The problem wasn’t the decision I made. It was the way I framed it: ignoring all the counter-indications. I happened to be reading a novel about a detective assuming a false identity, pretending to be a murdered woman in order to catch her killer; the suspects became her friends, she grew deeply confused. I mistook one alignment for another. The idea of reckoning outweighed the particular facts. I could see the ocean and overlook the missing envelope, the time change. The first few weeks were like the opening scenes in a movie, everything taking on significance it would later shed. Lizards and rabbits startled when I ran past them. The only good thing in that apartment was the view—of a gas station and the mountains far behind it; my reflection would appear on a distant summit as I made coffee. We learned to peel arguments like fruit, dig out the essential nutrients. I listened too well to multiple paradigms, some useful, some intricate. I wasn’t unhappy exactly. I was looking for the right theory when all along it was a matter of method. Several realities were constructed in a room with small windows. We talked about transcendence: another strange impulse. There’s a kind of freedom derived from unanswerable questions. I miss the hypothetical, if anything. All winter, I borrowed anecdotes and stuck pins in them, began to regret this. I’d been studying families, their narrative strains and my unease, but the speech made an obvious thunderbolt: a revered scholar who said something about inspiration, or perhaps desperation, and reminded me of walking around a lake. I didn’t attend the banquet in his honor because I knew. He was right. There followed a long summer, the reinvention of betrayal. By this time a new roommate had arrived, an actress, who understood about appearances and layers. To exit, I signed documents, carried my boxes to the post office on foot.
I could say it was a mistake—my brain got the better of me, I didn’t understand what I was doing that year. But I decided; one doesn’t end up in the desert by accident. I applied and was accepted. I thought I should try to fit all the pieces of my life together and take them somewhere new. The logic was bright and distant. I’d been pet-sitting— stepping in and out of others’ lives, animals’ routines. I didn’t realize what a comfort this was until the morning I saw a man smuggling his dog onto the elevator in student housing. Then I knew. One can’t actually study empathy, only search for patterns. I thought I’d bring a mind and train it; the ideas would be enough. This wasn’t ambition, but driving uncertainty. I didn’t redirect well, as a kid, wasn’t easily distracted if my attention had fixed on a knife or socket. Even beforehand I sensed I was ignoring something urgent: a small animal sacrifice, the silent deity requiring blood. I arrived and began reading directions. What I learned was the mind wants to run circles, the same every day, and the legs memorize a path, not the eyes. I needed seasons, weather. But the sun kept asking the wrong questions. About vivisection and theory. I couldn’t explain correctly and also listen. It meant categories of being. Or let fall the facts. CeridwenHall holds an MFA from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), where she now teaches composition and serves as an editorial assistant atThe Ninth Letter. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cold Mountain Review,Denver Quarterly, Poet Lore, Confrontation, and elsewhere.