I was made of string. While walking on the sidewalk back from the beach where I went during my lunch to drink coffee from my thermos and look at the gulls, I was afraid I’d snag myself on a bush and I’d begin to unravel. I’d hook myself on a blackberry or something. Blackberries grew in the margins between people’s houses where they didn’t pay attention, where anything growing could be the responsibility of the person next door. No one wanted to cut what didn’t belong to them. Of course because of this fear I jinxed myself, and this is exactly what occurred. I snagged myself on the brambles near the empty lot.
I was packed as a baseball is packed: a tiny round part, my bones, encircled with string around and around, tied and covered with skin. While I had not been paying attention during my morning walk around the block, muttering to myself about my equations and trying to remember what it was I was trying to prove and for whom, I had worn a hole in my skin. I hadn’t applied a bandage. It had scabbed and would heal, but on the walk that afternoon down to the beach under the clear winter sky I discovered the tide had come in bringing seaweed and upended starfish. The starfish were wrapped in weeds and kelp. They had more than just five arms. Some of them had six or eight or twelve arms. The arms were long and curled around the starfishes’ bodies in elaborate sweeps. They were orange and brown and russet. The gulls let out piercing cries as they hunted the helpless starfish. Each gull emitted a sound at a regular interval, and their cries overlapped and multiplied creating a jarring, pulsing agitation that spread over the entire beach. I wasn’t able to take my peaceful lunch and drink my coffee on the bayside stones. In a panic, I picked the scab from my skin and exposed a loose fiber of string.
I tried to tuck it back in. I thought I had done so. If only I chewed gum, I could have patched myself this way. If only I bicycled, I could have patched myself with the repair kit.
When I snagged myself the string began to come loose. I didn’t notice it. The string is very thin. A person can hardly see it. A well-placed foot can sever the string. I left a trail as thin as spider’s silk from the blackberry bush into my house, and then through my house it followed me as I went about my day performing my calculations, fixing coffee, lying in the yard on the cool grass on my yoga mat and staring directly into the blue to empty my mind of everything except my problem.
I began to lose weight because it was trailing behind, a thin extension of myself. At first I thought it was because I wasn’t eating well. I tend not to eat well when I am working on a particularly intractable problem. I spoke to my mother on the phone, and she mentioned the flu at her work. She worked on a computer in what is called a server farm. It was just her and the janitor in the server farm. Around them were actual farms that grew vegetables in the late summer. In the winter the fields were covered with ice and snow. “You mean,” I said, “the janitor is sick?” “People have something, and it is going around. Maybe you have that?” “Who?” I asked. “Mom there is nobody there.” “There are people here. I’d be lonely if there weren’t. Everyone’s got a job,” she said. “And right now a lot of them are home sick. I’d be lonely if I thought they weren’t coming back.” I ate more, but still I kept becoming smaller and smaller. At first I liked the sensation of being small and sitting at my desk. I moved more freely, and then I began to notice the string of myself sticking to well-trafficked locations.
I inspected myself and found the spot that hadn’t healed. Lepers do not feel such things, and I wondered if I had leprosy. I didn’t want to go the doctor to find out because he most likely would be puzzled to discover I was made of string. I patched myself then with a band-aid. I cleaned the house with a bucket, solvent, and an especially purchased rag because I do not keep rags in the house. The house needed a good rub-down anyway.
At the beach the next day I couldn’t think about my problem. Instead I wondered, how did I come to be made of string? Other animals are not made of string as far as I know. I was made from scratch like a doll by my mother: my bones carefully wrapped in gossamer until I had muscle and flesh and brain. My equation seemed trivial after such a realization.