Driftwords – The Unknown

March 17th, 2008

I woke up to the sound of my father’s cough; he was close, but separated by at least a wall and a floor. I mulled the sound over for a while. Was that really my father’s voice? Something in the timber resonated, but I wasn’t fully convinced. Is it possible that my father is here, one floor down? I lofted the question out into the distance and waited, and waited. I drifted back down to the ground, silently. All that greeted my mental eye was a blank grey wall. No clues, no intuitions, nothing. I nudged the question around a bit but it didn’t stir, and showed no inclination of taking its own initiative. Slowly, I went through the processes of initiative myself. I do know that I have a father, that much is certain, and certain qualities of his voice persist, even when I’ve completely forgotten my own identity. But for the moment, that’s all and there’s nothing else. Just a blank grey wall, and a tremendous sense of rest. Nothing moves here, nothing matters, nothing exists.

Later I return to the question and ponder it again, slowly. A tiny sliver of my waking-world brain has intruded, and it is needling me. I really ought to be able to figure out whether or not the voice I heard was my father’s. I stare at the blank grey wall a bit more, and then finally decide to cheat. I open my eyes just a tiny bit. A tiny bit is all it takes – I see my bedroom in Los Angeles and the question is answered in a flash too fast to ponder. No, that wasn’t my father’s voice. Because I live in California and he does not, and my apartment doesn’t have two stories. Quickly, I close my eyes and scissor off the inrushing data. It’s been contained. The grey world wins for the moment; all that exists now is my mental eye, and a tiny image of my bedroom that floats around, disconnected from any further information.

This morning, my waking-world brain is not granted immediate superiority upon demand. But neither does it give up. “What does your apartment look like?” waking-world brain demands, in its quiet, patient, incontrovertible way. Is it in a house? Is it in a building? Are you in the city? In the countryside? Is there any grass around where you live?

I ponder, but only because it’s hard to ignore waking-world brain’s slow, but persistent agitation against the backdrop of nothing. I wonder, but not with any speed or direction. I try to remember anything, anything at all about my home. Or about myself. There’s nothing. Just emptiness, and grey the color of a misty dawn. Or dusk. Or something permanent and in between the two that never changes. I am no one, I possess nothing apart from this single mental eye that is wholly content to contemplate the grey and silence. It is very restful here. But I only know it is restful because waking-world brain has managed to insert a sliver of a memory of what it feels like to be awake – and I have a basis for comparison that leads to the adjective “restful.”

Waking-world brain is like water that erodes thousands of miles of rock given enough time, or like the tiny plants that burrow into concrete slabs, then sprout and burst the immobile into pieces. It is soft, it is quiet, but it persists. Though I’m wholly content to contemplate the grey, I also feel no judgment or rationalization here; when the questions come, I turn to look at them simply because they’re there. Who are you? Where are you? Is there any grass outside your apartment?

The questions are there so I do their bidding. Mentally, I imagine myself getting out of bed and leaving my bedroom. Miraculously, as I walk, the hallway appears. Then the living room. Then the front door. I open the door and descend the stairs.

Ah, aha. Oh. Oh.

Clever waking-world brain. All it takes is a glimpse and the rest of my identity reappears, like a mirage reemerging after a bank of fog burns off. There is some grass where I live. Not much, and it’s all consolidated in a tiny decorative yard, but it is there.

Traces of the grey linger into the morning. The oscillation between constituted and dissolved, between present and disappeared, echoes in my imagination. It occurs to me, more often than usual, that the waking world is a mutually agreed upon reality.

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