feminist or Christian or Democrat or Republican, the fervor is all the same. Your naked body is tied to a stake this time, and there's a hiss of a match, a strike of light.
“Wait, no, no, this didn't happen, I was never burned at a stake? This is ridiculous, this is the wrong room!” The mime-you motions for you to look closer, though, she shakes invisible bars, and her head drops back in a silent howl.
Maybe you were never burned at any stake, but they betrayed you, though, didn't they? Those family members, those supposed friends, all the sheep with growls in their chests and canines in their jaws? They didn't give a fuck what happened to you, as long as they got theirs, as long as they came out looking good, pulling the wool down again and again. One by one they turn and you see Mama's got a match, your best high school friend does too, and your business partner, they all hold fire while you struggle against the wood and ropes. You didn't burn though, did you? You tremble in remembrance of the humiliation, the terror, the ache, but you did not die, not all the way at least.
A baby cries down the hall, and instinctively you turn, begin to race toward the sound, but the hall lengthens. The harder you run, the further away the door gets. The baby is wailing now – “I'm coming!” you call, frantic to reach her, frantic to hold her, to help her, to comfort her. Finally, blessedly, your hand reaches the knob and you fling open the door, but there's only an old woman in the floor, shoulders shaking, trying to cover her wife's motionless body with a blanket so she doesn't get cold. She looks up and then back down, and you see yourself tucking the blanket in tightly, patting her gently, humming that hymn about being prone to wander, about being sought whilst still a stranger . In the place on the floor beneath the blanket is your lover, your best friend, your parent, that slow, small grief that never quite goes away completely.
You turn your head at footsteps behind you. It's a young child. It's you, holding out a hand, leading you beside the hunched figure on the floor that all at once becomes a vast beach, ocean water lapping up onto your legs. Winds blow sharp, and the house crumbles into the air, as if it never existed.
We are back to the origin of the universe, that spirit stretched over the sacred, the sacred as salt splashing up on the shores of existence. You breathe in, and then back out again. You take each others' hands and step as one body into the surf. The cool waters run between your arms and legs and outstretched fingers. Right before you close your eyes and feel the water lift your hair, you see an island in the distance. You will go to it. You do not care about quantum physics or theological doctrine or theories of soul or story, you care only about the island, and you are being carried toward it by the current, as bullet casings and TV screens and match sticks and fibers of blankets sweep by you in silent requiem.
Artwork: Odd Nerdrum, oil on canvas, Red.
Megan Ainsworth is a Southern United States essayist and memoirist who teaches writing and literature at a community college in Jackson, Mississippi. Her work has been published in the Brick Street Press 2008 and 2010 Short Fiction Anthologies, on Elephant Journal, The Good Men Project, and on her blog site; she was a finalist in the “Lorian Hemingway Short Fiction Competition.” Madgirl Elegies is a six month installment column for Corporeal Clamor. She is interested in gender politics and race relations, particularly at the intersection of faith and spirituality in the Deep South. She shares a home with a precious and precocious four year old daughter, three rescue pups, and a fish named Steve.Megan is completing a memoir and a novel-length work of fiction.