A £700 bottle of vintage Dom Pérignon your mother had been saving since your stepfather died; I barely heard the cell phone ring over the fireworks. Happy New Year!—an hour too early for London, but Berlin already aflame with Roman candles and bottle rockets and Bengal fires and those eerie red lights drifting across the sky like distant planes, their course curiously wiggly: yuan xiao lanterns pulled along by a southwesterly wind, a few weeks ahead of the Chinese New Year. And then you called again an hour later and we celebrated in your time zone, I in the quiet room this time and the magical hour striking elsewhere, for you. We absorbed each other’s voices, a sudden, startling intimacy that required periods of silence in between, and in the background of that crackling static I heard a siren, an ambulance with someone inside somewhere in London on the last day of the year, struck ill and raced to the hospital, entering my consciousness 930 kilometers away as the crow flies not as a person’s life in the balance—this only occurs to me now—but as peripheral noise. Did that person survive? And why does my mind stray this way, like a shopping cart with a sluggish wheel always pulling me off to the side; it takes effort to keep it on track, to complete the sentences I cast out like nets to collect my scattered thoughts, my mixed metaphors.
I had been wondering what the chances were that you were real, that we could face each other free of our phantom film loops, memory fragments repeating themselves over and over in the spinning vacuum of the otherwise erased. Until V. came along, I’d carried on too many loves in the echo chamber of my imagination, but now there were two components that joined to produce an explosive mix that sputtered and sparked and blew me right out of my own unsuspecting mind. It took me a year to find all the pieces, and then, when I’d glued them all back together, I discovered that it leaked, that the goo was everywhere, that I’d made a mistake somewhere and had to begin again from scratch.
And then it was all darkness and cosmic wind and meteorites flying around. Duck! Sit down, find a bench. Close your eyes. I couldn’t look at the world anymore, the colors were hurting me, piercing my eyes and drilling right through to the nerves. I was porous, tuning in to the frequencies of other people’s inner voices and unable to shut off the transmitter. Is that what it’s like to go mad? Panic-stricken, I called T., but T. didn’t pick up and so I squeezed my eyes shut and listened to teenagers gathered around the bench nearby, hoping their shrill braggardly voices, their spasmodic, hormone-induced laughter would beckon me back to Earth, but no, not this time, and I began to worry: what if they notice me, that strange woman over there pulling her coat around her, what if they look across the grassy triangle we’re sharing, a gathering of three benches wedged between two sides of a street and a cross-street with a few empty bottles on the ground and a trash receptacle overflowing with little plastic bags of dog poop—what if they decide to have a little fun?
How far can you walk blindfolded until you topple over that cliff? I never heard myself hit the bottom, perhaps I was asleep, or caught myself in time, but I’d still like to know what that is, why that sweet, sweet force does its Möbius-strip twist into blind annihilation, why the loss of love can bring down a kingdom, close the curtain on a thousand-year dynasty, extinguish a galaxy for all we know—what is that? I don’t want to imagine this time, I want to smell it, I want the Velcro on your jacket to catch onto my stocking and make it run, I want to sneeze at your aftershave, feel the discomfort and the nervousness and everything that goes along with bringing your own awkward existence before the other and whispering: Here, this is me, will you take me as I am?