Friday, February 21, 2014

The Girl in the Sphere

Dear Ellie,

The strangest thing I've experienced in the NICU is immense love that I'm unable to show.  At this early age, the sad truth is that you have almost no understanding of my existence.  Your brain is simply too nascent, too young.  You are carried along in life by strange technology, forever unaware of the people who love you and yearn for you.  At all times, I wish--- I ache--- to reach through the acrylic barrier of your isolette and through the nascency of your mind and somehow let you know the love in my heart.

How strange that must be.  To be you.  This notion got me thinking about another story.  A story about a girl not too dissimilar from you.  A girl that travels about the world in a sphere.  A girl that sees many beautiful things, but has never shared a word with another soul.  A girl, unaware of how much she is loved.       

Illustration commissioned from Tze-Chiang Lim

There once was a girl in a sphere.  

The Girl was curious.  She had long hair and gray eyes.  

The Sphere was silent.  It was 8 feet tall and clear like glass.   

The Girl had only ever been inside of the sphere, so at first, she was happy.  The Sphere traveled all across the world, and for the longest time, the only thing The Girl could remember was floating above snowy peaks.  Rolling through the clouds.  Plunging through the oceans.  The Girl was only a spectator of it all, but she didn’t know what freedom was, so she watched and marveled and was never sad.

At first, she didn’t even know that she was a girl or that she was inside of a sphere at all, except for the fact that The Sphere cast a spectral reflection of The Girl, wherever she looked.  

Over time though, the sphere’s wanderings brought them close to the cities of men and of women.  And then the Girl in the Sphere saw another girl like herself.  A girl that was not in a sphere.  And so The Girl came to understand that she was a girl too, like the one on the outside.  Yet the two of them were different, also.  She watched that girl carefully.  Watched how she moved without confinement.  How she could reach out to things in the world.  How she could pick objects up.  Set objects down.

The Girl in the Sphere wondered why she couldn’t do things to the world like the other girl.  The Girl in the Sphere reached out to a thing on the ground, but her hand only rolled across The Sphere’s smooth surface.  That’s when she understood that herself, and The Sphere, were not the same.  She blurted a sound to the girl on the outside, but the girl didn’t see her, or hear her.  The Sphere, and The Girl within, were invisible and mute to all things.  

The Girl felt something deep inside that she hadn’t felt before.  Something that made her heart clench and eyes burn.  As soon as she felt it, The Sphere moved on. 

The Girl in the Sphere would see many more places with people, as the years went by.  Some places were magnificent cities with towering skyscrapers.  Others were vast slums, where people were frail and hungry and sick.  The Girl came to know that people in the world needed things.  Like food and water.  And if people didn’t get these things, they would slowly whither away.  But The Girl in the Sphere never went without these things.  Somehow, she realized, The Sphere gave her all that she needed.  Almost all that she needed. 

Eventually, after hearing a thousand different languages in a thousand different places, The Girl invented a patchwork language for herself.  And with that language, she spoke to the only thing that might be able to hear her.  To the thing she knew most intimately.

“Did you see that, Sphere?” the girl would say, or:  “I wish we could go back to the ocean.  Can you take me to the ocean, Sphere?  Or to the mountain that spat fire?  Or bounce along the clouds, again?”

Now that The Girl had discovered language, she talked to The Sphere always, but The Sphere was always silent.

No matter what The Girl said, it never seemed to change what The Sphere did, or where it went.  Sometimes, though… maybe… perhaps… The Girl would feel a certain way for a time, and The Sphere would spin about and change its course.  The Girl wasn't sure why but she was happy whenever that happened.       

At all times, the Sphere was always moving.  Sometimes quickly, like a bullet.  Sometimes slowly, like a turtle.  There was only three times that The Sphere ever stopped.

The first time was near a window.  Inside the window was a Mother and a little Child.  The Child slept, his head turned up at The Mother as though gazing through closed eyelids.  The Mother stroked his head and spoke only in a whisper: “I love you.”  The child's eyes opened.  He didn't speak, but his eyes spoke for him, whispering back that same phrase.  The Girl had never heard those words, but she knew right away what they meant.

The Sphere hovered still at the window, lingering.  Was it watching them too, with The Girl? 

The Sphere eventually drifted away and The Girl in the Sphere thought about what she had seen, and heard.  She put her hand on The Sphere.  Held it there. 

“I love you, Sphere,” The Girl said.  And then The Girl listened closely.  She held her ear to every part of The Sphere.  Ran her hands along every latitude, looking for some crack, some blemish, some spot that might be a word.  But there was nothing.  The Sphere was silent.

The Girl cried. 

She was sad for a very long time and the sadness didn't go away.  That is, until the day that The Sphere spun about and changed its course.  The Girl looked up at the Moon, a faint crescent in the daylight.  And then The Sphere and The Girl went up.  And up.  And up.  The blue of the sky slowly faded until the stars pierced through the heavens.  Below them was the world.  And it grew smaller.  Above them was the Moon.  And it grew bigger.  And, then, suddenly, The Girl realized that the Moon… was a place.

“Thank you Sphere!” the girl shrieked, but The Sphere was silent.

The Sphere went faster and faster until at last, The Girl and The Sphere had arrived.  They bounced along the Lunar landscape.  Rolled through its craters.  And The Girl was happy again.

In time, once The Girl and The Sphere had explored the Moon, they returned to the Earth.  Some time later, The Girl began to wonder.  Why did The Sphere go to the Moon? Did it go because it was bored?  Because it sensed her sadness?  Or did it go for no reason at all?  Did the Sphere ever do anything because of the way that she felt?  Did it know that she even existed?

Either way, whenever The Girl looked up at the sky and saw the Moon, she understood that the Universe was far bigger than she ever thought it was before.  Were the stars themselves places that The Sphere might take her, one day?  The thought was enthralling.  So for awhile, The Girl forgot her sadness.  Until The Sphere stopped for a second time.

They were in a park, in a city, when The Sphere rolled to a halt.  On a bench was a Young Man.  A simple, quiet Young Man.  He sat there, book folded on his lap, turned down.  Around him were other men and women bustling about.  There were animals running.  Trees swaying.  But the Young Man didn’t move.  He only sat still.  He could do all of those other things that the men and women did if he wanted to, but he chose to watch  the world instead.  To observe.  It seemed to The Girl, perhaps, that the Young Man was a lot like her.  The Girl pressed her hands to the invisible barrier that separated them.  Her heart was stirred by a strange feeling as she looked at him, but before she could understand it, The Sphere moved on.               

“No, Sphere, stop!” she cried in her patchwork language, but The Sphere didn’t stop. 

After they had left, she thought often of the Young Man.  Wondered why they couldn’t sit in the park and observe the things of the world, together.  And then she thought about all of the people of the world.  How they spoke together.  Walked together.  Experienced together.  But The Girl had never said a thing to anyone, and never had a thing spoken back to her.  She had thought many times of many people, but no one, not once, had ever given her a thought.  Not even, so far as she knew, The Sphere.

For the first time, The Girl understood what loneliness was.  It made her rediscover her sadness, and it was deeper than before.

The Girl forgot how long she had been sad, but one day, The Sphere turned skyward a second time.  They went faster than they ever had before, because the places they were going were far further than the Moon.  They plunged through the Sun.  They skipped along the rings of Saturn.  They even rolled leisurely across Charon, moon of Pluto, and gazed back on the pale blue dot that was the Earth.  But The Girl had grown listless in her loneliness.  She never even raised her head.  Such marvelous things were meager, when witnessed alone.  No place that The Sphere went could lift The Girl from her sadness.    

She could have believed that The Sphere sensed her despair.  That it was trying to make her happy.  But she preferred to believe that it didn’t.  It was just a thing.  Some passionless fluke of the cosmos that had swept her up long ago, like the wind.  It never spoke its feelings, because it never had them to begin with.  

“I hate you, Sphere,” The Girl said bitterly.  She thought the words, too, in case that was the only way that The Sphere could hear her.

So The Sphere spun through the solar system, slowly, back toward the Earth.  It came back through the atmosphere and the clouds.  Drifted over forests and rivers and snowcapped peaks.  Took a dip in the ocean.  And then it finally came to the city with the park, and The Sphere stopped for the third time.  The last time. 

The Girl raised her head only when she felt a thing she had never felt before.  It was a soft thing.  A cold thing, whisking through her hair.  The wind.  She reached around her and above her and beneath her.  At first, the glass around her was smooth.  But then she noticed a crack.  A hole.  She drew back her hand.  The crack slithered across The Sphere's equator, then expanded like a river breaking off into tributaries.  Soon, the cracks were everywhere, and in one terrible crash... The Sphere shattered.  Before the shards could ever strike the ground, they turned to smoke, like water turned to vapor.       

The Girl felt the grass beneath her feet.  Breathed the air.  She reached around her, beneath and above, but The Sphere was gone.

For the first time, she didn't have to ponder what The Sphere had meant.  It hadn't grown tired of her or wanted her gone.  It was never some fluke of the cosmos that had swept her up like the wind and was now leaving her, just the same.

The truth was, in all of her journeys, The Girl had never been alone.

She cried tears of joy and grief, now that she finally understood.  The Sphere had said “I love you,” in the only way it could.

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