Tag Archives: time

(English below)

“I absolutely want to recommend this book: Kreisläufe (Like Lips, Like Skins) by Andrea Scrima. I admire this book (and its author in any case), and it feels as though I should offer my humble thanks to Andrea Scrima, who drills into all manner of trauma, entanglements, the repetitive patterns I’m unable to drill through, not by a long shot. It’s an undeviating book in pursuit of pain and its urgent themes. Andrea Scrima describes growing up in an American family, and at the same time a young man’s early years in a GDR juvenile detention facility and the life of an artist with all its doubts and struggles of self-discovery. I don’t much feel like summarizing the contents, I only want to share how important I find this book, and—I repeat—admire it because it works its way through themes that are only seemingly personal, at first glance—because these are structural matters. This book is a call for a carefulness and closeness that know the traps of every allegedly bad memory.”

Andrea Scrima’s autobiographical novel follows an American artist living in Germany back to the US and her family origins

Review of Like Lips, Like Skins for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
By Maria Frisé (excerpt, April 8, 2022)

“I’d never survive in the US,” Andrea Scrima once said in an interview. At the time, the reference 
was to Trump’s America—but one could also apply it to her family background, which she’s portrayed in two unequivocally autobiographical novels (A Lesser Day, and now Like Lips, Like Skins). A scholarship to the art academy enabled the author to move to Germany; she lives in Berlin and has since taken on German citizenship. Yet again and again, the past catches up with her, and feelings of guilt surface. Should she have stayed to protect her younger brother from the violence-prone mother, who tyrannized her four children and silent husband? This is one of the stories Scrima tells in Like Lips, Like Skins

The novel’s protagonist Felice is, like Andrea Scrima, an artist, and an exhibition sends her back to her native New York. Her hopes that things might have improved in her absence prove to be in vain. “Never forget that you can leave again”—this is what her partner tries to impress upon her as she’s departing Berlin. But before long, she falls prey to the past and the mother’s sudden fits of rage. When she visits the old house on Staten Island or the Burger King she worked in at the age of fifteen in a first step toward gaining independence from her family, she becomes immersed in painful memories from childhood. 

Andrea Scrima is a powerful storyteller with a confident command of the German language.
In collaboration with Christian von der Goltz, she translates her English-language manuscripts into German, as she’s now done masterfully for Like Lips, Like Skins (German edition: Kreisläufe, Literaturverlag Droschl, 2021). 

So happy to see the book continuing to bring in reviews — this one from the “Hotlist,” a list of important new titles from independent presses.

“Wie werden wir zu dem, wer wir sind? Ist es möglich, unserer stofflichen Beschaffenheit zum Trotz, mit der wir in die Welt gesetzt wurden, der eigenen Herkunft zu entkommen? Diese Fragen verhandelt der tief tragische Roman Kreisläufe der amerikanischen Schriftstellerin und Künstlerin Andrea Scrima. Dies ist ihr zweiter fulminanter Roman nach Wie viele Tage (2018), der im Literaturverlag Droschl auf Deutsch von ihr vorliegt.”

“How do we become who we are? Is it possible, in spite of the physical givens we were born with, to escape our origins? The deeply tragic novel Kreisläufe (Eng: Like Lips, Like Skins) by the American artist and author Andrea Scrima explores these questions. This is her second brilliant novel after Wie viele Tage (Eng.: A Lesser Day, 2018) to be published in German by Literaturverlag Droschl.”

Read the Hotlist’s review of Kreisläufe here.

Gallus Frei-Tomic in, January 22, 2022 (Excerpts translated from the German)

Four years ago, Andrea Scrima’s literary debut A Lesser Day was already an epiphany. Now, with her second novel, Like Lips, Like Skins, Scrima deserves a far wider audience. 

All readers know that certain books are capable of generating a very special resonance. Sometimes it’s the themes that appeal or repel or in any case fascinate. And sometimes it’s the language, the sound of the words, the images that rise up from the page. With Like Lips, Like Skins, Andrea Scrima achieves everything a novel can do, at least for me. Her call to “imagine this” was so intense and worked its way through me to such an extent that, once I finished the book, I sat there somewhat stunned and began leafing back to revisit all the scenes I’d underlined and slip back under that warm blanket. 

At one point in the story, after Felice has already begun enjoying some success as an artist, she flies back to New York to put up an exhibition in a gallery. Years have passed; encouraged by her friend Micha, she decides to confront the trauma of her agonizing relationship to a mother who tormented the family with her unpredictability, her explosions of rage, her way of interpreting the world according to her own whims. Felice has barely arrived, and already she’s struggling—and in this struggle she senses that she’s not only at risk of losing her family ties, but also her own self. 

Like Lips, Like Skins is crafted as an act of retrospection. The first half of the book is dedicated to the mother, the second to a largely silent father who recorded what seemed important to him in calendar journals Felice saves from certain destruction and pores through after his death. What so moved me about the book is not the story of a woman’s emancipation, or the family drama, or the poison that eats its way through relationships, but the way in which Andrea Scrima approaches her subject matter—the way she conjures words and pictures at the same time. Here is an author who writes in polyphony, who layers her images and then peels the layers away to reveal the cracks in the paint. The author is uninterested in revelation or exposure. Like Lips, Like Skins is a series of images that show us how to see. 

Review of Andrea Scrima’s new novel Like Lips, Like Skins by Elisabeth Wagner

Published April 19, 2022 in the taz

(excerpts translated from the German)

An “I” has to save itself, has to get away from home. Via London, the English Channel, and the East German transit route to West Berlin and a winter that smells like coal dust and bites the lungs. A single furious first paragraph is enough for the escape, a single breath. One could almost say the text inhales. It does this to remember: out of love, out of fear, for reasons that go deep and don’t lend themselves to being easily summarized, whose urgency, however, is beyond question in the prose of the New York-born writer and artist Andrea Scrima. 

(…) The world and the narrator’s own life present her with scenes of varying degrees of danger. As moments of decision, of escalation, of quiet observation that is anything but harmless. The “I” draws a brush across a canvas and watches the excess paint collapse to either side; tracks in snow melt, freeze over, wear away. Dreams are a part of reality, a parallel world that leads to new discovery. The text retains its inner logic with virtuosic ease. How lightly and yet how powerfully this “I” holds the narrative reins in her hand. 

(…) In every family, says the first-person narrator, there is a geometry at work, a concatenation of secrets and taboos. Scrima, who translated Like Lips, Like Skins together with Christian von der Goltz, incorporated both fictional and autobiographical material into the novel. Like the “I” of the book, she was born in New York, lives in Berlin, and has a son. The author lends the narrator several of her artworks, as well as much in the characters of the parents. Yet Scrima rejects the label of autofiction. The term causes people to underestimate the importance of the form, she explains in a mail, and one would like to respond that it’s hard to imagine not admiring the formal sophistication of this book. The delicate transitions between grammatical forms of past and present, for instance, which slip by unnoticed as one moves through time and space. Indeed, there’s great precision in the way recurrent patterns demarcate the various layers of experience. So precisely that one could read this novel as a poetic research text that tells the story of the end of a depression and takes on the spell of repetition in its own injured and, yes, passionate way. So much happens in this wise and beautiful book, and it’s all described without the slightest hint at an exclamation mark. The power of its appeal is all the stronger for it. 

here is an excerpt from the original German text, which takes off from the concept of autofiction:

While I was in Graz, the wonderful Barbara Belic interviewed me for her literary program series on Austrian public radio, “Radio Helsinki.” Listen to me read a few sections from my new novel—two lengthy sections in English and the rest in German—and explain why I’m against the category “autofiction”—why it fails to see so much of the actual art of a book.

Listen here.


“When a person lives between two continents, two apartments, the transience of things becomes even more urgent. It’s a question that seems to haunt Andrea Scrima. Again and again, the objects that surround her are brought into sharp focus: objects that need to be packed, stored, and transported in moving boxes; objects the sheer force of human presence suffuses with meaning. Incessantly, the self attempts to catch hold of individual situations and moments in time, zooms in on them with an almost uncanny precision of perception to salvage them from the obscurity of the past and the unarticulated and to shed light on them. Not glaringly, but tenuously, with caution.”

— Bettina Schulte, Badische Zeitung, 17. Mai 2018

Read the article here.


Badische Zeitung.jpg


“A linear narrative is sacrificed in favor of a porous, associative composition that blurs dimensions through its mantra-like ‘but that came later.’ History becomes palpable as a background murmur. The reconstruction of the turbulent decade in which the narrator’s vagabond life takes place is achieved through newspaper clippings, which she appropriates artistically. What remains is an inquiry into the time-space continuum: to what degree is the artist today the person she encounters in the layers of her painting surfaces, her texts, the layers of her past? These are things Andrea Scrima writes about wonderfully in her autobiographically colored debut.”

— Senta Wagner, Buchkultur 177  2/2018

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“Respekt ist das erste Gefühl, dass sich bei der Lektüre einstellt: man hat Respekt vor der unbeirrbaren Widerständigkeit einer Frau, die ihren Lebensort sucht und ihre Identität als Künstlerin entschieden verteidigt. (. . .) Leben konnte die Malerin von ihrer Kunst nie.  Aber die Erzählerin, die sich immer wieder an ein wechselndes, aber vertrautes Du wendet, nutzt die Unsicherheit ihrer Künstlerexistenz und entwickelt daraus eine beeindruckende Freiheit des Denkens und Handelns.”

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Ein Leben im Pendelflug zwischen New York und Berlin. Heute hier, morgen dort, zerrissen zwischen zwei Welten und beheimatet immer nur auf Zeit. Die Amerikanerin Andrea Scrima erzählt in ihrem ersten Buch “Wie viele Tage” aus dem Leben einer Künstlerin in den 1980er und 90er Jahren. Sie gehe zwar von persönlichen Erinnerungen aus, lasse sich dann aber zu weiteren Fantasien anregen, sagte Andrea Scrima im Interview. Die Struktur des Buches orientiere sich vor allem an Marie Luise Kaschnitz’ Aufzeichnungen “Orte”.

Kaschnitz ordnete ihre eigenen Lebenserinnerungen in Form von Selbstbefragungen und Momentaufnahmen nach den Wohnorten ihres Lebens. Nach diesem Prinzip blickt auch Andrea Scrimas Protagonistin zurück auf ihre ersten vierzig Lebensjahre. In Berlin erlebt sie den Fall der Mauer und in New York verändert der Terroranschlag auf das World Trade Center die Skyline ihrer Heimatstadt.

Scrima collagiert Rückblicke mit Skizzen von Wohnorten, die wie Polaroidfotos kurz aufblitzen. Vom Elternhaus auf Staten Island über den Umzug ins New Yorker East Village und in das geteilte Berlin bis zu Zwischenstationen in Brooklyn folgt die Autorin den Ortswechseln einer jungen Amerikanerin in prekären Lebensverhältnissen. Respekt ist das erste Gefühl, das sich bei der Lektüre einstellt. Man hat Respekt vor der unbeirrbaren Widerständigkeit einer Frau, die ihren Lebensort sucht und ihre Identität als Künstlerin entschieden verteidigt. Die Wohnungen und Fabriketagen, in denen die Protagonistin lebt und arbeitet, sind billig, zugig und kalt. Leben konnte die Malerin von ihrer Kunst nie. Aber die Erzählerin, die sich immer wieder an ein wechselndes, aber vertrautes “Du” wendet, nutzt die Unsicherheit ihrer Künstlerexistenz und entwickelt daraus eine beeindruckende Freiheit des Denkens und Handelns. Sie lässt sich Zeit für Beobachtungen und die Gefühle, die sie auslösen. Schichtweise legt sie in alten Notizen die verlorenen Lebensträume ihres verstorbenen Vaters frei. “Und dann der Moment des Erkennens, dessen betäubende Wirkung”, erinnert sich die Protagonistin an erhellende und beängstigende Augenblicke. Sie will Erkenntnis schöpfen über den Sinn unserer Existenz und den Umgang mit Vergänglichkeit und Verlusten. Die assoziativen Notizen folgen keiner Chronologie, es gibt weder Handlung noch Dialoge in diesem Buch. Die Erzählerin misst die Zeit am Trockenprozess von gepressten Teebällchen, die sie auf dem Fensterbrett zu Kunstobjekten arrangiert, sie vertieft sich in das Muster der Abnutzung auf dem Küchenfußboden: “Wie zuerst das Weiße des Vorstrichs unter dem Lack sichtbar wurde”, schreibt sie, “wie dann die nackte Platte durchschien, jedes Jahr ein bisschen mehr.”

Die unerfüllte Sehnsucht nach Beständigkeit inmitten von Umzügen und Kurzzeitjobs ist bedrückend und bringt doch Kontinuität in den Roman. Forschend blickt die Protagonistin auf ihr jüngeres Selbst, fragt sich, was sie damals noch nicht wissen konnte, verweist auf zukünftiges Wissen, ohne dies aber zu enthüllen. “Dicke Schwaden Vergangenheit” hängen schwer in der Luft, kriechen im Empfinden der späten Mutter, die sich allmählich zur Textkünstlerin wandelt, aus allen Ecken des Zimmers, wo sie den Nachlass ihres Vaters ordnet. Der Überseekoffer ihrer Urgroßmutter, die einst von Deutschland in die USA emigrierte – “wohin führt mich all das?”, fragt sich die Erzählerin. Es führt sie und den Leser zu unvergleichlich intensiven Momentaufnahmen und der Gewissheit, dass jeder Tag, jede Minute es wert ist, festgehalten zu werden — in Bildern und in Worten. So wie der Augenblick, als die Strahlen der Spätnachmittagssonne auf Hunderten von Taubenflügeln flackern und sie in ein leuchtendes Orange tauchen. Andrea Scrima malt mit Worten und entreißt den Moment der Vergänglichkeit durch ihre Alltagspoesie. Das alles braucht Zeit, viel Zeit, um zu reifen. Es ist das Glück des Lesers, dass Andrea Scrima sich diese Zeit genommen hat.

— Claudia Fuchs

March 15, 2018

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The wonderful Daniela Fürst interviews Andrea Scrima on her book “Wie viele Tage,” Literaturverlag Droschl. Live at the Leipzig Book Fair.

Listen here at Literadio

Literario Leipzig


Bedford Avenue; ich stand vor dem U-Bahn-Plan, sprach die Namen aus und spürte den Nachgeschmack, den sie auf meiner Zunge hinterließen. Wie weit entfernt sie schienen, wie aus einer anderen Welt, einer anderen Zeit; wie unwahrscheinlich, dass ich mit diesem Plan in der Tasche hinausgehen und tatsächlich in einen Zug steigen könnte. Und dann überwand ich schließlich meine Lethargie, ging die Bedford Avenue hinunter und stieg die Treppe zur U-Bahn hinab, während mir der Schweiß zwischen den Brüsten hinunterrann; wie ich ohne einen klaren Plan im Kopf in einen klimatisierten Zug stieg, mich oben an der Haltestange festhielt und die Gänsehaut betrachtete, die sich auf meinem nackten Arm bildete, als der Schweiß auf meiner Haut kalt wurde. Ich stieg mehrmals um, zuerst am Union Square, dann an der Grand Central, betrachtete beim Einfahren des Zuges in jeden Bahnhof flüchtig die wartende Menge, meine Augen huschten von einem Gesicht zum anderen, suchten nach jemandem, den ich vielleicht kannte, irgendjemandem, unvorstellbar, in einer Stadt aufgewachsen zu sein und niemanden wiederzuerkennen, absolut niemanden. Meine Augen glitten vom Fenster des U-Bahn-Abteils und dem Strom der draußen vorbeihastenden Menschen nach oben, zu den Streifen Plakatwerbung, Hotlines für misshandelte Frauen, misshandelte Kinder, Zentren für kosmetische Chirurgie, Zahnchirurgie, mit einem Bild von Dr. Soundso und seiner Unterschrift darunter, gekrönt von einem irgendwie medizinisch aussehenden Schnörkel. Und dann stellte ich plötzlich fest, dass ich mich auf dem Weg zur Bronx befand, und beschloss, an der 149th Street auszusteigen und nachzuschauen, ob das alte Gebäude noch dort stand, wann war ich zum letzten Mal hingefahren, ich muss noch ein Kind gewesen sein. Ich ging die Brook Avenue hinunter, ohne ein einziges Gebäude wiederzuerkennen, einen einzigen Baum, bog an der 148th Street ab und ging in Richtung St. Ann’s, begann die geraden Nummern auf der Südseite der Straße abzuzählen, hin zur Nr. 516, dem Haus, das meine Urgroßeltern nach ihrer Ankunft in diesem Land gekauft hatten, dem Haus, in dem meine Mutter aufwuchs, meine Großmutter aufwuchs, zwei lange Reihen fünfgeschossiger Gebäude zu beiden Seiten der Straße, mit zwei ausschließlich aus Durchgangszimmern bestehenden Wohnungen auf jedem Stockwerk und Frauen in langen Röcken und Schürzen, die Abend für Abend den Bürgersteig fegten. Hier war Nr. 514, ein etwas zurückgesetzt stehendes, zweigeschossiges Haus; ein Dreirad lag auf einem kleinen betonierten Vorplatz, aus dessen Rissen Unkraut hervorspross. Ich ging weiter zum nächsten Haus und sah die ins Holz über der Tür genagelten Ziffern 518, und dann blieb ich stehen und ging noch einmal zurück; ich muss daran vorbeigegangen sein, dachte ich, doch es gab keine Nr. 516, nur ein Gebäude mit der Nummer 514 und ein anderes mit der Nummer 518, beide aus einem vergleichsweise jüngeren Baujahr, doch keine 516, und ich stand da, starrte Nr. 514 an, dann Nr. 518, und begriff, dass das Haus bereits vor langer Zeit abgerissen worden sein musste, nachdem sich das Viertel in einen Slum verwandelt hatte. Und später, nachdem im Zuge einer Stadtteilsanierung die Grundstücke neu gezeichnet und andere Häuser errichtet worden waren, war die Nummer 516 einfach aus der Reihe der Adressen in der East 148th Street komplett verschwunden, und ich stand da, wo die Eingangstür zum Haus gewesen sein musste, und stellte mir vor, wie meine Mutter als Kind auf der Vortreppe gesessen hatte, meine Großmutter, ein Kind, hier, genau an diesem Fleck, wo das Haus einst gestanden hatte, jetzt nur mehr manifestiert durch eine Lücke in einer numerischen Folge. Ich stand eine ganze Weile da, betrachtete die Häuser und die Größe der Grundstücke, außerstande zu erklären, wie eine Adresse verschwunden sein konnte, die neueren Häuser waren nicht größer, nicht breiter als die älteren es gewesen waren, sie hätten nicht so viel zusätzlichen Platz in Anspruch genommen, um ein ganzes Grundstück einfach verschwinden zu lassen, dachte ich und ging die Straße hinunter und bog an der Ecke ab, an der meine Mutter ihre ganze Kindheit hindurch jeden Tag abgebogen war auf dem Weg zur Grundschule gegenüber dem Park, wo die wilden Jungs auf Pappkartons die großen Granitsteine hinunterrutschten und hohe Bäume aus den Spalten dazwischen wuchsen, jetzt zugemüllt mit alten Zeitungen und zerdrückten Bierdosen und im Unterholz verstreuten kleinen Haufen gebrauchter Spritzen.

Literadio 2

Literadio 3

me Leipzig booth

In the booth of Literaturverlag Drochl, Leipziger Buchmesse, March 15, 2018



Translated by Andrea Scrima from the original German edition Am Fenster, wo die Nacht einbricht: Aufzeichnungen (At the window, where night breaks: Notations), Limmat Verlag, Zurich, Switzerland 2013


Read the full selection on Statorec.


What one lives from. The brief moments of happiness when one encounters something, a person, a plant, an animal, a phenomenon that touches one in the most profound way, speaks to one, captures, delights one, like chemical elements that attract one another, do not wish to separate. A moment of this kind can be triggered by a musical modulation (Mozart, Chopin, Wagner…) that “strikes” like lightning, pierces the heart so deeply that one never forgets this moment, brief as it might be.—Leafing through an encyclopedia, we are taken by the portrait photo of someone long since deceased, as fierce as love at first sight; the gesticulation of a tree branch catches our eye and, it seems to the viewer, is directed at him; the particular hue of a pond in a watercolor is perceived as a “soul color,” a butterfly as messenger, a lonely cloud as a being that was waiting for one to finally see it; the sudden comprehension of another being; an elective affinity, entered into in a trice with creatures or things of an entirely different provenance. These magical connections between things ordinarily foreign to one another can be induced by works of art, in moments when we are completely open to the point of endangerment, or physically weakened by an ailment; the nerves are raw, the mind is wide awake, perceives, draws connections it would not have in a stronger state.—Spoke to Jannis Zinniker yesterday about these redemptive moments.

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The earliest memories of the self, and how the mind retains them: a fleeting moment, a vivid, invisible color in the mind, nothing more than the stark perception of oneself in the world, the immensity of time, the distant certainty of death. The child who looks around in wonder and thinks to itself that the grandmother and grandfather were also, at one time, children: but does the child really believe this? It is a kind of theoretical knowledge that it accepts; after all, the child is reasonable enough to understand that, for instance, things fall from up to down, and hence the concept of gravity is plausible, useful for explaining numerous phenomena. But when the child compares its own perceived superiority to the limited worlds of the adults it sees around it, the constraint of their understanding concerning the simplest, most self-evident things, does it really believe it will ever be anything but a child? It is like looking at an old photograph and focusing one’s attention on some fleeting detail—the crisp shadow of a branch on a wall, a reflection in a water glass—and thinking this really happened this way, this was exactly so in this moment, but there is no way to understand this or to comprehend a past consisting of infinite such moments that happened in such a way and no other. Better to remain in the present, in the certain understanding of what one is: a child, forever or almost, while everything else remains pure speculation.

And you. Do you remember how we sat on a balcony—was it in Gythion?—and I asked you what it was you wanted to do; we’d been traveling for weeks already and I was beginning to miss the studio, amazed that you could spend so much time doing nothing. What do you want to do with your life? And you, who had always been hesitant to lay claim to anything, to wrap your fingers around it and close your fist over it and say It’s mine, who had been vacillating for too many years already, accustomed now to indecision, to squandering time, said you wanted to play the piano. The speed and certainty with which you delivered your response startled me. Good, I said, then we’ll move your piano to the studio when we get back to Berlin, and when we did, it was so huge and heavy I thought the sagging floorboards in the rickety old factory building might cave in, but they didn’t. And then you began to play, and that’s what you’ve been doing ever since: all you ever needed was permission, someone to say إفتح يا سمسم, Open Sesame, though it wasn’t the treasure of forty thieves locked inside the cave that you sought, but your own.

We spent years piecing through our family histories. We were looking for the black box, the irreducible core of things, telling each other story after story until we narrowed it down to an essential repertoire, one for you and one for me, the Story of A. and the Story of C., and these became the stories we told each other, over and over again, trying to make sense of them; wondering if we were numbing ourselves to their effects as the groove we dug grew deeper and deeper. And where are we now? Our exchange orbits around a child into whom half of you has flowed, and half of me, whatever it is we carriers of genetic information might be, living libraries. We’re no longer children, but once we were like two orphans who’d left behind a trail of breadcrumbs, and then we woke up and found they were gone and there was no way to retrace our steps or to begin again. And so I took one path, and you took another, and it’s the love for a child we have in common now; the worry. Appendicitis on my side of the family, Goodpasture’s Disease on yours; diabetes on mine, cancer on yours. Schizophrenia on mine, schizophrenia on yours—but your piano is still in my studio, and it always will be.

Is there a way to live between the lines, to suspend time? You would remain in Manhattan with your wife and son, I’d stay in Berlin, but there could be a sliver of space we’d inhabit together, a shelf where you’d place the things you still have and I’d place mine between them, like the small objects in tarnished teapots and carved wooden boxes we used to give each other as presents: the dried end of a vine branch tapering to a perfect spiral; a thin slice of sedimentary rock interlaced with transparent hues of violet, perfect haikus in lieu of the more sentimental declarations we shied away from. I still have a collection of bellybutton lint, numerous tiny balls I imagine to be baby blue from a sweater I gave you, a color that matched your eyes. When I check to see, I discover they’re all in shades of gray with the exception of two, which are dark pink.

I remember the blisters on each of your knuckles from stretching canvases for that elderly painter—what was his name?—who was finally, towards the end of his life, having a major exhibition of his work. I remember standing on the sidewalk on Westervelt Avenue after the building almost burned down, the dogs on leashes and the cat on my shoulder, or on yours, and I was suddenly infused with a sense of joy and limitless potential—the joy of sheer survival, no doubt, because I can still see you heating up a can of Campbell’s Mushroom Soup and stirring in pepper and maybe chives and all at once the kitchen filling up with white smoke, it took a moment to understand that the soup and the smoke were entirely unconnected, and we had just enough time to grab the animals and run, a matter of seconds—and I said if we can’t live here anymore, let’s move to Europe. I remember a night you didn’t come home; I stayed up late working on something and cut myself with an X-acto blade and had to go to the hospital for stitches, and when I returned early the next morning you still weren’t there, you hadn’t had a chance to be alarmed by the drips in the sink, by the bloody gauze, I had nearly cut off my thumb by mistake and left behind what looked like a crime scene, the kind of thing we do when we need to externalize something, to make a thing obvious that we already know inside, but you hadn’t had a chance to see it and feel sorry. These were the things we never talked about.

I remember sitting in a bathing suit on a craggy shore in the Peloponnese, turning my head and suddenly seeing you instead of the man beside me, my first real relationship seven years after I’d left. It was as close to a hallucination as I’ve ever experienced.

The first time I came back to New York I walked around the old neighborhood like a Rumpelstiltskin; I stood across the street from that pub—was it Third Avenue?—where you’d rented a studio on the second floor from a man who was a friend, but who’d charged us fifty bucks to drive a few paintings downtown, a man who let us do all the carrying, whose jaw shifted as his expression turned smug and he decided to rob us, but you no longer lived in our apartment and you no longer worked in that studio, you’d packed my things into boxes and taken our cats and moved to the west side, and it was my first experience with returning to a former life and finding the vital parts missing, like being back from the dead and discovering oneself invisible.

What was possible, you ask? In the end, is it only what we choose to do? Would I have stayed, would I have come back if you’d asked me to—back in the time before cell phones and email, Facebook and Twitter, the distance unimaginable by today’s standards and a telephone call to London far too expensive. I still have them somewhere: letters and postcards and a photo of you with a bandaged thumb, an odd parallel, now that I think of it.

These are the objects I choose to put on the shelf today: a baseball you kept in a box of old stuff; a sepia drawing your brother had made. An old Polaroid of a sweet kid with a sideways grin, leaning on the arm of a chair next to a handsome and valiant hound dog named Red, the picture you sent me a duplicate of after I’d come across it in a box of old photographs. And a faded green canvas bag among the tools in my studio, the bag you carried your laundry in even before I knew you.