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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

Simply that: already there. Moving through the rooms upstairs, or asleep in the bed; it hardly mattered where I was or what I was doing, what mattered was the certainty with which I knew that I was in the house already. I was myself, I felt utterly normal in my own skin, and yet at the same time I also had the sudden sense that I was no longer confined to my body, not to the hands, arms, and legs that I had been looking at all my life, and that these extremities, which were always moving or lying still in my field of vision, and which I had observed minute by minute for thirty-nine years, were not in fact my extremities after all, were not the furthest limit of myself, but that I existed beyond and separately from them. And not in an abstract sense, either. Not as a soul or a frequency. But full-bodied, exactly as I was there on the threshold of the kitchen, but, somehow—elsewhere, upstairs—again.

Outside the window the clouds seemed to be passing swiftly, but otherwise nothing seemed strange or out of place. Just the opposite: everything in the house, every last cup, table, chair, and vase, seemed in its right place. Or even, in exactly the right place in a way they rarely do, because life has a way of enacting itself on the inanimate, forever shifting objects a little to the left or right. Over time this shifting accumulates to something noticeable—the frame on the wall is suddenly crooked, the books have receded to the back of the shelf—and so a great deal of our time is spent idly, often unconsciously, moving these things back to where they belong. We, too, wish to enact ourselves on the inanimate, which we want to believe we’re sovereign over. But really, it’s the unstoppable force and momentum of life that we want to control, and with which we’re locked in a struggle of wills that we can never win.

But on that day, it was as if a magnet had been passed under the house, snapping each thing back to its proper position. Everything was touched by stillness, while only the clouds hurried by, as if the world had begun to turn a little more quickly. And as I stood halted in the kitchen doorway, that was my first thought: that time had sped up, and somehow I, on my way home, had fallen behind.

The skin down my back prickled as I stood frozen, afraid of moving. Some sort of error had occurred, neurological or metaphysical, and while it might have been as benign as déjà vu, it also might not have been. Something had become misaligned, and I felt that if I moved, I might destroy the chance of it naturally correcting itself.

Seconds passed, and then the telephone rang on the wall. Instinctively, I turned to look at it. Somehow that broke the spell, because when I looked back again, the clouds were no longer racing, and the feeling that I was at once here and there—upstairs—was gone. The house was empty again but for me standing there in the kitchen, returned to the familiar limits of myself.

I had been sleeping badly for weeks. My work wasn’t going well, and this left me feeling constantly anxious. But if my writing was a kind of sinking ship, the larger landscape—the sea in which I had begun to sense that every boat I tried to sail would eventually go under—was my failing marriage. My husband and I had drifted far apart. We were so devoted to our children that our growing distance could first be excused, then masked, by all the love and attentiveness that were regularly present in our house. But at a certain point the helpfulness of our shared love for the children had reached a kind of apex, and then began to decline until it was no longer helpful to our relationship at all, because it only shone a light on how alone each of us was, and, compared to our children, how unloved. The love we had once felt for and expressed toward each other had either dried up or been withheld—it was too confusing to know which—and yet day in and day out we each witnessed and were moved by the other’s spectacular powers of love, evoked by the children. It was against my husband’s nature to talk about difficult feelings. These he had learned long ago to hide not only from me but also from himself, and after many years of trying unsuccessfully to bring him into conversation about them, I’d slowly given up. Conflict was not allowed between us, let alone fury; everything had to go unspoken, while the surface remained passive. In this way, I’d found myself returned to a boundless loneliness that, while unhappy, was at least not foreign to me. “I am essentially a buoyant person,” my husband once told me, “while you are a person who ponders everything.” But over time the conditions both within and without had proved too much for his buoyancy, and he, too, was sinking in his separate sea. In our own ways, we had each come to understand that we had lost faith in our marriage. And yet we didn’t know how to act on this understanding, as one does not know how to act on the understanding, for example, that the afterlife does not exist.

That is where things stood in my life. And now I also couldn’t write, and, increasingly, couldn’t sleep. It might have been easy to pass off the strange sensation I’d experienced that afternoon as the slip of a stressed and addled brain. But on the contrary, I couldn’t remember my mind ever feeling as clear as it had during the moments that I’d stood in the kitchen, convinced that I was also somewhere else close by. As if my mind had been not just touched by clarity, but poised at its very pinnacle, and all my thoughts and perceptions had arrived etched in glass. And yet it wasn’t the usual sort of clarity that results from understanding. It was as if foreground and background had shifted, and what I had been able to see was all that the mind normally blocks out: the endless expanse of not-understanding that surrounds the tiny island of what we can grasp.

Ten minutes later the doorbell rang. It was UPS, and I signed for the package. The deliveryman took back his little electronic device and handed me the large box. I saw the beads of sweat on his forehead, at odds with the chill in the air, and inhaled the smell of damp cardboard. From the street, my neighbor, an elderly actor, called out hello. A dog lifted its leg and relieved itself on the wheel of a car. But all of this did nothing to dim the intensity and strangeness of the sensation I’d just experienced. It didn’t begin to dissolve, the way a dream does on contact with waking life. It remained incredibly vivid as I went about opening the cabinets and taking out the ingredients for dinner. The sensation was still so powerful that I had to sit down to try to absorb it.