“THIS MUST BE THE PLACE”
[Scene: A person wakes up on a sidewalk in a very quiet suburban city center.]
The hard ground frames the bulk of my vision, gray-black, void of color. I don’t know what it is or what it is called. It seems to be made of stone; not one kind of stone – it is not like a stone I’ve seen. Perhaps this is part of the ground already, with excavations done on natural terrain to smooth it out. They would need a huge team of men to do this. And sharp objects. It seems unlikely. It is too clean, to level, to be tasked to men and materials. Maybe it has been liquified, poured, and compressed together. Was it melted? Pebbles are amassed above it, weaving through cracks that are both organized and clean but also broken and breakable. They, the pebbles, press into my right cheek. My body, still horizonal and low to the ground, feels hot as the temperature rises. Using the strength of my arms, I lift myself up. I see that the stone stretches across the surface of the earth and is multi-directional, clean edges guiding something somewhere. There are so many. How strange - why are they? Do they grow like this?
I look east and squint against the light. It is morning. There are clouds; that is familiar. Mostly familiar. There are a few cloud types that seem impossibly crafted; thin, precise lines weave through the blue sky. Trails of wispy diagonal puffs that also have clean edges (for a cloud). I can’t believe it. I have never been much for a God, or any God, but I understand the concept. If an entity as such exists, these people here must believe that he or she or it (or none of the above) must be made in the likeness of a perfect snail. It only makes sense. If these are the clouds and the stone they have here, I am certain of it. I must be surrounded by snail worshippers.
I gather myself. Realizing that everything around me is in the likeness of snail mucus is a lot to take in. But, I proceed. Measuring my body against the sky, I orient vertically on my feet and look around. My horizon is now cluttered with a whole new vision, something previously unforeseeable and unthinkable. I have never once seen a shape so clean in nature. This must be a dream. Only, I know I have just slept, so I know this is not a dream.
They are huge things, like mountains, and there are a lot of them. They stretch as far back as I can see, some smaller and some larger. I can’t make out their material yet, whether they are constructed with hands or if they are natural, geometric wonders. But they have edges, too – and they seem to connect to the stone material on the ground.
I run toward them, the shapes, with hard edges that seem still against the contrast of the fading snail lines in the sky. They are far in the distance, but I keep running. The ground is hot and the bottoms of my feet burn but I am running. I’ll run until I’m close to one. I’ll run until I touch one. I’ll run until I know one.
As I reach the first batch of these structures, they begin to make complete sense to me. They are definitely like large snail bodies, only less round and more – flat? More flat. Intersecting flat snail bodies. They must be used for protection, of course. The soft flesh of their bodies need a hard exterior, a shell. I am not entirely sure why there are so many of these around; I am a soft, fleshy creature and one of these could protect many of me. Do these structures grow too? They don’t seem organic – they feel foreign. But I could just be mistaken. Most certainly, if these protective exteriors are producing in these kind of multiples, there must be a need for them.
I must get inside one.
Entering this structure is not as intuitive as I originally had hoped. There are people, like me, in many directions, giving me no indication of a point of entry. They walk with their eyes fast to either their feet, something in their hand (to be determined, but likely guess at this point is a snail), or straight ahead. They are not like ants; they don’t move in teams and aren’t heading to the same place. They are more like the lines in the sky, crossing and passing and yet somehow avoiding collision.
Just as it seems that I need to rule out their guidance to enter this mountainous stone snail shell, a body emerges from a dark space within. I wonder why I didn’t see it before. Where there is a shape, there is also a shape within a shape, very low to the ground, just tall and wide enough for people to travel through. This shape seems to open, if only briefly, to allow a transition. And the more I look, the more I see additional smaller shapes that are embedded in the structure, only much higher. They have a different material make up. They are reflective, like water, but are unmoving. I can almost make out something behind them, a sort of transparency. The shape closest to the ground appears solid, something I can easily define: wood. I see wood, smooth and dense. The familiarity instantly comforts me. Determined and even a bit excited about this recognition, I make my way toward this point of entry, and stare. Some apparent symbols are carved into the wood that have the formation, “COURTHOUSE.”
I’m cautious at first. My hand reaches out multiple times and halts. What if it is a Snail God I’m about to meet? Maybe this is where rituals involving snails are performed. I really hope it’s not; I don’t want to see the snails, and I wouldn’t want to know what that entails. Lots of mucus. Or what if there is – just nothing? What if this is a giant hole? Or maybe this is where everybody enters and exits, and people are like ants, and this a home base for a colony after all. I look at the inscription again: “COURTHOUSE.”
My heart is racing. My hand pushes against the wood and it shifts away from me, making a small, shrill sound as it moves. It halts. I push, and it opens wider. I push again, and it opens even more, this time wide enough for my body to fit through. Afraid of it snapping shut on my delicate skin, afraid of perpetual limbo, I run through, almost leap through, into this shell of a place that, for all I know, will be the death of me.
I arrive still intact. I double check that my lungs still consume air, and I tap on my chest a few times for extra certainty. The air is cooler, but not uncomfortably so. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the light change. Everything at first appears dark, but gradually some sense of environment reveals itself. My heart stops racing. There seems to be no immediate threat. My feet land on a black, soft material marked with small colorful spots that appear sticky or hard (but not both at once). My naked toes rub against them. I look around.
More than 30 people stand in a straight formation, serried, like a tree laying on its side. The people in here are the opposite of out there; they are still and focused (but most are holding that small item that has yet to be investigated personally – my guess is still related to snails). Some look ahead at the back of the heads of others. Telepathy? Some make noises to each other softly; with this there is more of a directness, but eyes still wander. They move their heads up and down. This is the kind of system I know. They are following something. They move ahead, one by one, entering another open structure that chirps as each one passes. Another human stands near this and touches each body from head to toe with their hands as they pass. This must be the privileged line; to be touched must be important. It feels ceremonial, ritualistic. Snail God or not, whatever they are waiting for, I will take my chances. I am already here. This feels right.
I stand with them, and only move forward when they do. I keep my eyes on the back of the head in front of me. I attempt to telepathize, but I clearly don’t have the skills they have. I pretend to. When the head in front of me sinks, I sink too. When it turns, I turn with it. When it shifts closer to the head in front of it, I get closer. I feel a sense of belonging; this is what all snail worshippers must feel.
I listen to the sound of the chirp from the structure ahead. “Go,” I hear. I’m not sure what that means, but I copy that sound from my own mouth, muttering “go, go, go” softly, over and over again, until it mimics the sound I hear ahead. Satisfied, I stop reciting that, and listen around to other clues so I can pass through, just in case “go” in not enough. The person behind me says, “Do you see her? In the red?” So, I begin to say, “Do you see her, in the red?” until that phrase becomes comfortable in my tongue. It is hard to do this and keep up with the head in front of me; it ebbs forward and away quickly, almost swerving; I get dizzy in following. How did I pick the most challenging human head to stand behind?
It is my turn to approach. The head I am following is released from my vision. I walk up to the formation that chirps, made of something I’ve definitely never seen before. It is shiny. I reach out to touch it, but I am instantly grabbed by the wrist. “What are you doing?” I don’t know what this means, but I’ve practiced, so I say, “Go.” “What? No, what are you doing here?” I say “Go” again, this time twice, hoping it makes a better impression. “Go, Go.” The person keeps a grip on my wrist, which is getting tighter. I wait for the hands to travel along my body, as they did the others. To really impress, I recite perfectly, “Do you see her, in the red?” To which the human, in a chuckle, releases the grip slightly. Two other people come over to me. Maybe this is really special. “You have good taste, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” I’m completely ecstatic; I am accepted. Their words roll around in my head like rivers; I give my body to them, close my eyes, and wait to see where they take me.
They hold onto my body tightly – not just one man, but two; I let my weight dig into the ground, to which they anchor their hands around my hips even tighter. To be touched in such a way, so lovingly, is one of the greatest gifts these worshippers of snails could ever give me. In this euphoric moment, I feel rejuvenated by this God, at mercy to them, completely trusting of my skin to them and them to mine. We must be of the same type, after all. Eyes still closed, I lean back farther; my heart opens to receive more. Do they feel it like I do? As I lean, it occurs to me that I have given nothing back to these wonderful men. How could I have been so selfish? They are all hands and I’m all weight and wonder. As I realize this, my eyes peel open to beg their forgiveness, to offer them something more, but I am simultaneously thrown back onto that hot hard stone I traveled upon to get here.
My knees press into the ground; traces of blood surface where they land. The two men retreat into the darkness I once entered. The heat of the sun lands on my back, and I stare at the mangled leg hair and twisted skin that braces against the stone, now stained red. A momentary pause between then and about to. And grief hits me.
A wave of pain replaces any bliss I felt only moments ago. I am struck with shame, the past unfairly unavailable, irretrievable. So close – in this moment, it is as close as it will ever be. But the done cannot be undone. It slips away. I cannot undo this. What did I do? The wave hits again, and I sob. Between heaving I gather brief glimpses at my bleeding knees. My fingers clutch the ground. The moment gets farther away. I feel the weight of my chest align with regret and guilt and shame. I am not okay. The panic rushes in, the knowing of I am not okay, that I am not okay. An anxiety bigger than my body squeezes my ability to reconcile my actions. My mind races incoherently, the pain of my head and chest moving slowly to my stomach. I feel nauseous now, a deep wrong in myself, a new scar within me causing darkness. I look at the veins in my hands catching the weight of my heaving and I just may vomit. The veins look thick and green beneath my skin. My knees continue to bleed. I imagine myself from afar, see myself as one of them may see me. Am I okay? I dry-heave but nothing emerges from within me. Tears lands on the mysterious surface below me, straining from my eyes between vocal reverberations, haunting, stiff, sharp and determined to eject.
But nothing ever comes. I am defeated by the pain. It settles. I stop fighting it. The nausea is tolerable now, but still a throb beneath my skin, still a wake I can trace.
It is my fault. I know it is my fault. I have done something wrong. What did I do that the others did not? What did I not do that the others did?
I feel the weight of my body against the ground even more. I become overly aware of my own shape, the thickness of my limbs, how material-like they are. Did the others come bearing gifts? Memories are faulty. Think. I spent so much time following the head, reciting the sounds, I didn’t think to see. I must be missing something.
There are lines in this liquified stone material. Perfect lines.
Think. I look at my knees and the blood.
What were they holding? What was everyone holding?
I’ve been assuming up until this point that the mysterious item in their hands was a snail, or some item designed for their work. Am I wrong? Maybe snails aren’t the answer? Or maybe I need a snail in my hand, too? Embarrassment for my lack of wisdom consumes me. I must aim to see more clearly.
I stand myself up and begin to look around, yet again. I walk. This time, I am slow to move. No, I won’t run. Every gap between strides, I pause, and take note of my surroundings. People move around me in large quantities. I catch brief glimpses of their hands, but I don’t look long: I am just not there yet. I open my eyes to this – monuments to maybe snails everywhere, liquified stone ground, grass between the stone that is only grass, magically just grass (where are the other plants?, some colored materials on the stone (sticky, soft, and hard), and on the grass in many places there are lots and lots of tiny objects that just rest upon the ground (I am understanding now that they have strange materials here). I reach down to pick one up of these materials. It is colorful. Red and white and blue. Soft and malleable. A brown liquid is inside; a quick sniff reveals an overwhelming sweetness. The inscription says “SLURPIE.” Maybe snail food, likely not. I’m not so sure about these snails anymore. I’m still in a lot of doubt. I put it to my lips anyway, admittedly withdrawn from any consequences (what more do I have to lose), when my tongue nearly bursts.
I have never in my life experienced such sugary wonder. I hold the liquid to my face by pressing the malleable object into it and move my tongue around to gather any of it I can find. My eyes widen. More – more. I move faster against my own better judgment and find another similar object and sniff and lick. I move around these perfected blades of just grass and continue to find such sweetness – such splendor! It’s everywhere! This is what grows here. Their flowers don’t look like mine do but they must be flowers, sugary sweetly edible flowers.
Gathering as many flowers as I can, heaps of them awkwardly fumbling in my embrace, I look for a cooler spot to lick and tongue the goodness. There are not many of these around, but I do manage to find a tree, a normal looking tree (albeit a very small one). It suffices as I treat myself. The self-awareness of my own rejection is still a new memory, and I feel a need to assuage the remains of my guilt. Besides, in front of this tree to which I self-medicate are two humans sitting upon a mysterious mound. I watch them while I consume. I can vaguely make out their bodies between horizonal strips of wood, which are mounted upon yet another shiny display of material that I’ve never encountered.
I can’t see their hands. Not yet. But I lick and watch. Not watching was my weakness before; my knees won’t forget it. I am starting to feel a bit better, a bit more light-hearted. Thank goodness for the flowers here.
Many minutes pass in this state. The sky has turned a mid-day blue. The heat is pressing and the air is thick, but a slight breeze moves through. My body catches it; the beads of sweat I wear cool my skin. And then I begin to listen.
I hear them whispering, saint-like, young, with their long hair and long clothing gently moving with the breeze. They have blue color on their eyelids and red on their lips. This I have never seen before; I wonder if everyone has these features, or if it is a rite of passage. Their voices are nearly inaudible as I lean in closer. In my experiences, two people chanting softly together is either a sign of good faith or terrible magic: never anything in between. If I am able to discern which of the two this is, I must hear what they are saying, even if I can’t understand.
I nudge myself closer, placing my “SLURPIE” labeled flower in the pile with the rest.
“Who is this guy behind us?”
“No idea – I’m getting the creeps.”
‘Yeah, me too. I think he can hear us. Should we just dart?”
“Yeah – maybe. But maybe not a run, just a fast walk.”
As I listen, I notice their tones getting more and more concerned.
“Hold on to your purse too, it seems like he may want it.”
“I’ll have my finger on the emergency dial, just in case.”
I watch their hands; they both, in unison, begin to move them closer to a soft object with an open mouth that rests just beside them. It appears to have more objects inside; I can hear clinging as they reach. They begin to stand. One of them pulls out a small, rectangle shiny object, clasping the hand around it. This – THIS – this may be what I need all along!
I tried to speak, I tried to ask them what they are holding, why they are holding it. Does God talk to you on it? Is this a massive snail telepathy device? Can you heal others through this? Is it merely a symbol of protection? I sprung forward as they did, leaning most of my body over their prior resting place, feet nearly leaving the ground, hips hinging my upper body to my lower, grasping for words that they may not understand, words inside of myself:
Inside, I am belching: WHAT IS THAT??? But outside, they must only hear noise. Their eyes lock with mine, and for the first time since my awakening, I see feelings. Their eyelids are unmoving, the light of their eyes flicking faintly with a still light. It is haunting, this suspended, air tight, seamless moment lasting for eternity in an instant: I see fear in them. And then, a change occurs, a seam breaks, and something else comes over them: pity. They look at me the way a mother would, finding her child doing something malicious to something innocent. They see me, both in fear and in sorrow. I reach my own hands to my lips, placing my feet more firmly back on the ground, trying to pull the words back into me. Their mouths open, too, only briefly, but nothing audible escapes them. Fish in water. If they could console me, they would; but their fear is greater than their warmth.
When nighttime comes. Buses shriek to fill the empty streets
and this night room with night sounds. One light hit’s the wall and
bounces onto the couch. Wanting sleep. Looking at me wanting sleep.
What do I tell the light? I say this moment like this empty room. The
only thing here is geometry and acute angles. I’m just a shadow too,
you know. I mirror something alive but I just follow life around and
hold my breath at noon. Shadows don’t feel but the move around like they
Then I think about Love. And I wonder if a shadow is Love, or does it just think it is Love?
simple observations that life is
nothing but moments of eyes like the sky (and if the sky is the only
thing moving then i must be water)
that in those moments when eyes undulate unravel back in
their heads and stretch shut like dark spandex... shoulders cradle,
hands pause to listen, eye brows stop performing, everyone just stops
performing and breathes.
My fortune said “Fortune Not Found: Abort, Retry, Ignore?”
the sky is a pink yellow and blue cotton candy machine disappearing
in the night.
everything goes quiet like the slow decay of my bathroom ceiling.
paint chips off. the moisture erodes cordial appearance. something
ancient. something indecent. its quiet in the bathtub. only the
ceiling which is falling piece by piece keeping me in. only the
porcelain that holds the water. only the gravity in the room. only the
door locked. never only.
take the water in my hands like the birds.
the last of the water not yet frozen.
some interaction between things.
some belief that spirituality lives in the ceiling. the porcelain. the
gravity. the locked door. the landscape, the golden people and the
birds falling off like blossoms. it's everyone's to experience but
becomes my own memory of something fleeting. impermanent, ephemeral.
the teller gives me money back. i say thank you, and walk out with
groceries. my shoe needs tied, and i tie it. my coat gets stuck on my
backpack and i adjust it. i make sure not to step on any cracks and
only look up when i feel eyes evaluating my precision. i accidentally
stare someone in the eyes. i put on mascara and it gets on my nose. i
look down and notice i have 5 minutes until i leave for work and it
doesnt bother me that i'm not ready.
I could be in a box or open in the universe and not know the difference.
The silence along the road. The blue gray concrete reflects back the sunlight; it is wandering, and I stay with it. There is nothing more to see than what there is as it passes by: ocean grasses, palm trees, and the sound of the wind that overlaps the steady passing. The windows of the car are down, and I can smell the seaweed in the distance; beneath the rotting, there is a smell that feels home. It is wild.
These are the moments the press against me like a blast of humid air; they leave you breathless against the warmth. It can be uncomfortable, but for the most part, this discomfort becomes an important memory. This short-lived moment where your skin must reconcile what is unwanted. And in the reconciliation, there is relief from it. And this passing moment becomes something permanently understood. The heat is something to be prepared for. The humidity will cling to your skin; but you know it will. You squint your eyes. You keep going.
There is no destination, really. Meandering is an art form, and mastering it means being ready for nothing at all times. It is through wanting nothing does this ease of being come through. It isn’t an event you are looking for; it isn’t even an attempt at creating a certain memory. It’s the lack of wanting anything that is the catalyst; it creates destination out of nothing. Beetles and lizards and a small ant in the sand are the landmarks. You become a tourist for what is not meant to be seen, what is accidentally there, or what is just passing by or in flux. It’s these moments that appear themselves to you – not through intentionally looking for them, but through allowing what is present to become a dominant part of the landscape. There is an assumption that what is created is meant to be seen, but your eyes adjust past what is immediately visible to notice the invisible.
Only time creates these spaces.
They aren’t predictable.
Through chance and time and happenings do these small spaces that lie between bricks become the architecture of a place. It isn’t the bricks themselves; it is what lies between. It isn’t the wood but the rot of the wood. It isn’t the seaweed but the sun bleached organisms that give it the smell. It isn’t the paint that gives a place character, but the absence of paint. Nor is it perfectly manicured trees, but where a branch has fallen.
Between the repetition of form that we have become accustomed to is this wild nature; some say entropy but it is more alive than a scientific term. That even landscape and architecture breathe the same air we do, and because of that, nothing is fixed or static. I see where on the walls of my place there was a moment where a hand held the paint and it dripped; it may be past but this is alive. Where a hand once drew itself along the wall, finger tips, working men or maybe even a mother, sweat, place: these lasting moments are still present in this room where I can feel the work in it. While it rests in silence now, the way the light hits it reminds me that I am not the first or last to be here, but that I am most certainly the one that loves it the most at this very moment. I press my own fingertips against the wall and feel, for a brief moment, that I am touching the hand of someone who existed before. We don’t know each other but we have a shared space. And we both call it home. Then and now is irrelevant. This is a timeless thing, beyond the calendar.
Beyond the calendar lies a perception that presses space together. It is what is now, what happened, and what is to come; it is all part of sameness. And it is never about what we want others to see, but what we don’t, and that these revealing moments are the flowering of existence: an opening up, a release. Though we may see bricks, it is the space between them that fasten everything together.
What is invisible, what is sight. Not one or the other, but only one thing; not big or small by comparison but centered. There. A forest of walls enclosed. The ceiling was not flat and neither was anyone in the room. I didn’t know what it meant for someone to be next to me. Someone wasn’t a person, and neither was I. We were ideas of someone, everyone around us and absolutely not that at all. Not a head. Not our tongues or our skin. And I wondered, how are tall ceilings and walls promising redemption? In this state of not flesh, how do walls provide redemption?
Perhaps, it is all just one giant myth; even so, my body is glued to the myth, embraced by it.
All work and images © 2019, Amber Tutwiler.