Assembloir: That Which Is True of Others Is True of Me

Ander Monson


My beginnings were hardly auspicious.

My earliest recollections consist of deep feelings, beautiful smells and happy pictures of a child.

I was the oldest.

We were terrible kids, I think.

I was seized with a sudden rash feeling of adventure.

I have often wondered what might have happened to my mother.

I remember one humiliating incident when I was ten years old.

But then I wake up, chilled.

I consoled myself with unbelievable stupidity, depravity, and incessant vodka swilling.

I was now one of the irremediable.

They told me so themselves many times in front of the class, while I counted the flyspecks on the ceiling and debated in my mind the pros and cons of punching them in the mouth.

Was this, perhaps, the beginning of that cleavage which later developed into my having more than one personality to deal with?

It was as if I had been thrown back to my recognition at the age of ten of physically changing size, coming home after a summer away and finding things mysteriously smaller.

During my entire adolescence I lived with my father.

Most experiences as they are lived claim an importance beyond their real significance. Each new friend, new place, new love seems spectacular at the moment of inception. In retrospect, few stand the test of time.

The sun finally rose upon a frozen, foreign landscape.

Still we sped along the icy road.

I was seized with a sudden rash feeling of adventure.

Inside I’m howling with rage. I’m alive, what’s the problem? What’s new?

My head felt dazzled, from my racing heart. But I didn’t think I could feel much else. Sleepy, perhaps. A little spangled with sensation. Proud.

Our lives are made up mostly of an accumulation of small incidents.

If the host survives until the parasite matures and spawns, it may survive. Most do not.

It will be convenient to state here briefly some of the considerations that weighed with me at that time and in the weeks that followed. I knew that the ice had come far North that season.

And one scene stands out, cameo-like, from the drama.

I remember standing on the gravel road.

I felt a familiar tightening in my chest, a quickened heartbeat as my traveler’s instinct told me to focus all my attention on the next moments and hours, to feel the place, to stare at it, to be overwhelmed.

We were walking along the smooth margin where the incoming waves hurried in like a long line of little masons, filling and leveling the tiny craters made by the suck of the outgoing ones.

I was seized with a sudden rash feeling of adventure.

I took off my clothes.

When I plunged into the icy river, it was a sharp pain, like cutting oneself, pain that said you’re still alive, away from the dull place beyond pain, the sluggish, sucking vortex where death comes slowly.

The situation became dangerous that night.

The ice was grinding around in the heavy swell.

That’s when I discovered that Kyrgyz sheep have a strange hump hanging over their buttocks where fat accumulates, and butchers only seemed to handle sliced hump.

(Actually, I may have made this detail up, but it sounds right, it feels right, maybe it happened once; I’m going to leave it in.)

I was seized with a sudden rash feeling of adventure.

Half asleep in the humming airplane I can feel the caress of her hands and the strong embrace of her thighs.

I have another drink, and then I learn, for the hundredth time, that you can’t drown your troubles, not the real ones, because if they are real they can swim.

And I went to work, and when I came home, what’s in my front yard? The hog.

I was kicking the idea around in my own head to see how it fit, but tossing it around to others as if it were an idea already set in concrete.

Finally, perhaps, it is an accumulation of small things that changes us, the unexpected and unnoticed incidents that signal moments of transition, pointing us in an entirely different direction, almost without our knowledge, often without our consent.

And something gets through to me at last.

Looking back on it now, I know that inner freedom was the key to my happiness. I never conformed.

How much more could we endure? I wondered.

I had never been interested in politics or international intrigue.

If it was possible, the night grew even colder and more bleak. The stars disappeared. A vicious, icy snow, borne on the bitter wind, pelted us in the face. These were not the beginnings of my ability to withdraw from the world and live within myself. I think that I may have had that ability always.…

Although I had heard them spoken of, I knew little about fairies at that time. I had been told that clans of leprechauns lived in the valley underneath the lonely thorn trees, near springs of water that bubbled out of the earth, and I made up my mind to find out and see for myself.

Days passed—countless miserable, hot, sickly, tedious, frightening days. I slipped further and further into melancholy. It was as if I were dying.

Consequently, I waded at random through most of the confusions and psychological conundrums available to a person with little experience and almost unlimited opportunity.

When I think of Grand Rapids, I think of bitter winter days, Air Supply songs, fairness, drunk children.

I had met all kinds of juvenile delinquents in my life, but never so many.

Gradually I pieced together a scenario of clandestinity, of false documents and myriad illegalities.

Today I wanted to go as fast as I could to the worst part of the storm, feel its fury, shake my fist at its threats. I felt like one of those invincible folks who throw parties instead of evacuating when a hurricane’s storming down on them.

I have already indicated that words sometimes have relatively little meaning for me.

This was a test, a precipice.

The beach was empty.

Life is full of such precipices. Just now, for example, I am standing at the edge of honesty, afraid to keep talking for what I might say. I have a story to tell, and though I write and write, I haven’t told it yet. To imagine doing so makes me feel naked, naked like a foot, like the red, wrinkled sole of a foot.

Not long afterward, I was invited to a large party.

My mind began to wander, to play back the previous weeks like a projector running in reverse.

This was an idea that surprised me.

There is nothing worse than a strange city, where you know no one, have no road marks to hang on to, no favorite street where you know each turn, which leads with total predictability in any direction you choose to go.

A partial list of things music has made me do: fly, see a live performance by a band I no longer liked, nurture a crush on a goth chick way out of my league, nurture a crush on an alternachick way out of my league, write a love letter to a woman made up entirely of lyrics from my favorite synth band, reconsider fast friendships, get ticketed for doing 82 in a 55, drive around a remote area, shoplift (both successfully and unsuccessfully), drink too much, lose my voice, cry, and regret.

Tears fall from my eyes.

We sat on the curb and looked up at two dark windows.

In that complex interplay of experience and physiology, I like to think that every time I gut it through and survive, I’m reshaping the structure and the chemistry of my thoughts, wearing new paths less tortured and convoluted than the old ones. Every new crisis successfully negotiated and survived inches me that much farther from the event horizon of despair.

I am most grateful to a woman, my mother.

I never saw her again.

I understand at long last that this book is our imagined conversation, the intersection of the present and the past.

I understand that what was missing could not be found in my parents’ house, no longer my home, in that house empty of everything except memories; could not be found in Berkeley, in Cuba, not even here, in my present home, could only be found in my own being, the cells of my own body, my own mind.

The night was still. The train started up soundlessly. After a few moments, we left the bridge and traveled on in the star-studded night toward the world where no one was waiting for us. In this moment—for the first time in my life—I really felt fear. I realized I was free. I began to feel fear.

I have drawn the line, and I am still on this side of it.

And as I contemplate “The Juggler,” my search for home, for myself, for that other who is also me, comes full circle.

No, there is no question about it this time—at long last, my viscera yield and concede: I am back in the place I never should have left.

And now, dear reader, the time has come for you and I to part. Let us hope that it is not final.

I am no longer blinded by obsession. I can now recognize what is commonly termed reality, wretched reality. I even live in it on occasion, when feeling perverse.

I have endured the loss. Choice is mine. But I know what to do—and where to go—should I need a fix of beauty, of submission, of relief, of bliss.

I want to thrive in the woods and die in the woods, return to the woods and become born in the woods.

I was seized with a sudden rash feeling of adventure.

My task here terminates.