Friday, July 5, 2013

Pin Prick

The vertigo, if that's what happens when you leave your body, used to occur only when I drove my mother to her doctor's office on Tuesday mornings. At the precise moment I recall the name of her blood test, usually as I turn right onto Terhune Road, it starts. It's no use trying to avoid it. Even when I don’t think about it, or when I take a different route, my mother always asks me.

          "Charlotte, I can never remember, what's this blood test called again?"

          I tell her the three letters and she frowns.

          "That's right, INR. Just like the Latin inscription on the cross. Why can't I ever remember it? Your father would have remembered."

           I can hear her talking to me—my hearing is normal—but the trees on either side of the road blur. The sensation of driving a car, which up till then I had taken for granted, is an alien experience, how I might have imagined it would feel to be jettisoned through the chute of a galactic green wormhole without actually moving at all.

          After this happens two or three times, I find myself anticipating the shift, and I begin to notice more. I will try to describe what is so extraordinary about the experience but, because it's visceral rather than intellectual, it's difficult to recapture in words.

          The trees are still trees; in my rear-view mirror I recognize the row of immense black trunks jammed into the earth, with their vast green canopies branching out above and interlacing like a tunnel. But I'm also aware of the intricate root system holding each tree in place, spreading in all directions beneath the surface of what we see, delicate and necessary, almost unbearably detailed and private.

          Possibly because of this mirrored perception, there is a pause. I'm a still object in a moving vehicle; I am in the moving car, while the tree is in the spinning earth, and now a line connects us. For a fraction of infinity there is only this line.

          Everyone probably experiences something like it on a daily basis, only we don't dwell on it. It must be wrong to acknowledge it because people so rarely do. But why? Because it's indescribable or unmanageable, or because it makes us feel incongruent with familiar concepts of time and space, or because we experience a congress that may at last be impossible to sunder? Anyway, we try not to notice.

I try not to notice at first, but I’m afraid. All too often, fear is no real match for curiosity.

"Are you cold? Should I close the windows?" The voice, mine, sounds false, raised over the din of wind rushing past the bullet of our moving car.

          I see goosebumps rising on my mother’s arm, little hairs bristle.

          "No, I like it," she says and turns away, toward the unasked-for pleasure, the open window. I hear her flat shame, at having had to speak of it, inflected with stubbornness. Her white hair that hangs almost to her shoulders is swept up in the gale and my mother closes her eyelids.

          Something of the moment will sustain us long afterwards, like a finger holding down a piano key.

The lot is full so I decide to let my mother out at the curb and continue to circle the office complex till I find a parking space. Before pulling away, I watch my mother reach for the railing where a flight of steps leads to the entrance. My mother’s hands float out slightly, as if she is weightless, or poised on a tightrope. She is dwarfed by the floppy canvas handbag that dangles from her arm, and a tuft of her white hair remains uplifted, like a periscope.

          I scan the parking lot filled with cars and drive slowly, imagining how I’ll smooth my mother’s hair in the waiting room. Maybe I’ll suggest a haircut. As I pull into a parking space, I launch into the future.

          Soon, my mother will sit on the high chair in the lab, where her feet dangle above the floor. The image will amuse me, even though it is an image of submission, and I will take a picture with my cell phone, so I can try to pinpoint the source of my unease, I'll tell myself, when I have time later. During the click of the camera, I will feel the independent arrangement of my surroundings holding still, as if captured. It is a false impression, of course, and I imagine this is how power might feel, if such a thing exists.

          Mechanically, my mother will extend her hand; it’s small and light brown, and surprisingly smooth. She will probably ask the nurse.

          “What’s this called? A finger prick?”

          “Finger stick.

Inevitability. It means everything that will happen has happened already. Backwards and forwards in every direction, that line that connects is also cancelling. It's just a dot from our usual perspective, a pin prick, so easy to overlook. But with a slight shift, everything is connected and there is only black.

          I recall the gust of wind, without apprehending its beginning or end, imagining it is just another line in which we barely notice the subtle convergence of all points. The feeling of this is different from the thought. How can I show you?

          I was wrong; my anxiety during these moments isn't really about leaving my body. It’s a woozy apprehension of what it means to be eternal, a ceaseless, concurrent process of being and negation.

          The nurse will squeeze the tip of my mother’s middle finger and prick it with a blade, catching a drop of her blood on a paper swab before it wells up. My mother flinches but continues to watch her open hand. I can’t look.

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