The river ran backwards, which is to say it ran contrary to expectations. It's an ambivalent village, at times both hard and easy to find. Easy because you showed up here when you thought you needed it, hard because needing it means you've got some real regrets. You woke up here. I do not know why. Maybe you've made some mistakes, or maybe you just got lost in confusion. But you're here now.
You probably noticed the river first. Don't worry too much about it, it will all make sense in hindsight. Houses line the riverbanks, are quiet, but not in an unsettling way, more in the the way you'd always hoped yours would be. A slow mist rolls in, the air condensing and ever so slightly harder to move through.
You realize that despite waking up on an alien riverbank with no recollection as to how, you have no questions. No thoughts. Not yet, they will come. You sit up and try to take me in. Old, generic, you wonder if I am the mold from which all other old men with a knowing twinkle in their eyes are cast.
"Puhbuhtuhkuh," you say. Your mouth feeling as though recovering from an anesthetic. Try not to force it. Or do. If you do, do not feel ashamed of how long it will take before feeling returns. I do not know how you got here, as I said and I am sure you will ask again. I would wager you floated in onto the bank, but your clothes are completely dry save for your cuffs. You keep moving your mouth, feeling it with your hands in the hopes that you can position your lips into a proper filter for words. Do not stress. Even if you could speak, what would you say? Your mind remains blank.
Listen, there is food and safety here on this side of the river. Do you see the smoke? I prepared breakfast, enough for two. I have gotten older and tire of repeating myself. Now is time for change, if not at least a change. Come, perhaps some tea may liven your tongue.
You stare at me blankly, still seated. You can stay here if you would like. The soft soil of the bank is as comfortable as it is nourishing, I’ll give you that. But you’ll get hungry soon, no? You can drink from the river but what of food? Take my hand, interloper, and put your arm over my shoulder and we will walk together.
I open the door. First, you notice the warmth spilling out, then you notice the smell. You seem more present, and feel it too. You’re hesitant to enter, but ultimately cross the threshold. You should feel comfortable here, interloper. You are welcome here. A noise startles you. I hear the steaming hiss and, Ah! of course, the tea. I hope you like licorice root and, no, it does not taste like your black licorice! It is sweet, but not only sweet—distinct. You are reminded of your first sip as you finish and realize the journey that your taste has undergone. Adjusting to the sweetness, filtering out the familiar flavor, forgetting the water, until all that is left is the core of the taste of licorice. It touches you, and you ask for more. You can have as much as you would like, but just as indulging brought you an appreciation, overindulging may bring a distaste. But, perhaps that is part of it. Here. And how is your throat, your mouth? Better. Well, perhaps a meal will do the trick. I left a broth stewing, nothing special, but more warmth is good. Your body will trade this physical warmth for emotional warmth and you will be on your way to feeling better. I have always liked stew.
You remember a fight, a torrent of harsh words you can’t quite make out.
Go on, eat. It’ll get cold. Do you want to know why I call you interloper, interloper? It’s not that you were uninvited, your very presence means you were. No, it is because you are not from here. Do you remember that? Do you know that this is not your home - that it can not be your home? I suppose I could call you a visitor, but something about it doesn’t seem right. Interloper. I prefer the ring it has. You begin to realize that your attention has gradually returned.
Your eyes have been fixed on a misty jar as you finish your broth, and you wonder why that is.
You attempt talking, and ask
What is that? and point to the swirling mists.
Oh, that? Nothing, just a jar of goodbyes I have been fermenting.
What? Why are you fermenting goodbyes?.
Sometimes if you ferment them long enough they turn into hellos.
Whose goodbyes are these?
I cannot answer all of your questions. Some, I do not know the answer to, and others I do not wish to speak. Others still you must find yourself. I imagine that you would like to return to wherever you are actually from. You nod, though you remember nothing of home, of where you are “actually from.” But you do know what a home is, and it would follow that given that you have one it would make sense you would want to return there, and so naturally you nod. There must be a way back from here, somehow, a return. There must be! You ask me how, and I remind you that the rules are different here, in Hindsight. I pause. You cannot hear capitalization in speech and so the difference between a Proper Noun and any old noun escapes you. I clarify that I am not using the relative term, but that you are actually in Hindsight now. That Hindsight is here. That you found yourself here because you were convinced some sense could be made out of something here. You wonder if this is a joke, but of course it isn’t. There is no punchline, no set-up.
There is the here and the now. The waking up on a riverbank, the forgetting, the old man, and the tea. No, I must have it wrong. The forgetting came first, no? Well, of course you don’t remember! What do you want, interloper? You must know that before all else! No, I cannot tell you what you want, for that would necessarily be telling you what to want.
You can think now, direct your attention. First, you pay attention to your body. It is nourished and can tell you of no wants. That is good, continue. You turn your thoughts to your thinking, a bold move but a necessary one. Take inventory of your knowledge.
You know you awoke on a riverbank, that that’s where it started. That you had lain there tracing the shape of the clouds with your eyes. That when you tired of the stagnant clouds your gaze followed the riverbank, noticing the houses. You remember imagining the sorts of families that would live there. A mother with her son, an old couple with visiting grandchildren, yet you saw no one. Who were these people you imagined? You cannot remember, though as you recall their faces you are filled with a terrible longing. Do not turn your attention - in the pain there is truth. As an old friend said, it is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. You focus and begin filling in the details. The grandchildren are enjoying their visit, but know it will end soon and that classes will begin. Summer’s end brings an unfamiliar, bitter aftertaste. The mother does not like her house, it is an escape. She sought it to shield her son. Safety borne and maintained out of fear feels self-defeating. Can you remember anymore? Any more? No. And then I arrived. You recall that you did not notice me arriving from any direction, you remember no sound. I was just there. You want to know what to want. You want to know. You realize all it is you can want with certainty. Perhaps your memories will return if you make it home.
You ask me the way home.
Perhaps it is time you set out. If there is a way, it may be best to begin searching the opposite shore. I can take you to the bridge.
That’s what I told you last time, and the time before last. Every draft placed you back at the beginning.
envy is ignorance; imitation is suicide.