Do you ever, when you’re in an unfamiliar location, get zapped out of your mundane existence into this goofy kind of hyper-awareness where suddenly nothing at all is obvious and the mere fact of being a creature in the world freaks you out and you fear from a third person perspective that your sanity might be unspooling? Me too! That’s how I found myself in an enormous house in one of the wealthiest gated communities in W. Las Vegas being repetitively interrogated by an ancient woman.
I went to pick my daughter up from a sleepover at her (new) best friend’s house. The best friend’s mom invited me in and then went upstairs to find the girls. And that’s when I spotted her: the old woman, doubled over from the weight of – I don’t know – 90 years or so, glaring, suspicious, gnarled, cute.
“What do you want?” she barked, ready to throw down if that’s where things needed to go.
“Oh,” I replied, a little thrown, “my daughter. She’s. Uhhh. Upstairs. She spent the night last night and I’m just here to pick her up. My daughter.”
“So that’s the story, is it?”
I tilted my head, trying to asses the nature of her question. A story? Does she think I’m lying? Or is that just how old people talk these days? I don’t traffic with old people. Or maybe it’s not an old thing at all but, instead, geographical. Maybe she’s from Bulgaria or something and Bulgarians say ‘So that’s the story, is it?’ after someone responds to simple questions. I don’t traffic with Bulgarians either, as far as I know, but that doesn’t matter. It’s important to remain open to the many and varied cultural differences that make the world a rich and interesting choir. So I just smiled, nodded (yes, that was my story), and looked around. The house – it was so HUGE. I felt inadequate in its vastness. To compensate for this, I searched for something to steal.
“What do you want?” the old woman barked again. Good Lord, a mind reader? I locked into her eyes in an effort to stop casing the joint. She held my gaze firmly, fully prepared to protect her belongings and kin. I estimated that I could easily knock her down and run for it, but I needed my daughter. Copping to wanting the ceramic angel perched on the fireplace’s mantle was out of the question. Her eyes were intense and yet somehow vacant. Intensely vacant? I started feeling weird.
“What do you want?” she barked. Again. Not in a way that accrued. But again.
“I’m here for my daughter,” I replied. “She’s upstairs. With your granddaughter.” I gestured upstairs with both index fingers and my eyes. “Should be down any time now. I don’t know what the heck they’re doing up there. Cleaning up maybe?”
“Didn’t ask for your life story,” she spit, disgusted. “What do you want?”
A good question, I thought, as I watched her drift back into oblivion, still glaring, still suspicious, starting from scratch. What did I want? The house, so big, so clean, so nice, was steeped in absurdity. Everything I ever thought, said, and did, all 41 years of traversing the thread of being, had added up to this: a guy (me) in a strange mansion filled with knick-knacks and shoes and big hunks of unused furniture, squaring off with a woman who, for now, added up to the same. The family portrait on the wall – 4 stiff smiles by a tree – adopted tones of hilarity. I smiled.
“What do you want?”
I didn’t know. More money? Sometimes. Fame? Okay. But all of it, especially the giant flatscreen on the wall and the BMW in the driveway, appeared futile in response to the weight of the old woman’s question. Or, more accurately, in response to the old woman herself. Not quite dead. Close! But not yet. But not quite alive, either, in the way we tend to understand ourselves as people with stable identities and coherent narratives.
“What do you want?”
True love? More time? Contentment? Peace? I didn’t know. All my assumptions were suddenly undermined as I strived to achieve a new kind of cultural sensitivity to the geriatric culture of not recalling moments as linear and connected but rather as periodic explosions of curiosity and bitterness. Maybe that’s what I wanted. Is that perhaps why I drank with such enthusiasm until I blacked out? Or why I throw myself into love, books, and projects with such oblivious abandon? Hey. You know how it feels when you help someone out? When you really, really help someone out. After you’ve devoted a few hours to someone else, whether it be listening to their problems or helping them build a deck, you feel really great, don’t you? Wait, no, “feeling really great” feels a little off because, for those couple hours, you don’t feel really great as much as you’re just kind of gone - selfless.
“You there! What do you want?”
“I’m waiting for my daughter,” I laughed. I wanted to hug that old woman. I wanted to snatch up her hand and dance the tango in some Argentinian ballroom circa 1920. Because I finally knew what I wanted: the extinction of wanting. What I wanted the most was to not want at all. Nothing. The happening of oblivion. And nothing happens not in death but in dancing.
“I don’t want to go home, daddy! What are you doing here? What do you want?”
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