by Mark David Goodson
It was during our tax-prep that I knew we needed to get away together.
We had spent the 2016 tax year throwing W-2s, 1099s, anything that might register in a schedule A, B, C, or Z into tax folders. She marked hers “2016 Taxes” and I marked mine “New Taxes.” When she asked me that morning to put the tax folder in my bag so that we have it at the appointment, it never dawned on me that there would be two separate folders to bring in.
Sitting in uncomfortable, industrial chairs with our tax professional, we had to explain that half our documents were missing. We had to use our phones, accessing personal information over a 4G Network—in tax nondeductible payments—in order to get the refund we’ve come to rely on every April.
We were told that our tax credit toward day care was $600 per child, even though we paid 15 times that in 2016 between our two kids. Then we were told we could claim only 5% of my wife’s graduate school payments.
There are certain moments you can pin down—like photos on a cork board frame—where you’ve just had enough. We were Michael Douglass sitting in traffic in the movie Falling Down, or Denzel Washington staring at a mini-bottle of liquor before his deposition in Flight. Enough was enough.
So Miranda, my wife, and I planned to stick to the man by skipping work to go to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn Museum. It’s all the buzz in and around D.C. It seems once a year one of D.C.’s museums creates a storm of social media posts that drive swarms of locals and tourists alike to its doors. Last year it was the The Beach at the National Building Museum. This year it’s the Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn.
I sat in front of my laptop the next day at work, clicking my mouse like a Jeopardy contestant who thought his buzzer was broken, refreshing my browser to get passes. No luck. The rest of the internet-surfing, wanna-get-away world had the same idea, apparently.
Without a pass, it takes hours in line just for the chance to step foot in the exhibit.
Each room, according to visitors, is a visual immersion into the infinite. Using the art of reflection, objects, dazzling colors, and lights appear to stretch out indefinitely. It’s a visual illusion, of course. Just a carnival house of mirrors done with the utmost taste, precision, and artistry. But, what explains its popularity? Why was it the first thing I imagined doing when my wife and I were fed up with the world? Why did I sit in a CPA’s cubicle with a longing to observe the infinite?
We long for oblivion.
Well, I long for oblivion.
I have long recognized as a man in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction that oblivion is what I wanted in those active addictions. In fact, my recovery has been less about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, and more about breaking my image up in a thousand fragments in order to collect them one by one—piece them back together to form one whole and coherent image, something you can see and feel and trust.
I thought that my wife and I could use that reflection—that any pair of partners could—the kind that breaks you into the pieces that are assembled back into the present moment. What if we could see each other split up into the many selves that forged the single person we share our lives with? Would it devastate or empower? If we bore ourselves naked, not just to the bone, but to the very stardust of our souls, could we look? Would we want to? If she could see each fractured piece, would she still want me whole?
This is my past, parcelled for our present.
Sweaty hands. Bottle spin pointed to young lips. Unchartered ocean of awkwardness. Hearts beat; breaths pounded, lapping waves on a cold shore-line. No more alone. Most alone I’ve ever been.
Saliva down on the chin. I’m opening my mouth too much. Eyes open. Her eyes are closed. Hand moved up from under. Why did I cut my fingernails? Cuticles caught her shirt. So this is a breast, I thought, like I wasn’t raised on them; like I expected them to feel other-worldly; like it might free the stiffness of the suffocating world, best expressed in a bulge of denim.
“I’m ready,” the beer spoke from her breath.
“Tomorrow,” I said.
And, in that window of opportunity after school and before basketball practice, she lay in my bed. In my bed with that checkered plaid sheet. My twin bed too small and kid-like for the emotive-atomic bomb about to land—for the mushroom cloud of transformative power about to burst the man free from the boy.
The latex covering. No matter. Missionary. All I could trust. And the flushed cheeks. The flourish of thrusts in shame’s pale shadow.
Other-wordly? Hardly. Not alien or foreign. Rather, a discovery of what had always been. What had been with me, dogged me the way the unfinished basement nags the home-owner. A discovery of the part of me that had been saying, “finish me already” ever since I discovered that discarded Penthouse Magazine, laying like the Holy Grail in the grit and grime of the sidewalk. “Finish this and see.” I saw. But it was not that I saw, it was what I saw: I saw myself.
Out-of-body? No. More deeper in the Body. No more would the Body roam like a moon to the planet of the mind. The Body in exactitude. The Body known in precision. No more a limb the mind says lift, but a lifting limb. No more the leg the mind says walk, but a man walking forward. A fusion of mind and body. Formation of something so bound to this earth, so near, so close, that I forgot all those childhood dreams of space travel. A rush of “here and now” so heavy and hard my muscles buckled at every tendon, joints twitched in shock. I saw myself. And then I saw her.
She’d aged from the girl who said, “I’m ready.”
She’d grown, like her body a time-lapse of flowers in April.
She’d changed in every moan and whimper.
She’d become my accomplice, my partner.
My counterpart in dying.
Why does she (this same one, this accomplice) sit in my lap in the cafeteria? I wondered, only knowing my Body and therefore the world for three weeks. Other people are watching this, I thought and watched others, sipping their milk, or their sodas, at lunch, some through straws or open cartons or punctured tin. Why is she laughing and like, doting all over me? I didn’t look at her. Her hair fell over me like wilted petals.
Carnal carnage. The sort cocaine concocts.
By carnage, I mean abandoned shame, like those Chinese mothers abandon their baby girls in the woods. Shame is fruitless when the bounty of fruit before you tempts like that tree in Eden. Apple core and orange peel. Consumer of flesh. Automaton of pleasure.
“What’s wrong?” She said, holding it.
“Just give it a minute.”
She moved it around like a joystick on a broken gaming console.
“You want to bump one on me?”
And I did. It didn’t fix the joystick. The descending arcade-run of a technicolor “Game Over” screen was audible in my imagination. She moved it but it didn’t move me. I was lost to my own Body. But it was okay because I was numb to my own Body, and oblivion was only another bump away.
I spoke with her after my boss had left. Most of the rest of the office had left as well.
She was witty. Her banter tantalized. I had learned to love the numbing drip more than the intimacy of dance, and the rise and fall of start to finish. I was in control. And to control one’s own pleasure is to feel the wrath of God.
There were no photos of her on the internet. We were in the dying years of courtship. It would be the “golden age” if there were anything golden about adolescent sex. There isn’t. It’s all hollow glitz and dumb glitter. It’s a blinding. The brain of a lizard dangling over a flame. The only golden age of youth is the green-gone-brown death of what never was. In that dangling instant—when we think it is—we fly without wings—the fastest dying star in the supernova.
She made me laugh. She eluded all opportunities to close out the phone call with a physical meeting. She was the cat racing up the tree, and I was the barking dog clawing bark. She’ll come down, I thought, eventually.
After one month up that tree, her dainty banter over the land line like the most frustrating of pop-up ads—the ones where if you click anywhere but the invisible X on the upper-right-hand corner, you will be redirected—my mind said that for happiness sake I’d better force the meeting. I couldn’t crack the code, so I executed my nuclear option. My life—suddenly—became a failure if I couldn’t solve the puzzle of this assistant on the other line.
“You shouldn’t have barged into my office like that.”
“You left me no option.”
“There’s always an option not to barge into someone’s place of work. I was in a meeting.”
“There really was no option.”
“Well, you need to stop calling me. That was embarrassing. You need to stop calling me. Or else.”
I hung up the phone and walked to the bathroom stall to experience the sweet wrath of God in a bump of powder.
I was to be married the next day.
Alone, in my hotel room, I cried.
How could she love these many pieces, I might as well have been thinking. I never understood why I was crying then until now—now that I broke it all up into fragments of light. What a sad and dim broken piece of light that I was, shimmering to death before my wedding.
How can I gather them? How am I deserving of this cohesion? This pronouncement? How does this “I do” adhere each chink of light? Can I act like some ring can make all that dumb glitter gold?
The parts we gather.
We throw them into the hands of another.
Make me whole.
“And I take you, Miranda, for my lawful glitter alchemist, to fix me and fuse me from this day forward, for better, for worse, for busted, for broken, in shatter and shine, until our light dances in oblivion once more.”
There weren’t enough clicks from my index finger to get us to the Hirshorn. We couldn’t afford to take any more day off of work anyway, damn the man. Far too many doctor’s appointments and vaccinations this year for us to indulge the witness of the each other shattering in the prisms of reflective light.
But it wasn’t for lack of effort.
Maybe we’ll take the kids to the Building Museum instead, and watch those little bodies we forged from light run around the lobby in the green of their sexlessness.
Mark David Goodson is the writer of the popular blog “The Miracle of the Mundane” that chronicles the bliss of ordinary life. He and his wife have been practicing dumb glitter alchemy for six years of marriage, and they have two kids to show for it. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.