Barophobia

Anyone plain can be lovely.

I had forgotten how much being drunk feels like falling. I haven’t really drunk seriously in a long time. These days, there’s usually a reason why I can’t do the whole nine yards: a drive home or a bunch of strangers around whom I ought to watch what I do. No excuses this New Year’s Eve. I had a party at my apartment — but you know that. I knew you wouldn’t come, but I invited you anyway.

I had a few Killian’s (I’m not really a fan, but the price was right at the liquor store) over the course of the night, but it didn’t really start to hit me until we opened the bottle of Goldschläger that a friend from high school had given me.

I’m sure you are more familiar with the stuff than I’ll ever be, but I want to tell you anyway: it was the closest thing to a magic potion I’ve ever seen in my life. It even comes in a wizardly bottle — with that kind of shape, you have to use the word “quaff” instead of “drink” when you raise it to your lips — and the gold flakes drift down through the liquor precisely slowly enough that it feels like time is passing slower inside, like you could see everyone as they were when they were a child if you were to hold the bottle up to your eyes. And it burns and feels sweet and thick inside your throat, like something weird is going to happen to you.

It only took two shots until I started feeling like things were happening faster than I could keep track of, that I could half-hear the conversation across the room but could barely think of the words to say to the person beside me before they came out.

I still remember the first night you got me drunk at college. I don’t remember the names of everything you gave me to drink, but it all seemed a little like poison. Some of it tasted like grapes, some of it tasted like peaches, and some of it tasted like nail polish remover. But it all felt like danger, and I treated it that way.

I remember you shaking the crap out of me afterward in the night air, your two tiny fists gripping my shirt, trying to get me to lose my balance. To get me to fall. I didn’t — but what if I had? Would you have been able to catch me? Would you have wanted to?

(I’m not sure, not even now.)

I didn’t fall this time, either. Not for real, I mean. It just felt like there weren’t really feet to keep me standing up, like there wasn’t a floor to stand on, like there wasn’t an Earth at all, like there was barely me at all. When I came down the stairs of my apartment building to help retrieve something from someone’s car, I had to hold onto the railing to keep myself from flying off into the air and smacking into a wall.

The funny thing is you’re supposed to be afraid of falling. But my new theory is that everyone is falling, always. Not from grace into perdition. Just moving through the air toward some destination we don’t know, but can feel. So many pieces of things flying beside us — photographs, sandwiches, light. We grab onto one or the other, and maybe we can even stretch out a hand and touch someone else falling with us. But it doesn’t really change the fact that we’re always moving, and the things that we try to hold onto move, too.

We can pretend that we aren’t, but pretending is all it is.



I wonder what someone would make of all the words we’ve put down on paper between us. What my grandson might think when he opens an envelope piled in with so many others in a box — return address simply “Rocket” (is that a person or a thing or a place? my grandson wonders), recipient somebody named Chris Klimas (the name seems strange to him, the way all names do after they’ve been given up) — and all the letters you’ve ever sent me fall into his hands. I wonder what he’ll think I’m trying to tell you now.

I’ll make it simple for him: I am falling, Stephanie. I am falling. The world is so beautiful every second of my life now that I’ve learned to see it, but I’m terrified that this new year may hold an ending for us. I want to hold fast onto your hand — I can still remember the texture and warmth embedded in your skin, the sense of holding something more alive than me — but I’m afraid that the current of the wind, the way fate twists our stories, has taken us apart. And this time permanently.

It’s what makes forgiving you so easy. But it also makes reading your letters so hard.

I’m afraid of the way memory can tear at the picture you hold inside your heart of a person. First the feet disappear. I don’t remember anymore what kind of shoes you would wear on everyday kinds of days. I can remember the ones you wore at our senior reading, when you seemed nervous and I broke my promise to our audience to tell a story that lasted five minutes. Forgetfulness always goes upward across the body: legs, waist, arms, head.

I’m afraid of the day I climb out of my car after a half-hour drive into the city. It’s a Thursday afternoon just before the onset of spring: still chilly, but there’s a new warmth in the wind. As I walk toward an office building, I can smell sugar being refined. It’s hard to describe exactly. Olives pressed against dark brown sugar. Industrial and confectionary at the same time. I try to come up with a single word to describe it and then, between incandescent and primeval, I realize that I don’t remember what your eyes look like anymore, and then my legs let go and I tumble onto the parking lot, hands scraping against the black pebbly asphalt as if they could find something to hold onto there.

(What color are my eyes now? Blue or green?)

I don’t want to forget anything. I know there is something that runs between us that always will. As thin as a wind in the door and as strong as the sky. I know I love the sound of your voice when you read to me. But I don’t know how to find your hand again. I’ve forgotten too much already.

I’ve read the last letter you sent me over and over again. Language lets both of us sound more sure of ourselves than we really are. So the easy thing would be to ask you what I need to do. It would be easy if there were a quest I needed to undertake. English majors, if nothing else, understand quests.

But English majors are also taught a lot about inevitability, the bedrock of tragedy. When I think about it here in the darkness of 2:26 a.m., I feel as though we’re both fighting against gravity itself, against a destination we don’t really want but can’t help ourselves from landing upon.

I think maybe you only need to tell me just one thing: that I should fight. That I can find you, even now, in the dark, all alone, falling. That darkness, forgetfulness, and fallingness are just illusions. That magic is just a word we find more comfortable than poison.

Article © 2003 by Chris Klimas