Boxes and Glass Cases

It’s been a tough arrival.  The monsoon is still clinging to the hills, thick and cloistering, and each afternoon it dumps an unremitting rain that I swear to God follows everybody inside.  The air itself is full of water; there’s no place to be dry.

And the truth is, I am also a drop suspended in mid air.  I’ve moved out of my apartment in New York, but I haven’t moved in to a new apartment in Connecticut, so all my things are in boxes in my parents’ basement.  The plan is that when I get back in two months I’m going to be working in a manual therapy clinic in Hartford…but it hasn’t actually happened yet.  It’s an idea, hovering in good faith around some boxes in a basement, waiting to be taken out and used.

That feeling has trailed me all the way to Pokhara–the hint that my life is full of theories.  Even IMG_2479though my contact with my projects in Nepal has increased a great deal in the past year through Skype and regular written reporting, and I have files and files of documents proving to me that these creations are real, they still feel like experiments when I re-encounter them on the ground.  Plus, there’s a big disappointment right off the bat: our first program director has left unexpectedly, after growing the Kaski Oral Health Care Project much less than we’d hoped since last fall.  I’m tired and frustrated and it’s enough with the freelancing.  I am ready to feel like I know what I’m doing, and some of this fits together, and it’s leading somewhere that matters.

Today it led back up the road to Kaski.  I went to Vindivasini Temple this morning to catch the bus on its way down, so I could save a seat before the bus arrived at the park, where a crowd  gathers around the door and starts pushing in to secure real estate for the ride up before people can even get out.  As I waited, I sat on a stoop with my duffel by my feet, watching a man selling vegetables across the road.  And I wondered again if this is all some kind of act.  I’m just doing the same thing over and over.  I can’t keep my grasp on what it’s about.

Other than a story.  The word comes to me again, and then again: Story.  Right out of the blue, at nine in the morning, I’m sitting on a stoop waiting for a bus, watching a man weigh a cauliflower, and the next thing I know I’m watching a story, and my identity is divorced from my soul.  Poof!  I am a character.

It must be natural that when you go through enough repetitions of something, even something incredible, it becomes unmoored from any particular episode.  And with that goes its singular miraculousness, because it’s just what it is: a cycle.  How profound would the sunset be if you only saw it once in your life?

Sometimes the sense that everything is just a series of events, with nothing transcendent to tie them together, seems like the most awful thing possible.  Even the leaves clinging to the trees look worthless.  But in certain moments, that same arbitrariness erases the perpetual burden of discerning the purpose of each passing instant, and my role in things is set free from an anchor that, in truth, may never have been there.  What a relief.

This morning I watched the vegetable vendor.  The story settled around me, like snow in its glass case, shaken from the sky.  I waited, again, for the bus to take me up to Kaski, where I knew Aamaa would be waiting.  Again.  For me.

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A Story

Back in Kathmandu, Tom and Jerry ends, and we turn off the television.  We eat our rice.  I mush the grains between my fingers but resist the temptation to try to give the meal special attention.  You can’t grasp a thing at the last minute if you weren’t paying attention along the way.

I repack my bags, and don’t get in bed till after midnight.  With the heat and mosquitoes it’s a long time before I fall asleep.  I toss and turn, thinking about watching Bishnu and Bhinaju get in the bus back to Pokhara, and about the strange idea of being even farther away than I am now.  It seems like, for the rest of my life, I will keep getting farther and farther away.  Which is strange because, even from Kathmandu, in a big bedroom where I can hear Nepali music videos playing on TV, Kaskikot feels like a memory, a separate universe where I once was.  I was there only a few days ago.

You know, it never has been missing it that I dread, or the thought of loneliness that fills me with worry.  It’s the shift from real to remembered, from substance to recall; it’s that the absence has no bulk when you get far enough away, and that life goes on and—even if you can remember to miss it, it’s so disconnected, so unreal, that it’s mostly just a story.  And what of the part of you that has become the story, the skin that has touched this world and walked on it and dug fingernails into its mud?  When all of it is farther away than the moon—which at least your eyeballs can see at night—is that part of you just a story, too, that only exists to the extent that you still believe you were there?

Wouldn’t that be something, if after all this, all I could bring home with me was a story.

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