Casey Lange

A Finite Number of Things


Read afterthoughts to this piece from Elizabeth Bidwell Goetz.

I have a friend whose superpower is remembering. Her flights of nostalgia are impressive in both their specificity and in their chronological scope: she'll wax on details that I would have thought well worth passing over, and enthuse just as well over a conversation in a bar six years ago as a sprawl on a grassy hilltop two weeks ago. It is sometimes startling, even confusing: the basic confusion about why someone does something that you don't do: the easily-recognized-as-such precursor to the unacceptable conclusion that one of you is doing something wrong: the conclusion known but only obscurely to be a mistake and headed off unsatisfyingly with a clumsy “Well we must just be different...”. Not to mention the general suspicion of

nostalgia borne by one so devoted to self-

– i desire the feeling of your head on my

overcoming, to “learning” from the past.

chest. (was going to say “miss” but i have

trouble with the word “miss”.)

– ditto.

Then one day I understood: it's just this: she misses everything that has ever happened to her.

Under a playground structure in a clearing behind an elementary school in wooded far suburbia, our camp mats spread below us and tarp above us, dear friends slept next to us. Our out-of-state bicycles nestled in the brush among Budweiser bottles left by delinquents or bums. You stayed up with me for a while—I feared the police and wanted to keep watch—before laying your head on my crossed legs. It must have been uncomfortable; I fidget.

It happened that someone I was in love with went away and was maybe gone, maybe lost to me, speeding away. I found myself spending a great deal of time and energy on the project of missing: not simply a feeling or a mood but an activity with pretty clear successes along the way. My desire, at every moment, was to more and more vividly recall more and more of my happy moments with the missed person. Whenever I unearthed a “new” memory—ideally so fresh that I had not re-imagined it since it happened—it was like a prize, a treat, another welcome, anxiously anticipated opportunity to meet the person in all of her newness. Anxiously, because each success evoked the fear that it was the last, that my memory had exhausted the history. At

that point, even the love in my memory would

Black thread on a red plastic flower, wound round

be as dead as the past, as dead as a fact. For

there is only ever a finite number of things that

and stranglingly bound to an obscene mineral stem.

have happened, and I certainly did not trust my

own active ex-nihilo imagination to work any effect more impressive than their simple reemergence into consciousness. Something where there was nothing and was no reason to expect anything: miracle. You can talk about a rainbow all you want, but nothing you say will compare (—the comparison is inescapable and damning—) to the instant preceding “Look!”

One’s hands on other’s abdomen, looking up as if to kiss goodmorning-goodbye, until we notice the close call, two pairs of eyes widening in surprise, resuming careful guard against prematurity or something else. "[Oh—] we’re not doing that."

Sometimes, early on, I would imagine what it would be like to think of the person and feel nothing. I knew what it was like to think about someone and only remember that they had been, names and dates, one of the names happening to

be mine. A person turning (—Worse: Turning

Many other times, eyes widening with wry impatience,

a person—) into an idea. The cruel power of

head inclining forward slightly. A sight well worth

abstraction. Loss of desire more frightening

provoking, and thus entirely ineffective.

than loss of the desired. What’s terrifying

about belief in miracles is that if something

can come of nothing, then nothing can just as well come of something.

But yes, surprise was essential to this remembering, to this missing. It had to be a new memory because what I sought after all was not really any particular detail or aspect or quality of a situation, but life. Life, i.e., surprise, the capacity to give you what you never thought to solicit or provoke.

(Some other (day)

time, on a pavilion sitting next to me, you extended an arm to stop my joggling leg. It surprised me that I did not resent that.)

             So desiring at every moment could not mean seeking at every moment, because that would guarantee failure. I had to be sly, trust to providence.

“And now I can’t even kiss you.”: stickedlips, not
   to be smudged.
Slow smiling shaking head: “...Well, you can kiss
   me, you just can’t move your lips.”

Bringing something into consciousness from out: eating, consuming. But bringing something from the unconscious into the conscious: something else, like metabolizing your fat-stores. The analogy would suggest that it is a starvation response. Or maybe something not so stricty to do with survival. Scraps from a meal eaten an hour ago, ignored then as insubstantial debris but now feasted upon.

Rosewater, rosewater in every-

thing, until we are sick of it.

Opportunities for the development of mild perversions, confusions of ends with means, motives with perquisites, features with flaws—intentionally uncarefully spooning cookie batter on to a baking sheet so that you “have to” lick it up. An unexpected side-benefit, perhaps, to a staunch caginess vis-a-vis nostalgia (but also for that matter, less aggrandizably, to simple distraction and absence of mind) is you’re left with a lot of memories that didn’t get too chewed up on their way in.

In the playground between hallucinations of headlights, I thought about the scrapes on your legs. Eventually I calmed down, or gave in to exhaustion, and slept. It didn’t rain. Shortly after dawn, deer moved through the grass around us, slender, curious, sure of themselves. One stood to look at us, stamped a hoof lightly several times (as if to say...?). It was safe; we went back to sleep.