Free In the Tearing Wind

Dark matter may be ordinary matter in a parallel universe. If a galaxy is hovering above in another dimension, we would not be able to see it. It would be invisible, yet we would feel its gravity. -Michio Kaku, String Theorist

I want to pull up an idea from my first essay “The Monstrous Complexity of Our Existence” and look at it more closely.  What if instead of my spirit leaving my body and floating away when I die, it retreats or disappears into the dark matter of my body? Dark matter does not interact with any kind of radiation, any kind of light. But, it does have a gravitational effect. All this space that I’m made of.  Maybe it is the doorway to where we really come from.  Not a place, but a state. Maybe dark matter is the unconscious, and it is to there that I will return.

I watch my little nephew growing up, and I’m seeing how he is moving away from his original state (he was four weeks old when I met him) of sleep and sensation into a two year old personality.  He works so hard to form his categories, his perfect or perfectly hilarious sentences, his deep observation of light as it refracts off everything and everyone. He mirrors and becomes and internalizes and expresses his humanity.

Last January we went to India to see my grandmother, Ruby Maji, on her death bed. Ninety four years old.  A hospital bed was in the middle of her living room. She hadn’t left it in months.  She could speak, still, in Gujarati, but very often no one could understand. The two last things she told me, translated to me by my father: first, she said to my brother and I that we should have learned her language, and that we must teach it to my nephew because that is who we are.  We are Gujaratis, we are Bhoris, we are Indians. This was strange, because she had never spoken of this to me before. I had visited her in Pune once a year for the last six years, since I’d been traveling regularly to Bangalore to work. Despite the fact that we didn’t share a language, (other than my pathetic Hindi and her very broken English), we had managed to communicate quite a lot.  But she actually never said anything about me learning Gujarati. And certainly no one in my family has ever insisted on my Indian-ness. She said she wished she’d learned English, ever since we were little. She used to tell us she was too stupid to learn it. But there, right at the end, she told us we had failed in this regard, and I think I understand maybe why. Maybe as she was slipping down into that dark matter, the light of her pulled inexorably back into the black hole depths of what we are, into the anti-luminosity of the centre of the impossible labyrinth of anti-time and anti-matter, she was pulling away from what connects us, the vast network of mind and discernment that is our species. Language. Her legacy and our inheritance is an enormous collection of gorgeous beaded and embroidered purses she spent her life making. These are language, too. This, also, she was frustrated that I couldn’t learn.  We want to pass on our languages.  We leave them, eventually. The spirit separates from them, and sinks in. In, in, in.

The other thing she said, and this one was just to me, was that she had bought a new outfit for me, that had never been worn, and it was on her bed.  By this time she was delirious with pain, and rarely fully seemed awake. She would kind of hover in a dream state.  But I went to her room anyway.  The apartment is the only one I’ve ever known her in, though she moved into it when my grandfather died thirty seven years ago. She has a bedroom, and a sewing room. Lots of heavy, dark wood furniture with light floral upholstery. Lots of crocheted doilies. A big TV for the soap operas she loved.

These last few years there has been a nurse usually sleeping in the sewing room.  In that room is a large cupboard, always filled with her magical craft supplies.  Her beads, her sequins, her threads, her rings, her patterns, her cords, the metals clasps, so much colour, so much shine.  The year before she was bedridden I was there and she went through the cupboard with me, gave me boxes and bags of this treasure. It broke my heart. This time, when I went in to look for the clothes that were not there, I opened the cupboard and found an old ledger. It was a record of bags sold.  But there was only one page of entries. It had been begun and never finished. I wanted so much for it to be full.  To be full of long lists of numbers and rupees, and seventy years of dates and names of everyone who had one of her creations, in her slanted, slim-looped handwriting.

I pretty much knew the clothes wouldn’t be there, but I wanted her to have done something like that. I thought about that outfit obsessively for months afterwards.  What I’ve come to is this.  The clothes are a persona.  There is a persona, a kind of woman, a kind of human, that has been handed down in our family, and that she had tried many times to hand to me.  Maji always had advice for me.  She wanted so much for me to marry. She wanted me not to work too much.  But I also know she was proud of my work, and that I traveled and was able to contribute to goodness and healing in the world.  It was always a tension in the way she spoke to me, between wonder and disapproval.

Except with religion.  She and I shared an understanding, one of the few things we were ever able to communicate about with any level of subtlety.  I’m not sure why.  Somehow we had all the words we needed when we talked about God.  We shared many understandings about the world, about prayer.  We both believed that you must show up for God. That you must pray aloud. That you should fear a little and love a lot the great spirit that encircles you. But she was a devout Muslim.  And she well knew I wasn’t, nor was I Catholic like my other grandmother.  She respected that, she understood my complexity.

That’s what I think she meant by the new clothes.  I think Maji blessed me with freedom from the old hand-me-down persona.  I think she said, that with the work and prayer of her lifetime, and of following her passion as an artist, she had bought me a new set of clothes. An opportunity to be any kind of woman I want to be.

Maji was an emotional person.  Often angry, sad, depressed, inspired. Full of humour, full of wit and competition.  We played rummy.  A lot.  And in that game was a language that we shared.  She could make it so funny.  Just with gestures and her few words of English. When we were very little she taught us a simplified version (I know. Rummy’s pretty simple already, but we were like three and four years old) and called it Mickey Mouse. It used to crack us up. Or she used to have a joke that she was getting so old she was down to three hairs.  That was the whole joke.  But she was so full of intention and drama and emotion that she could make those few words absolutely charming and hilarious.

At the age of almost ten she was pulled out of school by her father, who felt at that time there was no reason to educate girls past basic literacy. By the time her youngest sister was in school times had changed and her sister finished not only high school but university. Maji was so angry about this that the last time I saw her cry about it was age ninety two.

Education. Literacy.  My little nephew’s baby sentences. And the return to the before.  Before there is a word for “me,” what am I?  Many people speculate on this, of course. And I don’t want this to be about the development of mind.  Nor am I trying to create a nothingness out of dark matter. No. The opposite in fact.  I picture this intense, vibrating, thickness where every possibility exists at the same time, in the same place. Utterly cohered, utterly intimate. And that when egg and sperm (or seed, or) fuse there is a kind of absolutely-everything-plus-one-ness that explodes into light and becoming, beams into the womb like a rising sun, and becomes a human. Maybe when we die those separate, the everything and the one, and the one dies with the body, and its trail of ledgers and language and memory and breath and everything else it left in Time become part of the Earth, and the everything goes back to the everything.


I haven’t been able to write about her at all until now.  Fifty one weeks since I was there with her. She died just a few months later. I have all these layers of feeling about it. There’s a part of me that barely feels it at all, I think because when you grow up with you grandmother on the other side of the world you are used to her being a memory more than a real person.  There’s a part of me that feels a lot of guilt about the distance between us, and the things I could have done to close that distance (language, phone calls, learning embroidery). There’s a part of me that knows she’s near. That the human part of her is still here. Though I haven’t encountered her the way I have with other ancestors, I have a feeling she will soon be with me.  I picture her in some kind of fabulous fashion school, like she wanted so much to be, and that when she graduates she will be with me like my grandfathers and my other grandmother. I’m happy for her there, and I hope she’s just brimming with excitement and pride and drinking in everything she ever wanted to learn.  There’s a part of me that is annoyed with her.  For not getting the life and education she wanted once it was possible. For letting her emotions rule our family in weird ways. For being from a different world than I am. There’s a part of me that is her. She’s in my hand when I draw and in my mouth when I pray and in my cards and dice and dominoes.

My nephew was with us when we visited her. She gave him cookies and he fell asleep in her arms. And then she slept with him. I hope they dreamed together. Which brings me to my next question.

Where do dreams come from? Or, less leading and more specific, does the dark matter know us? Does it watch its individuating spires as they dive into the light and track and predict and send messages from the whole? Are dreams communications from the wholeness of time and space?

I capture and collect my dreams religiously, meaning in the daily show-up kind of way my grandmother prayed. I wonder if the dreams are the way that the universe prays to me?  I send my language, my words, my discrete thoughts to it.  And it sends back images, watery with their oneness, and as if in mirrors and behind beveled glass, images that link and connect like an endless chain of metaphors, where this means that, which means this, which means that.  Where instead of a linear sentence, like the ones little T is sorting out, we get feeling carries in canoes made of meaning with oars of images.

Maybe my primary relationship is between “my” dark matter and “me.” When me is done, when the time runs out on the learning, discerning body-mind of me, then it’s back to the dark chthonic mother within the most inside of my insides I go.  In the space between my neutrons, holding my DNA together, crouching in my mitochondria.  The soul slips back and the spirit stays with the Earth, with the world, sparkling in the light of all that was left behind.  Like a perfect ocean shell without its inhabitant.  Maji still here disparate and ethereal but here. The unnamable soul, though, gone back in to whence it once emerged.


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