Indefinite Continued ProgressLydia Chodosh
MFA GD 2024
Recall that feeling of falling, the one you get after lying down to rest and suddenly trip or stumble through the angled spaces of your subconscious: how you’ve learned to catch yourself by unlatching your shut eyes. How fearsome and satisfying this feeling of breathing life back into consciousness by breaking a free-fall into nothingness. You grab for the ground beneath you, feel your skin tethered to the soft cotton of your sheets.
Gravity: a force of attraction that tends to draw together particles or bodies with mass. Also used to describe something of extreme or alarming importance.
Think back to a time when your body shook. Maybe you were standing in line with a basket of produce at your favorite market when a shimmy of the earth sent piles of grapefruits and stacked mangoes onto the cold concrete of the market floor. Or maybe you found yourself in a room so quiet and lonesome all you could do was notice the rapid beating of your heart, increasing in speed and startling you into a panic. Did you reach for something? A table to stabilize you, a set of eyes with which to make contact? Someone to tell I love you?
Earthquake: a sudden and violent shaking of the ground caused by movement within the earth’s crust, or by distant volcanic action closer to its surface. A word more generally applied to circumstances of great upheaval.
Now consider the ways you’ve given in to letting go.
Imagine the act of unclasping your hand from its tight grip to another—this, to make way for a flurry of children zigzagging down the street. How you turn and smile as they scatter laughter through your shadows. How willingly you’ve chosen this separation because you understand it will last but a minute. A smile, a laugh, it’s certain to bring your hand back right where it belongs.
Loss: the fact or process of losing something or someone, which results in a quality of detachment, impermanent or prolonged. Also used to describe a failure to win, obtain or utilize an opportunity.
Image by the author.
I’ve been thinking about what happened in Barstow, a settlement of the San Bernardino Valley a couple hours east of Los Angeles.
This is where the wind blows hot, heavy, endless—where dead branches and tumbleweed seem to travel mindlessly, alone. In the summer, the atmosphere becomes unbearable, almost impossible to breathe in, especially when one’s body is meant to move at speed. In the summer, we’d come here to compete.
That June, we arrived for State Cup—one of a few soccer tournaments played yearly with rounds of elimination. My teammate Rachel laughed at the realization that we would never win a game, in the air or on the ground here. She had always absorbed the world around her like this, with laughter, with uncanny easiness.
The eight different fields on location were speckled scantily in a green that gave way to brown dirt. It had rained so minimally that year that the surfaces
of each field had virtually hardened into concrete. Wind blew in gusts of forty to fifty miles per hour, masking the 100-degree heat. Particles of our skin flaked off and lightly dusted the air.
Ten minutes into our first game, the ball missed our defending goal, and flew over a seven-foot, chain-linked fence, into the path of a semi speeding down the freeway. The extended gasp from parents on the sideline became momentarily audible over the gasps of wind.
“That ball is gone,” Rachel chuckled from steps behind me. “We are done.”
We lost that ball permanently; the game too. Here also, two years later, we lost Rachel—through the windshield of her friend’s car, she slipped. Out of that valley of heat and wind, her contents dispersed.
I’ve been thinking about that April in Los Angeles. The years before the pandemic when you could still adequately honor grief, when the mere utterance of the word “loss” still felt unique.
We arrived at Rachel’s home with flowers to be planted in the garden and handwritten notes from our soccer team. I can still smell the chilled wood of the piano bench; I can still see the light leaning away from the back garden into our static shadows.
Rachel’s mother was consoled by religion, by answers she learned early in life and eventually taught her own children. I was thankful for that. Even as she stood beside us describing her hurt—all of the hours she hadn’t slept since that phone call, the trip to the morgue and to the site of the accident, she leaned into a version of acceptance.
Before we left Rachel’s house that day, her mother made sure to remind us of where we stood, what luck my mother and I possessed to remain so physically adjacent. The wooden floorboards creaked beneath our sweaty, sneakered feet. A damp spring on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I became aware then of the weight of our bodies, of their contrasting permeability. How time managed to pass through us without care, without hesitation, without warning.
“Cherish this,” she said, looking into my mother’s eyes and holding tightly to my forearm.
These words, so simple and pure, still shake my bones; they disaggregate my core, but somehow they keep me tethered to the earth. Tethered to this thing called time, otherwise defined as “the indefinite continued progress of existence.”
The clock moves forward. We move forward. Sometimes gravity is a curse.
Lydia Chodosh is still finding her way around language, and thanks to gravity, she’s incessantly aware of the ground beneath her feet.