My wife and I are in different countries, a world apart. I’m in the East, where it’s now dusk. She’s in the West, where it’s now dawn. Today is Christmas.
The Holidays aren’t hard anymore. It doesn’t even feel like we’re continents apart.
In the beginning, it was my job. Then hers. I’m not sure what it is now. I’m a writer. I’ve been working on a novel for two years. It’s going to be the holy grail. Like you read it, and you know. The Secret, I mean. I’ve been working on it for years, just in different forms. Other novels, other books. All of it just winding up. Finding my voice.
A few hours ago, we both sat in bed. Eight thousand miles apart. I read the first page of my book. She listened. And then I read the second page. I told her that the opening is a rip off of a famous poem. She said she didn’t get it. I read it again, slowly: “Twenty men are crossing a bridge….” I enunciated each word. Still don’t get it she said. I thought about explaining the mythical importance of a bridge, crossing the threshold, the journey, the symbolism of twenty men as the human herd…
Instead, I brought my face closer to the black circle camera at the top of my laptop. I squinted. Come closer to the computer, I said. She leaned in. I studied her face. My fingers shook from the sound of my first page, the beginning of an epic. I smiled. She smiled too.
In the early days, we had web-cam sex. FaceTime, you know. And then it became a hassle. The time, the camera angle, lighting. Switched to shower selfies. With steamy subtitles. Then we dropped the photos. Just text messaged our urges and fantasies. A year ago, we got our hormones removed. It’s easier this way. No need to worry about pleasure. No need to worry about betrayal, adultery.
On Christmas night, I go to the cathedral because it’s my favorite place to write. The novel’s opening scene is coincidentally also in a cathedral. The novel cathedral is peculiar because it’s on the middle of a bridge. The same bridge the twenty men are crossing. One side of the bridge is the past, the other is the future.
The agents don’t care about the bridge. They’re clubbering for the book because it’s pornographic and that’s what people want now, or need. The twenty men are priests, and each chapter is a stream of consciousness film reel of their fantasies, which of course are versions of my own fantasies. I don’t think the agents appreciate that the novel is really the story of my wife and me. And that the bridge is FaceTime, this wobbly suspended ethereal connection wifi cloud connection.
The other reason I’m at the cathedral is a bit more complicated. The hormone removal process was nothing new. It’s been around for two operating systems. But the treatment my wife and I got was part of a system upgrade which also included dopamine dampening—a new thing.
With just their hormones removed, people log onto Facebook and Instagram and social media and become addicted to checking other people’s stories. Not out of lust, because that was erased, but out of loneliness. The smiling faces trigger dopamine release, and people feel a scratchy momentary bliss. The new upgrade dampens dopamine, so there’s no release, and no addiction. When you browse social media, there’s no buzz, and therefore no addiction.
With the upgrade, we need less emotional contact. I have more time for myself, for the god within. It’s hard to see god when you’re scratching at screen, squealing for social significance. But with all that removed, I can finally feel the emptiness. And that’s the universal chi. That’s why I’m at the cathedral. The vaulted ceilings, stained glass, votive candles, shadow. So much space. I can really feel myself.
I’m on my knees. The pews are wooden and worn. Hands folded, heads bowed, eyes closed. I’ve long ago renounced belief in god. Or the tenets and stories of religion. And yet I find myself staring into the barely open eyes of a man hanging above me, nailed to wooden beams, thorns on his head, blood fingered and toed. Staring into his eyes like I know what he knows and he knows what I know. Staring and wondering how I can say it, spell it out, stamp it onto pages.
I open my notebook and read the first page again:
Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a cathedral,
Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges,
Into twenty cathedrals,
Or one man
Crossing a single bridge into a cathedral.
This is an old trick.
Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a cathedral,
Twenty men crossing a bridge
Into a cathedral.
Inside the cathedral,
The boots of the men stay still
The boards of the cathedral breathe
The stone steps stare up at the eyes of the cathedral
Before I make the sign of the cross, I close my eyes again. I feel my lungs stretch out against my ribs, which also spread. My wife and I have been married for 27 years. I feel that space inside me chest. Ribs contracting. I wish I wouldn’t have left her, wouldn’t have set this in motion, this believing myself a book prophet, a martyr. I wish we had our hormones back, the struggle, the desire. I wish we had our bickering, our misunderstanding. That fractured gap was closer than this false bliss.
I stand up, bless myself, and slide out of the pew. I push the heavy cathedral door open, and turn right. Board stepping, my feet clod back across bridge.