E. B. Lyndon: “Goodbye, Bear” from One Story #172, 12/4/12

Josy Hilton: "Word Art"

Josy Hilton: “Word Art”

He was a koan, my boyfriend, a paradox who, when confronted with great heights or large bodies of water, would fall on the floor in fright – yet he had no problem standing in the spotlight on a stage in front of large, skeptical crowds until they laughed out loud; he could lift mankind out of the misery of their own personalities into the white expanse that is everywhere and nowhere at once – if you can picture that, if you can picture the feeling of falling like a stillness like a bridge in the sky held up by nothing but laughter – and this is what Blago was to me, he was the white space between the lines of my life.
I tried not to resent him for it.

This is one of those stories that’s a lot harder to write about than it is to read. It’s full of important details too wonderful to leave out, but too interconnected to explain in a blog post; they amplify plot lines that run straight without them but become more complex in situ. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

We have main character Bam and her boyfriend Blago, PhD students in Linguistics and a long-distance couple. “Bam” and “Blago” are the names they call each other. Bam’s mother calls her “Seed” which may or may not be her given name, and Blago, well, who knows. Bam’s brother, who recently found Jesus on a ski lift, is marrying into a family of born-agains, leaving Bam et al a bit puzzled. The wedding festivities, from engagement party to lingerie shower to the nuptials themselves, form the structure of the plot.

… because their love, declared, would become barbed wire circles no one else could penetrate and it seemed to me the whole room should be standing up to object.

Bam’s surface problem: acrophobic Blago can’t fly to the wedding in the Midwest. Blago’s surface problem: Bam won’t masturbate for him on Skype. The real problems go a lot deeper. She cheats on him with a woman she meets at a meditation retreat between the engagement party and the lingerie shower. And she finds herself in Blago’s shoes: wanting more from someone who isn’t about to give it.

That night, buzzing from excessive meditation, we brushed our teeth side-by-side. The feeling was a loss of limits, which was unsettling, because ordinarily, limits were my thing.
“Is that really us?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “That is joy. Don’t ruin it.”
In the dorm room she muffled my squeals with a pillow, and the ache that followed became a whirling ride I never wanted to leave. We made a non-verbal agreement of non-attachment, which was fine by me – words rarely did what you wanted them to.

The One Story blog includes this question: “How can someone so initially repellent become so damn charming?” I was glad to see that; I couldn’t agree more. On first read, I wrote in the margin on the first page, “He’s so controlling,” then again, in the next paragraph, “CONTROL!” When I went back for a second read, I got a kick out of those notes, because there is no controlling Bam, none, not at all. There is only surviving her.

And that’s where linguistics comes in. Throughout the story, there’s a subtext of symbols and language and how they reflect, obscure, or twist reality. Skype, the long-distance relationship, travel, Jesus on the ski lift: It all fits together in a way I find difficult to articulate. And when Blago asks Bam how it was after they have sex for the first time following her affair, after he travels from the West Coast to the Midwest by train for her brother’s wedding, she explains it this way: “You know when you’re walking up the stairs carrying something,… a laundry basket or something, and you can’t see your feet, so you miss a step?” Scary part is: I know exactly what she means. And I admire her, and hate her, for saying it out loud, at that moment.

“It has nothing to do with what’s true or not true,” I said. “If the narrative moves through multiple characters’ minds, this is the language of fiction.”
“So, if you tell a bunch of lies, but are speaking in first person, it’s nonfiction?”
“It’s the language of nonfiction,” I corrected.

Of course, I’m a sucker for linguistics. Just mention the word, and I’m all yours.

I’m a little confused by her One Story Q&A, in which she says, “Initially the story was about a girl who’d convinced herself that she was already dead.” I’m assuming that because she used that “initially,” that means it didn’t end up that way. I hope not, because though that’s part of the opening paragraph, and it gets referenced again, it just seems kind of a small point. It isn’t something she says a lot, or thinks a lot. She’s got a lot of angst going on, and the dead thing gets lost. And it’s amazing that something like that –

It was a week before my brother’s engagement party. I was on the phone with my mother. She was grilling me about the guy I was seeing – was he the real deal, or just another fine-for-now? I told her my feelings weren’t reliable at the moment.
“You,” she said. “Always a finger on your emotional pulse.”
“But that’s what I’m trying to tell you,” I said. “No pulse. I think I’m dead.”
“Count yourself lucky, Seed. I’m so exhausted I could do a head-plant in floral samples. She went on about the wedding. “The Born-Agains don’t get it. Toddlers at receptions corrupt the joy. But it’s her wedding,” she sighed, meaning: wedding ruined.

– in the opening paragraph, could get lost. Maybe that’s poor reading on my part. I underlined it; I copied it into the “quotes to include” section of my notes. But I was surprised to see it was the starting point of the story. Maybe it’s great writing on Lyndon’s part – to put so much into a story, you can lose some of it and still come out of it with an intact whole.

I’m also intrigued by Lyndon’s blog. Or, more accurately, what I assume is her blog. There’s none of the usual “writer stuff” on it – no list of stories published, no proclamation of the writing life other than one post about using, guess what, a pseudonym . It’s only a couple of months of posts from last Spring, covering various aspects of Buddhism, writing, meditation: It’s Bam’s blog.

Have you ever put yourself in something, really drowned yourself in it, just to have another place to call home for a little bit? Only to realize the new place was no different than the last place? What I wanted: to find the love who would give me the freedom to evolve – without fearing I’d lose everything if I changed.
Two years later I would be with another man. I would place my heart in the mouth of a lion for him, and he would say, “I just don’t know if you’re well of love runs deep enough,” and there would be my insight. What a coward I’d been!

Wherever you go, there you are. Whatever you call yourself.

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