Soon I set off from New York, where I'm moonlighting in my old life for a week, ghosting around my old haunts, the old streets, waving to the men behind the counters in the corner store, the coffee shop, the little place across the street from where I used to live, sleeping in friends' beds with my backpack nearby, waiting.
In the clairvoyant words of Radwan, who once was my uncle by marriage, I'm traveling "for anthropology." To study others and myself; to see how humans live and to find the pith of me when I take away everything known and familiar. Radwan is a Kurd who married my aunt and opened a restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota, hung with photos of his homeland. He has a recumbent bike and is interested in herpetology, just as a hobby, just to expand his mind. I am a writer leaving my life for a while in search of another. I have packed my soap and pen and socks and anti-malarial pills. I have packed a jacket and notebook and headlamp and backup batteries. I will carry what I need on my back. I will keep a record here, a series of notes, snapshots of an escape, an unraveling, a piecing together.
Herpetology is the study of things that creep across the earth: lizards and snakes and newts and turtles. Reptiles are ectotherms, dependent on heat from the world around them to survive. Amphibians breathe through their skin, making them vulnerable to change in the environment. The rapid decline of amphibians worldwide has been read as a sign of what's to come. Humans, too, have thin skin. We're creatures of our environment. The greatest predictive factor in a person's life is where they live. Input, output.
Lately I've felt cold-blooded. Nothing seems to stir or move me. Here is the street where you lived for three years. Here is the person you loved. Here are your parents, waving goodbye at their airport. Here is your face; your name; your feet. Here is the mountain of everything you've ever known. Soon all of this will be behind my back. I am changing the inputs. This is the output.