Dina L Relles
in the elementary school gym
All the kids lined up for laps at the end of class. I took an early lead, sprinting around the square gymnasium, my sneakers squeaking on the shiny waxed wood, passing even Miki, the longest, leanest of the boys who always finished first. But after lap two or three, I collapsed before anyone else, chest tight, breath shallow, eyeing the length left but unable to go on.
An asthma diagnosis meant I'd only ever conquer short distances.
I failed swim tests and driver's tests and anything that involved sustained movement over time, over space. Anything that involved endurance and direction, arrival.
I would chase fireflies in the overgrown backyard and rollerblade to where the boardwalk ends and run along the wet sand at the shoreline where green ocean stretched to the horizon. I desired the distance I didn't know.
in analytic geometry
An asymptote is a line that a curve will approach but never reach as both line and curve extend toward infinity.
in a high school bedroom
It began simply, sweetly with phone calls on my parents' line late into the night. He'd recite Paul Simon lyrics like poetry and talk about secular humanism and tell me where we'd kiss if we could. In the dark corner room, the receiver cradled between pillow and cheek, we tore apart assumptions and arched away from the certainty of our parents' god. We—several counties apart, long-distance lines that never crossed, a kiss never consummated—were strengthened in our shared unknowing, our always-grappling, never-grasping, taking comfort in the questions that carried us farther from home.
The line and the curve never meet, so the point of intersection can only be approximated, not determined. A "limit" is a way of saying we don't, can't, really know the end, so we set forth what we do know, the values we can measure, as we get closer and closer to it.
in Cessna 5208Quebec
Only when we touched down on the hard ground would we walk away, widen the space between us, create distance, one day, for good.
The word "asymptote" comes from the Greek ἀσύμπτωτος (asumptōtos), which means "not falling together."
intersection of 24th and Spruce
A man I worked with escorted me home from a downtown bar in the weeks after I got married. In the tawny glow of the summer night city, we walked off our buzzes crosstown. We stood on my stoop in the lamppost light of three a.m. and said goodnight, or good morning, said things that made me feel like we were the only ones alive in the silence of a sleeping earth.
And then, in the almost of night air, he turned on his heel and walked the four blocks toward home.
Without intersection, our approach goes on forever.
There is a Hindu tradition in which love of God hinges on ignorance of who he really is. The Bhakti movement was a departure from jnana, which exalts ultimate knowledge. Bhakti devotees did not believe this was attainable, but that it is God's very elusiveness, his mysteriousness—and our ensuing uncertainty—that allows for intense love and devotion.
Knowing, absolutely, quells the desire for discovery. It is the absence of any single truth, the need to know more, that keeps passion alive.
in that split-level along the shore
As a young girl, I would whisper a Hebrew phrase to help me settle into sleep each night: Adonai Li Velo Eera. God is with me, I shall not fear.I needed a steadiness, to believe in justice and soul mates and someone who'd save me from kidnappers climbing through bedroom windows or lightning striking suburban houses or ending up alone.
Now I never pray.
I thought I knew, and then I thought and knew I didn't know at all.
And so it was that I chose to live.
in quantum theory
According to the uncertainty principle, we can never know the exact measurements of an object in space because everything in the universe behaves like both a particle and a wave at the same time. If the speed or momentum of something is determined, then its location is not; if the location is precisely defined, then the speed or momentum cannot be.
Something always remains unknown.
in the house on 264th street
The closest I came to death was on the edge of my grandfather's bed. It was winter. I was sixteen. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; four months later, he was gone. We watched his hardy frame grow gaunt, endearing potbelly deflate. A diminishing, the way denim wears at the knees over time or liquid evaporates into air or how a love can grow stale simply from having it too long, like a fruit left on the counter to ripen then rot.
Toward the end, he had to be shifted from side to side so the bedsores on his skin wouldn't worsen. It's when we stay in the same place that things start to break down.
On Sabbath afternoons, as lunch was being cleared, my grandfather and I would find a quiet living room corner and he'd whisper to me about the war and German work camps, the aches in his knees, the hopes he had for me.
Women should wear long skirts and shirts to the wrists, he'd say.
Marry a nice Jewish boy.
As if he were saying here, here is all I have, all I am sure of, at this, the end of a life.
We can never say with certainty what lies at the end of things; we can only describe how it feels as we come closer.
And when my family forbid us to be together and we called it off but kept coming back, like on that winter night after we flew and then landed and sat across from each other at Friendly's, careful not to touch under the table, when I almost said I love you, don't leave, I know now, I'll never get over you, instead we split off, said we'd find each other later, but I got vodka-drunk, fell face down on the floor of the dorm room next door and then again on the cold yellow tiles of the unisex bathroom across the hall and come morning, I woke in my own bed, alone, our paths never crossing, a confession that never came.
When we wish to show a point in space that is undefined or nonexistent, we offer something else, something almost: an estimate, an approximation—it's what we say when we're not saying all the things we can't.
in an east village apartment
And then that night years later, after everyone left, when I tried to tell him again, but the leak sprang suddenly in his bathroom ceiling and water was everywhere as he said time to leave and I walked out and away from him, again.
in another late August
A man leaned against a white-painted wood railing, hands in pockets, and I wondered if he wanted to come in my cabin, lay down with me for a while.
in a strange city
Far from home, we whispered in a corner near the bar bathrooms where I was wine-warm and maybe crying a little and then sat under Christmas lights in the open air with our hands clasped. When I lay my head on his chest, we swayed in the silence of suggestion, of something that would never be.
in a room of my own
Sometimes, before I touch myself, I look at a map and imagine where he is, trace my finger over the distance of my desire.
in my familiar bed
I still see him in my sleep: suspended in sky, or I'm chasing him amid ruins, up a spiral staircase, through the thick crowds of a house party. In my dreams, I can run without exhaustion or end. He disappears any time I get close. And because I never reach him, I know I'll want him forever.
Infinity can never be known or attained because it's not a certainty, but an idea, undefined.
in front of the house, waiting for the school bus
Now longing comes in the way my children ask for answers—
"What's inside of bones?"
"Maybe God is like the wind? Invisible and everywhere."
"What does a cloud taste like?"
—when all I want to say is I have none and never will and neither will you. Here is all I can offer. It is in seeking without reaching that you will carry on without end.
This piece finally found its form—spilled out in a fever—after reading Devin Kelly's masterful essay in Territory [here]. For a while, I've wanted to explore how it is only in the not having that we go on wanting. In seeking, there is survival; doubt and distance fuel desire. Now I see iterations of this theory everywhere I look. Even atoms attract each other when they are a little distance apart, but repel upon compression. In longing, an ongoing.