A THEORY OF ALMOST
Kim Dana Kupperman
I almost told a story that didn't belong to me.
He was a secret agent man, almost retired from the business of gathering intelligence. We almost made a date for dinner, but his daughter was to marry and he would be traveling to a foreign land and I didn't live nearby and we both existed in a whorl/d of busyness that cannot sustain the complication of a dinner date. So things didn't work out, though they came close: they were an almost. I was excited by the secrecy we almost initiated and the almost agency of things between us. He almost seduced me with his uniform, the pin-striped suit, the black turtleneck, the hint of double-o-seven in his close shave, the leather bag battered by all that shuffling about in trains and cars and planes. The back-and-forthness of him almost pulled me in.
I almost had a nineteenth nervous breakdown.
When I learned about the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I almost pretended to be a visitor from another planet where, at twilight, stars rain down like dogwood petals and everyone with an animal heart stops to watch the starfall.
I was almost in the movies, on the stage, behind the scenes, in front of the camera, on point.
I almost blurted out the whole truth.
The Theory of Almost, constructed by a person with ambivalence is different than the Theory of Almost formulated by a person for whom almost doesn't count (which is what I was told as a child if I said something such as "I almost got an A on that math test" or "I almost came home on time").
I almost wore white to my brother Gil's funeral, but I chose orange instead.
I almost told my brother Ken, the One Who Lived and then died anyway, that he was wrong about me: not crying in front of him didn't mean I was cold hearted, and protecting myself from his caustic rage did not make me selfish, that if I had been truly a better person, I'd have prayed more often for him, and he would have almost been right about me.
I almost penetrated a mystery.
On an ordinary Wednesday night, I almost proved David Bohm's theory of the implicate order by almost being in two places at the same time. There I stood, unfolded under the sky at dusk, looking up at the blue between dog and wolf, Venus a surprise of bright in the Western sky, our hound in über-alert mode pulling at her leash. And at the same moment I was enfolded into another place, where I beheld a field of poppies, their flagrance unyielding, their petals raised to a full and heady sun.
In protest of every violence suffered by almost every woman, I almost cut off all my hair. For convenience, I almost shaved my head. Out of sexual curiosity, I almost waxed away the triangle of fur my dog doesn't comprehend, almost waned into a previously unknown version of myself.
"Almost cut my hair," Neil Young sings, about a time and a place and a way of feeling almost nothing like I feel here and now.
I almost trespassed, almost crossed over a boundary, the one between here, where I am, and there, the ache of territory that is your heart.
I almost traveled in another country.
I almost followed an impulse, which, in the Theory of Almost, is the mother of all the roads less followed that lead to places you didn't intend to go.
In the midst of the everyday, I almost forgot my manners and almost said, "You are such an idiot" to a woman who declared her love for Sarah Palin; almost referred to my neighbor as a fat pig; almost called out a co-worker for an anti-Semitic remark. At a wedding, I almost sent back my dinner, with its commercially grown vegetables and factory-farm-raised cow flesh thinly disguised as brisket.
I almost confessed when I was almost tortured. I almost caved. I almost gave up my secrets, but I almost didn't have any left to keep.
I almost rescued a woman from being bloodied. I almost saved myself from a similar fate. I almost helped a child into a new life.
I almost married the wrong man, the right woman, the perfect husband, the most elegant wife.
I almost disguised myself as a brown-eyed girl and almost wore a leopard-skin pillbox hat, a short skirt, and a long jacket. I almost rode a horse into your head. I almost said, for the hell of it, "Let's just get naked." I was almost tempted by the fruit of another. I was almost the mixed-up shook-up girl who almost sympathized with the devil.
Another Theory of Almost:
The expression I've come so close = almost with an edge.
I almost solved a crime that I almost committed.
I was almost a mother, though I was definitely pregnant. I almost died because of the pregnancy.
"I could've been a contender," Marlon Brando says in On the Waterfront, featuring Could Have Been in the role of Almost.
(I could've had a V8.)
I almost made a family with an Algerian man. I almost crossed the Sahara in search of a n'anga who would put a curse on the border guard who sexually assaulted me. Almost doesn't count here at all.
I was almost killed by a man I almost believed I loved. I almost forgave him. Almost counts a lot here.
I almost broke the silence between my mother and me, but she killed herself before I could bring myself to end a three-month estrangement. I guess you could say that she sure showed me another side of almost.
I almost let her do that, have the kind of power to sure show me something.
I almost screamed at the Devil, but it was a dream and I had lost my voice.
The last time my brother Ken called, I almost invited him to live with me. He was then a homeless and bruised man, almost tolerable from one minute out of every thirty, almost likeable (if you could trust that he wouldn't steal your valuables, medications, family photos, or anything else that is important or even sacred to you). That I had almost let him into my heart made me almost like myself as a sister.
I almost made a plan to engage a forbidden intimacy. Because I'm revealing the part I played in this almost encounter, perhaps now you'll say that you almost trusted me but can't anymore, which means that everything I say from this point on might be (or not be) almost true.
I almost told a young man about an erotic dream I had about him. Instead, he reported that he had dreamt about me, without describing the dream. We almost revealed ourselves.
I almost lost my mind, my wallet, my virginity, my period, my keys, my hair, my teeth, my voice, my name, but not, thankfully, all on the same day.
I almost had my identity stolen, by my mother, of all people.
I almost ran up a bill. Ran into a tree. Ran out of steam. Ran amok. I almost hit a brick wall. Hit a home run.
I almost watched a car hit a dog. Instead, I came upon the scene of the accident just after it had occurred: a girl crying, vehicle on the shoulder, mist rising from the road. A woman came out of her house to survey the damage. "Yep," she said, "that dog is deader than a doornail." I almost told her to shut up.
When I was very poor, I almost sold some silver that didn't belong to me.
I almost missed the drama of my former lives.
I almost blamed myself for my mother's suicide, but then I realized that the weight of such guilt, with its almost-yet-not-quite martyrdom wasn't worth it.
I almost slapped the woman who said, after arriving on the scene of my mother's death, "This doesn't look like a suicide." What part of the almost thirty-page suicide letter didn't she get?
I almost paid to have my nose broken and recast, almost gave in to the invitation to be almost unrecognizable as a Jew.
(I almost sneezed just now. I almost felt imperious not sneezing. I almost thought, we are not amused by our nose.)
I almost opted for plastic surgery: breasts, hips, thighs. A different nose. Fuller lips. The elimination of stretch marks. I almost bought a wig and a short dress and almost went to a fancy hotel to look for men who would pay to almost believe I loved them.
I almost became a stripper. A call girl. A street walker. A whore. A priestess in the temple of almost love. What woman doesn't think about almost doing such things?
I almost purged.
I almost became a painter. I almost played guitar, but all I almost remember now is the opening to "Secret Agent Man" and a little flamenco riff.
I almost drank the whole bottle, smoked the entire bag, snorted all the lines. I almost danced until 4:00 a.m. and almost fucked the bartender on the bar and almost didn't use protection. I almost believed him when he told me there'd be a cure for AIDS and that's why condoms were unnecessary.
I almost kissed John Lennon, but instead I kissed a John Lennon look-alike.
I almost had seconds. I almost helped myself to more. I almost didn't feel deprived.
I almost repeated a mistake.
When the Brother Who Had Lived died, I almost reinvented him, and us, in the shapes we used to inhabit.
I almost took my wash to the Laundromat, to feel what it felt like—tiresome and hot yet necessary and communal—when I didn't have a machine at home.
When I first saw the Big Ugly—that all-too familiar combination of strip mall and the outlying/encroaching dilemma of housing developments where the almost brainless live—I almost swallowed a vial of pills but my prescription had expired. I almost walked into the water with my pocket full of stones, but the river had been diverted. I almost cut my wrists, but no one would lend me a blade. I almost put my head in the oven, but no one cooked anymore. I almost wrote a suicide letter, but then it occurred to me that the act of writing is not only, as Paula Gunn Allen puts it, "a small suicide," it is also a kind of suicide note, a thing left behind with multiple meanings for each reader.
I almost believed in the jihad, but I couldn't reconcile war with holiness.
I almost regretted not becoming a mathematician, which would have meant being held captive by the spell of numbers, their infinite calculus and their imaginary, whole, fractioned, multiplied, divided, subtracted, added, functional, geometric, Archimedic, algebraically equated, factored lives.
I almost knocked on my neighbor's door to protest his pro-casino sign. "What a jerk," I almost said as we walked by his house, before realizing that he must have his reasons, and one of them is fear.
I almost stole some candy. I almost got caught.
I almost let myself slip away.
I almost slipped up, slipped and fell, slipped into a trance, slipped into something more comfortable.
On behalf of a friend who's almost vanished from my life, I almost hated someone for reading a diary that wasn't his, for invading a privacy, for making a solitude impossible. Yes, I almost hated someone, until I realized I had almost loved him.
I almost recalled being a bird in one of my almost-remembered lives. I wondered then about things like intelligent design and how the world might be different if human beings had flown instead of walked on two feet.
I almost freed an injured pigeon from a pile of old leaves and broken bricks, but it died in a flutter and broke our hearts as we watched.
I almost wasted time, a lot of it, if you believe that time really can be wasted.
I almost lived in Africa. I almost planned to try and live there again, to renounce my comforts and do something that really matters. I almost spoke enough Russian to stay in Leningrad long enough to watch it become St. Petersburg again.
I almost missed an important flight. I almost missed a deadline. I almost gave it all up for lost.
I almost erred on the side of caution, which I almost threw to the wind.
I almost revealed a secret.
I almost involved myself in a parallel universe of my own creation, a place to which I might repair to simply sit for a while without moving all the time, where I'd look into the eyes of whomever I chose for a long, still moment undivided by regrets, the almost of another shore, a thing of the past behind me though looming up ahead just around the bend down the road on the other side of the street yonder up the mountain up the river downeast through the valley in the forest beyond the dale across the ocean there, there where you can see it. Almost.
This essay started as a list in a notebook, which grew. And grew.