“A kind of light burned within me.” – Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book 2
I have five pages left of My Struggle: Book 2. I will board a plane for Canada in a few minutes.
Had I not, simultaneously, become obsessed with Sally Mann’s photographic memoir, Hold Still, My Struggle: Book 2 would have been completed by now.
In need of traveling light, a thought comes before I enter the airport. Yes, of course -tear out the final pages – no matter how sacrilegious it might seem. My copy is already battered.
One night, late, I enjoy a glass of wine while reading Book 2. I lounge on the couch, read a few pages and then whoosh – sleep. The old vine Zinfandel makes maroon Rorschach stains on page after page.
Another day, while checking out books at the library, the entire contents of my son’s water bottle spills and heavily soaks a quarter of the book. I pull it out of my bag, make sure to point out to the librarian, “This is a book from home,” and then because I can’t stop there I say, “It’s one of the greatest books I have ever read. I love them so much and the library doesn’t have them, only four have been translated so far.” She hands me a paper towel, says, “It’s the kind of book people wouldn’t check out here.”
Once home, I open up my adored book like a fan and place it on the deck, the off white newsprint pages splayed so the light can reflect off them. Some of the wine has washed away, transparent violet watercolors fade in the sun.
In the end, I simply forget to tear out the pages at the last minute. I will now carry a five-hundred and ninety-two page, mostly completed, book on my back during a week of travel in Canada and realize it as I place my mahogany leather boots on the conveyor belt at security check where I am felt up by a woman with a Russian accent. When I question the necessity of this, she points at her evidence, an x-ray of my body – a yellow blip marks one breast.
Disconcerted, I pick up my backpack at the other end of the conveyor belt and feel relief and comfort already by the weight of My Struggle: Book 2’s nearly six-hundred pages, knowing it’s with me, knowing I can disappear into it and take refuge in the heights of Knausgaard’s passages which knock me like a wave and suck me into their undercurrents.
I then carefully place my laptop back in the backpack and watch, out of the corner of my eye, each body behind me, robotically, go through the motions: shoes off, jackets off, belts off – a river of disheveled humans passing unevenly through gates.
Were the next Walt Whitman in this line, or wandering the halls of the airport or waiting for his/her flight – I’d like to think I would notice him or her standing out from the crowd – bright-eyed, thinking something privately to him/herself, ruminating deeply on some topic, face not epically cast down, illuminated by a handheld screen in the terminal, but facing toward the world, alert and awake, eager to make eye contact with another human being who has chosen to step off the electricity powered walkway and take notice now and then of the natural light outside the vacuum sealed windows.
On the first leg of my flight, I finish the rest of the book before the plane lands. A tear, held captive on the surface of my eye, wavers. I’m moved by the book’s conclusion and totality, but also I’m away from my son for the first time and alone for the first time since I gave birth to him.
My impulse to wake at his subtlest note in the night will have no purpose for a week. I don’t know where these instincts will take me left to flounder. The image of a fish, without the luxury of arms and legs, violently thrashing and flapping its entire body on land comes to mind – the desperate act of being driven toward water.
Barely gone, but 30,000 feet above the earth where he plays, where he puts the magnetic pieces of his wooden train cars together, I already feel a stabbing, tugging ache like the prick and release of a needle.
Alone, even the seats beside me vacant, I look out the window of the plane. I see a circular rainbow form around the sun while it remains obscured by clouds. Then later the sun, as it begins its ritual descent, illuminates the uppermost cloud cover, shadowing its undulations in blinding gold.