As I exit my twenties, I am becoming more aware of my body and its constituent elements. Its constraints, its habits. Its fires, its fluids. Its voids, its veins that newly throb, ocean-blue. When I sleep poorly, I wake up to dim, watery light, feeling, at the center of my hand, a faint, inconstant twinge, as though my body were a chord being played from a far distance.
My face has settled into the granite mask of a total stranger. I look in the mirror and don’t understand who is staring back. But though the whole refuses to coalesce into something that feels mine, I can nonetheless pick out shards of features bearing familial resemblance, borrowed from reservoirs of blood from my mother, my father, and my brother. I don’t feel like a self but like an amalgam of ancient metals that ooze and pool over my expression like banks of clouds occluding the light. Depending on my mood and the hour, the composition changes, like the riddle of the Sphinx; in some variations, I favor one dark-eyed relative more strongly than the others and then, in an instant, the allegiances change. Bent over the laptop, hair in my eyes, I am my brother’s twin. Smiling wanly at myself over fuzzy online conferencing, I see my father lurking in my face. But I expect I will age, despite all vows to the contrary, into a poor imitation of my mother.
The sky opens like a wound. I sit by the windows and watch rain dribble down. The world outside is a growing splatter of darkness. Wilderness served on a platter, and I pick at it distractedly. When lightning flowers, unexpectedly, in my field of vision, I feel myself clench like a fist. So distant from the dominion of nature, in this sterile cloister of millennial life, I forget regularly about the very existence of lightning and thunder. Buried in work, consumed by its million little agonies, I have felt time pass not naturally, but as one colossal, suffocating mass. Not even the wide-eyed face of nature, panting at my window, can shake me from this dream.
I feel my heart seize at the thought that I am twenty-nine and still don’t have any idea what I’m doing, still don’t have a face or life or character that is fully mine. I imagine, across the rooftops, past the telephone lines, that lightning strikes and a thousand ships with billowing sails cast off, content to leave me behind to weep inconsolably, face in my hands, the skin of my knees cut up by the sharp and algae-mottled rocks of the bay. One captain takes pity and yells back, before the ships disappear into the clouds, a final admonition: You court the sublime but must settle for the conventional.
The storm closes up. The sky stitches over its wounds with rays of light. I think of the cold air outside, which stings but is also a respite. I court the sublime but must settle for the conventional. In doing this, I break the most sacred promise, which is the one I made to myself at age seven on a playground on a sunny day, hands scratching at the sand, back during a time when it was possible for me to look out onto the waters of the future and not fear their depths. But this isn’t quite the truth. What holds me back is not imperfect knowledge of what is to come, but imperfect knowledge of myself. What holds me back is fear of what I can do, and fear of what I can’t. I talk too much. I achieve too little. I am still trying to trust myself with more than almost nothing. Forgive me, and then forgive me again.