Visitors: No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear

7 Jun

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Robert Stapleton, founding editor of Booth. His work has appeared with Word Riot, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. He teaches at Butler University.

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No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear
by J.A. Tyler & John Dermot Woods
Fiction, 124pgs
Jaded Ibis Productions, $30

No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear, the collaborative new novel from JA Tyler and John Dermot Woods, thrums with iridescence and a softening of the skull. No signposts appear in this landscape. In brief, prose-poemy chapters, the male narrator muses on his conjoined sister, sensory moments, the flames and gaping eyes of life as a freakshow attraction, and the power and loss of the ‘we.’ This is a bit like reading Benjy Compson interpet U2’s “One” — in all the right ways.

I say our when it is us and it is always us once you have come aboard. This is we though we started as two, though there was once the individual, the separation. We started out here separate. We started as two, we one. There was a me and a you when all was dark and this hadn’t really started. Before we had been or become us. This now we, conjoined.

Well-written stories invite us to finger ourselves on the map. This occurs when the evocations are precise, heat on iron, sparks. My time with this tale, these words, transcended its meditation on carnival Siamese and collective identity. These sentences shook loose something in me, something hardscrabble and otherwise coded in an unknown tongue.

I think about being a horse and you think about being a horse. I think about the word colt and you are spelling it out. I think about the sound of the horse hooves on dirt and you are smelling the dust churned by its shoes, the flowers on the side and the freedom of bobbing up and down. We are living and this is the kind of living that we do.

With a few exceptions a week, my wife and I are not conjoined. We are, though, forever scratched into the mathematics of the universe through our children, our twenty years together, our successes and our losses–which we stare down together. Shared memory, silence and strife and sweetness, accumulates vertically.

I would like to shine and that means you would like to shine, because the two of us should do nothing if not shine. We should be a beacon. We should be a light. And if they do cut us open like sometimes we threaten to do, there would be light. Light would come from out of us and the world would explode. Our world would explode.

For years I scraped my head against the falling sky in a Methodist Hospital room where we lost Quentin, our premature son. Placental abruption. A bleeding out. Nurses lined up like soldier ants. My partner wheeled away on a gurney as the blood that five minutes ago filled her belly now streamed loose, a tributary to loss, the night war arrived.

If we could have we would have, built a fence in our mother’s womb, made a wall between us that could not be severed, that was too high to climb and too dangerous to ride our horse across.

My wife survived the surgery and the transfusions and, together, we found our way out of that room, that moment, her pushing back on gravity for the both of us. Eventually we tried again and birthed a beautiful daughter and are now occupied in all the glorious normal pursuits of family and work. But occasionally I run across an idea, a framing, a series of words, and I’m reminded of the terrible and fantastic power of grief and love. No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear is a little story with a big and profound punch.

My heart is your heart. This heart is our heart.

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