Object Permanence

July 14, 2017

We rented a car after dinner and drove to Vermont, which was where my uncle kept a lake house. It was early November and after midnight when we arrived. We fumbled around in the basement for a long while looking for the thermostat, poking a broomstick up into the joists. We had no luck except the log pile sitting under a tarp at the foot of the driveway. The last person there had left a shovel leaning against it, I could make out its shape even from the front porch. But as we trudged across the driveway, troohe gravel clicking in a muted, metallic way beneath our heels, it seemed to me that the shovel’s shape grew less and less recognizable the closer we got. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact second I came to think of it as a chainsaw. I realized I had always been unsure. Somewhere along the line I had developed the capacity to wonder whether this person I loved who was helping me look for firewood outside in the dead of winter in the middle of the night would take a saw to my face in the dark for no reason. It occurred to me then, not for the first time, that the central component of cruelty was joy. Whether I had arrived at this because enough people had been cruel to me or its reverse seemed both important and inapplicable. He carried an armful of firewood back across the driveway, up onto the porch and into the house, without comment. I knew that I imagined terrible things because with little encouragement I’d do them to others. Later I watched him build a fire and thought, Most of the world is foreign to me. If someone put a gun to my head and told me to make a fire in that fireplace it would be the last thing I ever heard.