I was standing
You were there
Two worlds collided
And they could never tear us apart
—“Never Tear Us Apart,” INXS
A year ago, when we first met, you lived and breathed a hypothetical world of delirious, short-lived particles, a world called zero-point energy.
A world in which empty space contained many a brutal, continuous dance of particles greedy for energy, insatiable for existence— the same world I saw anything but.
No, I saw zero-point energy as a future liberated from greed and hierarchies.
It is this same world that you say sent me to you.
Or you to me.
It really depends on the beginning and end of our friendship. How we met, or when we said goodbye to each other, or which time we said goodbye to each other.
You believe all language is mostly wrong, especially when it comes to explaining what zero-point energy is. Or love.
You believe almost all explanations should be simplified, and then simplified even further.
But I believe such demands on language will always obscure the truth.
Like two people finding each other in the rain — unexpectedly finding each other— as if this alone is enough to make the rain cease.
For a year we had the most wonderful arguments over what kind of world we could have with and through zero-point energy, arguments in which you should’ve had the upper hand as a theoretical physicist.
You were the one who wrote to me first, having read my essays here on this very platform. Soon we discovered a shared passion for Gematria and Jewish mysticism, although you said you believed in none of it, citing perhaps a lost feeling for your Jewish upbringing.
Later you’d say it was this feeling that had finally “gotten the best of” you, and that there was Science, and then there was God, and you’d been careful to separate the two, been careful not to grant them the same measure of equality.
As if your theoretical world was truer because you are constantly trying to disprove everything in it.
What I see as the evolution of language through poetry you see as random creation and destruction without meaning.
So, let’s say we come up with the technology to harness zero-point energy: would that then give that very energy meaning, those particles otherwise just going in and out of existence?
Because the pragmatic potential you see in zero-point energy is the same energy that I see in language.
And now we are back to disagreeing.
Because you distrust language and feeling. And love.
Because I hold love as a singular entity like my Jewish God.
Because I hold love as apex in a world that I claim I wanted free of apex thinking.
Because I’m not afraid of contradictions and shortcomings that feeling breeds.
That is: I believe in love’s foreverness as a singularity.
That is: I can only one love person, and I believe in that foreverness.
That is: you said feeling only gets in the way of true discovery.
Space is not so free as we want.
You say this is why you don’t believe in love as proof of infinite and dense space-time.
And I say this is the very reason love made me believe in singularities.
And you simplify this in the very language you distrust: none of this matters between us because you chose another man, not me.
And when I fall silent, you simplify it further: one can never know what is always random.
But my friend, what I didn’t say is this: even if I had met him after I met you, I know I would’ve chosen the man who is my husband now.
I tell you this now, when it is such confidence in truth, rooted in feeling, that you distrust most of all.
A few weeks ago, I ran into you on the street, and it was the most random thing in the world. I realize how often we carelessly use the word random. I don’t say it lightly.
I had no business being on Fifth Avenue, crossing over a few blocks up from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I’d been riding the F train which had come to a complete and unexplainable stop that morning at the station nearby. This is not my train. Earlier I’d been visiting Jackson Heights, a neighborhood close to my own in Queens; a friend had called me earlier that morning and asked if I could pick up a set of keys that belonged to her now-ex.
Could I, she asked, give them to him in Manhattan on her behalf? Because she couldn’t face him even on neutral ground. Because they were still in the process of breaking up. I’d agreed.
How strange you might find that when I came to her place, she handed me a single key and not a set of keys.
As if here was another reason for you to distrust language’s imprecision.
How it wreaks havoc on the understanding of our own perceptions and the choices we make from them.
The key was silver with a slight green sheen. It looked too large to open the common New York City apartment front door. I didn’t ask what it was for. I went on my way, now made strange, taking the F instead of the 7 Train.
Somewhere within the space we see as empty space is energy originating and dying at massive rates.
Is this energy, my friend, the same thing as life?
Does it not feel the choices it makes simply by existing?
But how could it not?
On the train I thought about the last three times we met in which we sat in silence— gone, our once lively arguments on the Big Bang and the art of Hilma af Klint and evidence of God’s existence— and you told me no language in the world could repair what was broken between us: that you had developed feelings for me, which distracted you from your work, which betrayed your own trust of your work, since feelings like language could so easily be disproven.
You simplified it, and then simplified it even further: you have a thing for me and now we can’t be friends.
A thing, you said, using the exact vague, unspecified language you distrust so much.
The train came to a halt at the station, and it sat in the station. I would never get to my destination that day. I turned the key over and over in my coat pocket, this big, green key, and the train sat without moving, without the doors closing, in the station. The more people jumped on, the more crowded it became. I gave up my seat to a pregnant woman. I’d given up on an announcement for why we were sitting in the station, when suddenly there was an announcement that we’d be moving shortly. Which we didn’t. More people piled into the car while only a few jumped out.
Space is not so free as we want.
Suddenly the doors shut, and just as suddenly, they opened back up. They stayed open. The train sat in the station. There were no more announcements. Passengers began to groan and shout and push.
I was thinking of you when I hopped out of the seething horde and started up the stairs. The air was cold and damp as I walked up Fifth Avenue, prepared to walk the thirty blocks to the neutral territory to finish someone else’s break up. I was thinking how much I missed our friendship which still seemed in its infancy. I missed talking to you. The last serious discussion we had was how all things might have consciousness— a theory which was making its way into popular culture. You’d told me even if people were getting it wrong, you were still glad it was gaining attention.
Getting what wrong? I’d asked.
I don’t remember what you said, and as I was trying to, I ran smack into you.
I ran right into you, in this overcrowded city, on a street corner of Fifth Avenue neither of us were supposed to be.
Don’t try to tell me energy has no meaning unless humans corrupt it with human feeling.
Don’t tell me space itself isn’t listening with half a heart for what it creates as much as what it destroys.
There were people out with umbrellas rushing past us, annoyed. Because it had started to rain.
Or rather: a fine mist lightly fell.
Or rather: our bones would be cold for the rest of the day.
You pulled me off to the side. We were still in the way of the crowds, but not quite. The space we had decided to take made a temporary allowance of us standing together, partially under an awning, the rain still hitting your back though I was completely covered. I had an umbrella, but I didn’t open it. I don’t like opening them at all. You never carry one. You were wearing a trench coat, and I wondered if it was warm enough for early February. I worried it wasn’t.
You had earbuds in and took one out. I asked you what you were listening to.
You looked at me and said: I’m supposed to be somewhere right now.
Where? I asked.
Nowhere close, you said, and put the earbud inside my ear. Your hand, briefly touching my skin, was cold and damp.
For a moment I heard nothing but my own breathing and the people rushing around us and the traffic and the kind of light rain which doesn’t make a sound but spreads across space, horizontally, finding open patches of skin. My face, though covered by the awning, was drenched. And that’s when I noticed you were starting the song over.
For three minutes, we listened to the entirety of “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS. My mind went completely blank. I couldn’t look at you. I couldn’t hear the music for what it was. I was still trying to grasp how I’d run into you, my body actually crashing into yours. I stared at your shoes, wondering if they were waterproof. I thought about how the last time we met, you’d said you were taking a job in Houston and we’d probably never see each other again. And then we talked about how and why that probability was necessary.
That it really was quite simple: I wanted friendship, and you wanted more.
Further simplified: we both had work to do, and no time for things that would add up to nothing.
As if logic can and will always eclipse feeling.
When both drive two people, two worlds, two of anything toward each other.
After the song ended, you took the ear bud out of my ear, and water from your hand dripped down my neck and my back.
Your eyes were red and watery. You said: I’m sorry but I have to go.
And you put the ear bud back in your ear, hiked up the collar of your coat and left.
Feeling sick, I went home. I had a workshop to teach later that night, I told my friend, so I’d have to hand over the key and breakup with her ex another day.
She said: Ok. Are you alright?
I nodded, foolishly. As if she could see me. As if she could see me, and it would have meaning, and the rain would cease.
Yes, I said.
She said: I hear something in your voice.
Yes, I said.