Mixing equal parts memory and desire, I recall, or want to recall with much certainty that, as a child, I felt I was being followed and observed. Of course, at the time, I had this inkling, but could not actually put it into words. The power of language was still inchoate in me. The images, perhaps even now, as they flicker in my mind, are borrowed from the horror movies I loved as a child, and still do. The situation, this sense of being followed, observed, was not that I felt a need to scurry off screaming and crying about being stalked by a wraith, or that said stalker was green and sported gyrating antennae. We are not talking delusion. At least I am not. It was somewhat pleasant and interesting. But with some rational distance, I have come to recognize that while the possible sight of my surveyor or surveyors might not have materialized, the feeling, that tingling, that honorific glory traversing my nervous system was entirely authentic, if not fully, not correctly, attributed; even then.
Without falling into some infinite regress, I write this now speaking of a former self, contemplating an even earlier self. I write this in my forties about a memory or feeling I had in my twenties of a time when I was a single-digit scallywag. So: Thricely removed. The simulacrum is true. Writing this down does not make the regression any easier. By the time you read these words, the I-now that wrote them will have vanished and what it was will be largely forgotten, though a trace lingers, a hovering ghost, a nimbus upon these words, this paper and ink, presently surd and inert until You. You are the something rather than annihilation, a concentration, and a fusion. This is reciprocity, the kind philosopher, Martin Buber writes of in I and Thou, “I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You.”
I am because you are, and no, not an artifact of a Lionel Ritchie lyric—Say you, say me, say it together, naturally. My is-ness, really, is a water, a ripple, a wave. And it consists of movement, surface, depth, crests and troughs, continually. Ultimately, my is-ness is your is-ness.
Where you set
your foot just now
is gone —
giving way to this,
My admission of being followed and observed supersedes this reciprocal exchange. As a child, I actually thought—did not think true, perhaps my I-now rationalizes, but did not want to discount it entirely then—people in white lab coats stood behind one-way glass or other such tricky partitions, observing me in an elaborate experiment with this little boy as their subject. These scientists clutched clipboards, jotted down notes, conferred. It was my very own IGY. My aurora and seismic activity was monitored. Everything I did or said was recorded in their dossiers of me and these files, typed in smelly dark ink (and carbon copied) were secured, bits of my story sequestered ultimately in clandestine vaults deep in the ground in obsidian file cabinets running to infinity. Militia in drab olive uniforms, sitting erect and alert patrolled regularly in drab olive Jeeps. This is all I-now you understand; the feeling was I-then, but my description is all I-now. I found/and find it interesting because, as we all know, we cannot know ourselves wholly; a reflective surface of a myriad kind is required. This is accomplished with a team of observers, or I might suggest, by the manifold selves, an infinite Aleph or four-face Ezekiel, examining the contemporary I. So I imagine this personal IGY—an expanse of time when outsiders observe and catalogue you—as exhilarating, a little unnerving, but ultimately enlightening.
In 1952, Lloyd Berkner, a National Academy of Sciences member, proposed observing the earth and all its physical attributes for a six-month period. The program was suggested as a quantitative check up of sorts. The International Geophysical Year (IGY), as it became to be known, was modeled on the International Polar Years of 1882–1883 and 1932–1933, and planned to allow a team of international scientists from sixty-seven countries to engage in a series of coordinated observations of various geophysical phenomena—tectonic plate motion, examination of karsts, aurora and airflow, gravity, solar activity, seismic readings, examinations of the shape of the earth, and so on. My covert scientists were aided by a crack squad of field agents, or my thinking—at some nebulous point in time of my is-ness—was that it was one cunning spy adroit at masquerade. Regardless, these were shadowy figures, spies in black raiment, adept at being obscured by velvety rain-drenched trees and eaten by numb shadows off my periphery. Sometimes I caught brief glimpses of them attempting to be nonchalant, speaking into their cuffs or feigning to dialogue with themselves, as they passed by me in a hurried murmuration. Oh-a-whoa you got the best of my love … oh-a-whoa … They dressed like grocery store clerks, or housewives, or milquetoast neighbors hosing rhododendrons or pliant priests kneeling down on creaky knees to tweak me—St. Anthony St. Anthony please come around, something is lost and cannot be found —some slept in the alleyways; others rode by on not-so-inconspicuous ten-speed bikes. These spooks evaded capture, however, not one could be brought in for questioning, and no resolution of the kind I had seen on “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” or “Star Trek;” the ghosts, my retinue of empiricists, transmigrated with creeping normalcy into innumerable reassignments. And I forgot about them and their stealth. As if I had been brainwashed.