by Avery Lin
art by Raegan Boettcher
Greet the exquisite genesis: the sanctified moment of delivery/deliverance of the girl. A blanketed world, with its precious and precarious geometry, precipitates her novel membership. (Its borders will cave in time, bowing for swankier seas.)
This hair-boned filet of a person has emerged, an uncultured Being, except that her potentialities are kindly oriented. Though she may be biologically premature, it is the culture (not the science) that captures the imagination and concern of the age and the mother. For indeed, there are assuring tests for bones, the air-conditioned caress of genteel doctor’s offices, but nothing — no capsule, no organic meal service — may replace quality upbringing, such is sure.
Importantly, the potential for precocity has not been lost. (What could be more gratifying, and reflect more reassuringly on the blood, than the toddler who scribes her name in a circle before the pylon of a preschool admissions officer?) The procedural incubation — a spot in the climate-controlled exterior womb — is for good form.
All things considered, she’s lucky to have turned out on a bed of privilege like leafy greens, an auspicious base; the need for artificial supplements diverted. The culture will enforce this in its clever ways, thus she need only catch the cresting wave — treading will be involved, yet there’s a network of intervening devices to assist — and cast back the benisons of this charmed existence. (Her wit should be endearing, her intelligence graceful, her aesthetic eloquent.)
In the infancy of socialization when feisty splinters occasionally manifest, there’s no concern to be hashed out at dinner, debated behind closed doors: a fine exhibition to celebrate. The signs of individuality (flirting with eccentricity but not uncouth) are admirable: the polished crossbodies, the poised leadership (where does such confidence go?), the poet’s notebook.
Subsequently — well, strong bones are designed to undergird lofty structures, photogenic if a touch unoriginal: the gloss of magazine spreads, the cracks glazed over. But there are lamentable fissures here, the porousness of the individual crudely exposed.
For the child fails to blossom in that charming fashion her world had promised, for which her parents had front-row seats (the production so seamless as to make it easy to forget there was any engineering at all).
There was a dipping, a floundering, then something heretically of a drowning. A slippage, albeit dainty enough to produce only blips on the surface, ominous ripples attributable to the elements: the ickiest, most profane of the drama enacted beneath the masked countenance and brisk gait (perpetually somewhere to go — never anywhere to be), behind the crusted curtain of the room, departing the walls of her head but not the apartment door.
Yet alas (for poetry proves insufficient), with briney eyes and aching neck she managed to grasp the glorified sandbank where the well-adjusted elders crowed that work was still to be done (it’s an island, not a vacation spot) but that when the climactic agents interact, potent effects are nearly inevitable; the dazzle of youth is primed to swirl with the elixirs of freedom and novelty and with the exalted base underfoot, the waters of the future are sure to be compliant.
See the diminished vitality that unfurled. (Was it the same individual or a different breed altogether, the product of a troubled metamorphosis?) The physical evidence of disquieted existence: the flaky hair and scarred skin (of the once pretty face), insipid style (for which she was once known) and cardboard smile (what does it mean, when it must be practiced?). It’s easy to say in retrospect that she had lost sight of the way, but such is technically nonsensical, a cheap assertion, for the way had been modeled all around her.
(See the spruced social butterflies with their paper-identical sheath of A’s; it’s not that difficult, their existences seem to prove, and she in turn — with her bastardized, close-minded version of excellence — radiated tragic misguidedness.)
So it’s easy for her to self-diagnose on a shaky pedestal, buoyed by the relentless hope of returning to the golden path: of walking among those whom the spotlight seems to invigorate, accentuating their beauty and brightness like decorous lemons, their delightful essences bleeding through.
She espouses this comforting notion with a modern atheist’s faith in agency, embarking on a year of Travel and Rejuvenation (does not a change of environment promise miraculous potential?) to turn a new leaf, shed the rotted exoskeleton. Admire the incisive commitment to wellness: to Yogalates and prepared parfaits, to assisted beauty sleep and delineated skincare, to religious massages that she spends exercising her mind while the muscles are soothed — contemplating her sunnier future, cultivating her resolve not to work so hard in the imminent juncture, to never again stumble into that stifling, disorienting tunnel seemingly of her own jaded sculpting (surely copious fresh air might do the trick?).
For what was she if not, as the world has sagely informed her, an assiduous forger of her own destiny? A woman — why, then, is she the juvenile girl in the mirror, makeup-less and head-banded — of ability and importantly, agency, in this enlightened age?
She is — and this she acknowledges — chasing some primordial spark (the elusive joie de vivre, the uninhibited realization of her humanity!) that she knows and berates herself for having inexplicably lost in those tortured years between clear-eyed elementary school and this present anxious teeter into adulthood: lost in the unjustifiable process of cloistering in the fantastically neglected quarters of her chicly-appointed room, evidence of her warped priorities exhibited.
What she fails to admit is that these commendable strides are, devastatingly, superficial. She is later touched by the nagging suspicion that for all that her whirlwind travels may have appreciably broadened her worldview or preened her resume, they have somehow failed to nourish her spiritually in the way she’d hoped or presumed.
What could revive her, if not a stay at a Buddhist monastery, with its soul-soothing spires? Why couldn’t an uncompromised sunrise move her nearly to tears, in the way of her cosmopolitan companions, who surely seemed more human than her? What could whisk her closer to that unadulterated self she can see so clearly in her memory: a person not riddled with neuroses and anxieties, splintered by inconfidence and plagued by destructive, at worse debilitating tendencies in the name of abiding to religious values of the likes of academic discipline? How can she forge the conditions for a cleansing reincarnation such that these impurities are sloughed off, for their very presence seems cancerous?
She is convinced in the notion of an insidious (villainous!) blockage of her vital essence — her brain requiring rescrewing perhaps, the container of her emotions liberating — of an elemental obfuscation of her light. Her revival is urgent, in the name of her unfixed future to which she is obediently devoted; her capacity to harness any of those glimmering potentialities, ostensibly well within grasp by virtue of this gracious sandbank, depends on it.
Perhaps when one pauses to analyze (and when is analysis overlooked?), this angling toward recovery — toward the restoration of an earlier, purer iteration of self — is but a girl’s moony dream. Maybe her desperation is at heart more fanatic, in that she truly yearns for rebirth.
Yet is this, too, simply absurd? In some recess of her mind someone nameless is informing her that one cannot obliterate the self, when the self is merely the accumulation of its histories.
Alas, there is no guidebook to be offered with a cheery ribbon and well-chosen words. She will have to brave this existential test alone, it would seem. Her chronic disposition toward psychoanalysis might just be what saves her, or else hinders her indefinitely.
(The paralysis! How frightful!)
She may take comfort in one truism: that the human mind, as astonishingly capable of monumental construction as heedless annihilation, is notoriously susceptible to change. So when the fickle forces of circumstance and her own fervid receptibility collide — as she prays they will in the irreligious cathedral of her dreams — celestial-scale progress may transpire.