One of Us and The Other

By Lisa K. Buchanan
Featured Art: Studies of Men and Women in Medieval Dress by Byam Shaw

One of us is eloquent at 11 P.M. on unhinged dictators and the threat of nuclear war. The other is half-lidded in pursuit of flannel sheets. Or was, anyway.

One of us is a rowdy sleeper, blankets swirling and pillows airborne. The other babbles. One repels intruders and struggles to defuse a bomb. The other dreams a question: Can the failure of bodily organs be contemplated in random order or must it be chronological? One flails, tossing a wild fist; the other yelps in pain. One laughs without waking up. The other wakes up if a neighbor down the block inserts a bare foot into a fleecy slipper.

One of us wonders whether consciousness came before matter; the other doesn’t. One grapples with matters of spirituality. The other cannot suffer the word. One burns with existential questions: Are we alone in the universe? What happens to our memories after we die? Does evil exist, like radio waves, beyond human will? The other talks to strangers on the bus.

One of us hotly refused to marry a person who didn’t believe in God. The other hotly refused to marry a person who did. Each stomped down the street in the opposite direction. Eventually, one pulled up to the curb and opened the door. The other had crafted a cutting refusal, but slid into the passenger seat instead.

One of us was expelled from Hebrew school. The other preached the gospel to sidewalk strangers. One wore hair grease and played in a rock band at thirteen; the other wore a white robe and hymned as a child of Job. One graduated high school with the titular distinction of Crush; the other, with a distinguished truancy record. One was tear-gassed at an anti-war protest in Berkeley. The other attended martini lunches in what POTUS 40 called “the place where all good Republicans go to die.”

One of us likes to arrive at the theater just as the curtain rises. The other likes to arrive early and watch the seats fill. One prefers orchestral works by Mahler; the

other, piano pieces by Chopin. One enjoys contemplating enormity: Whirlpool Galaxy is 23,160,000 light-years from Earth; middle C on the piano vibrates at 261.63 cycles per second. The other extracts particularity: a single voice in a crowded room; the chirp of one street bird in a cacophonous assembly. One is always playing at least three chess games. The other defines torture as eleven seconds with a Rubik’s Cube. When we met, each owned a D. H. Lawrence pa- perback. One of us is Chatterbox and the other is Chatterbox’s Lover.

One sees interruption as engagement. The other sees interruption as disregard. One is rubber band, pliable and resilient, snapping easily back to the movie after a quiet scene is twice rewound and explicated. The other is popped bubble, mourning the shattered spell. One is unperturbed by work interruptions, taking them in stride: Yes, Love? The other: What exactly is it about a steady gaze into a computer screen that translates as I’m Available?

One explodes. The other seethes. One thinks: Marriage over. The other thinks: Lousy night. Eventually, somebody apologizes. One is past Fight and Fuck. The other is past Fight and Fuck.

One of us meditates daily for forty-five minutes, observing without engaging. The other is good for twelve, a short-lived zealot, seeking enlightenment after an alarming diagnosis.

One of us starts a conversation at the beginning; the other, in the middle. One speaks in long, spiral sentences, a stream of consciousness with semicolons, declaratives, and anaphora. The other is who, what, when, where, how. One wields a laser pointer; the other, a red pencil. One provides unwanted edification; the other provides unwanted advice. One puns. The other mocks.

One forgets to look at the calendar. The other sets alarms and alerts. One leaves on time and arrives on time. The other leaves early and arrives early, dreading the mere possibility of running late.

One is a news junkie; the other reads magazines. One despairs; the other says poets are still poeming. One is Town Crier. The other is Bouncy Cheerleader. Both are entrenched.

One likes to walk in the woods at dusk. The other attracts mosquitos. One will not be dragged onto a dance floor. The other will not be dragged to a picnic.

One of us still remembers the other’s unfortunate remark on January 17, 2002 at 5:47 P.M. The other doesn’t remember the remark from last week, but vividly recalls our first kiss in a parked car, almost three decades ago; how it continued to warm and suffuse, hours later and miles apart.

One has a faint, slippery heartbeat, huaraches on wet grass. The other has a loud, taut march, boots on varnished oak. When one has laryngitis, the other whispers in solidarity.

For one, the scent of toasted cumin is nirvana; for the other, rank armpits. One washes jars before recycling. The other dumps “food-soiled” plastic into the com- post. One follows recipes; the other hates recipes, asks what to do, and then grumbles about receiving unwanted advice. One cooks slowly; the other cranks it up. One’s growing-up family played “Train” at the table with “Engine” finishing first and instigating group pressure on “Caboose.” The other’s father slapped a kid for spilling milk. One lingers; the other speeds. One is the guardian/hoarder/ mahatma of dark chocolate. The other swears it off, then begs for a mercy dose.

One of us is awed by the night sky, gazing up from a dark field or jagged cliff at the constellations people have seen for millennia, contemplating planets and comets and the immensity of the universe, gripped by worlds uncharted and life- forms possible. The other gets cold and won’t pee outside.

One of us is awed by the smell of old—sitting on hard pews in a medieval church where countless people have sat and will continue to sit, revering the sunlit stained glass, tasting the must, shivering in the draft, content to be tiny and temporary. The other sleeps late at the hotel.

One complains that Someone is a barracuda behind the wheel. The other complains that Someone is a dangerous turtle. One becomes carsick and antsy on road trips. The other watches dramatic reenactments of airplane crashes.

One wears only solid colors; the other eats popcorn with a spoon. We both talk to ourselves.

One: Where are you calling from? The other: A crowded café where an oblivious telecommuter is loudly videoconferencing, a prospective life coach is being interviewed about maladaptive goal-setting, two WWII poster girls are sipping

daintily in puff sleeves and bullet bras, and a tourist has returned the wallet I dropped while switching seats to escape the oblivious telecommuter.

One: Where are you calling from? The other: Virgo Supercluster, Local Group, Milky Way Galaxy, The Solar System, Earth, third planet from The Sun, Northern Hemisphere, U.S., California, San Francisco, our living room, specifically, the couch.

One is intrigued with the transmutation of a human soul into a new life-form. The other fears the afterlife might be an eternal elevator ride with The Hydra of Lerna and six televised sporting events with no off-button. One of us, if widowed, expects to see the other again. The other, if widowed, expects to somehow endure. One has faith; the other has hope.


Lisa K. Buchanan: “One of Us and The Other” was inspired by “He and I,” by Natalia Ginzburg. Her 1962 essay was explicitly gendered, while I wanted mine to downplay that distinction. Also, I obscured identities; sometimes the narrator is “one” and sometimes the narrator is “other.” Lastly, I hoped to echo what Vivian Gornick describes as the organizing principle behind Ginzburg’s piece, the narrator’s discovery of her own part in the complexity.

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