It’s evolution, baby
By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
I see my messy hair reflected in the cured-meats-and-eggs case of New Seasons and know that there was no hiding how laid I had just gotten. It doesn’t matter, though — the Thursday-evening grocery shoppers aren’t paying attention to one another, shuffling past me with my basket full of linguiça and kale. It’s late evening, almost nighttime, in the time of year that is almost autumn. I’m almost 29, almost broke, almost single, entirely thrilled to be in this odd space in-between, in which everything is due for arrival at any moment. I smile at my lewd freedom and reach for a carton of eggs when I hear a voice behind me — “Of course you go for free range.”
I turn around, startled. “Ryan!”
We hug — “What’s with your hair?” he asks. “Bringing the fuck knot back into style?”
“Shut up,” I laugh, starting to blush. “I’m on my way home from a, uh, friend of mine’s house.”
“Considering how you’re walking,” Ryan grabs a carton of eggs, “he must be a good ‘friend.’”
Full blush and a wink. “An excellent ‘friend.’”
“Anyway,” he says as we stroll down the brightly-lit aisle, “I remember you telling me that you were going to change your column? No more Rain City?”
“Yeah, that story finished itself out,” I say, grabbing a carton of milk off the shelf.
“What’s the new column about, then?”
“That’s the thing — I’m not sure yet,” I reply as we turn the corner into the produce section. “Rain City was about the aching to connect with other people and to the larger world, and I think the urgency to write it in the first place came from my own struggle with that ache.”
“Yeah, it was quite heavy.” The green beans in Ryan’s hand fall into a plastic bag, the bag falls into his basket.
“Totally, and intentionally. Which is funny, because while I wrote such heavy stuff, my life got progressively better and better. I mean, shit, life isn’t easy, but it’s still pretty damn awesome right now…”
“And fuck yes to that, I’ll throw in.”
“Thanks. It’s taken hard work to learn that ‘depressed’ isn’t all I am, if that makes sense. I identify a lot less with aching in general. I mean, I’m evolving as a person and letting go of some fundamental things about my own story.” I look Ryan in the eyes through his round glasses. “So, I guess that’s what the new one’ll be about: the questions that this particular evolution brings up. What are we if we aren’t our stories? Who am I if I’m not, say, depressed, or isolated, or intelligent, or queer, or brave, or crazy, or hell, even a person? I want to consider what we are underneath the labels we apply to ourselves. I figure it’ll be surprising, whatever I find beneath there.”
Ryan nods thoughtfully. “Maybe being evolutionary is just being willing to be surprised,” he says. “I mean, even on a literal level. That first anthropod that scurried out of the water onto land — he got up to the shore, where the wet world he knew ended, and maybe he was surprised that he could scuttle his way up at all. Then he rose up out of the water, and all he encountered was a big dry land of further surprises.”
“Can you imagine a lonelier little bastard, though?” I ask, popping tart kumquats into my mouth as we walk towards the checkstand. “Nothing there to greet him except a big scary world of things that looked nothing like him.”
“Sure,” Ryan says, “but that’s pioneering: willingness to be alone in a scary new world, at least until someone follows you. However, let’s acknowledge that we’re vastly overestimating the emotional capabilities of a creature that was basically a primitive centipede,” he chuckles. “We’re talking about the drama of the gifted anthropod!”
“Ha! Still, it’s poetic,” I laugh, unloading my groceries onto the belt. “Maybe that’s what screws humans up: we’re still animals, still evolving, but also forced by the complexity of our minds to deal with the meaning we assign to evolution.”
“Yeah,” Ryan says as the checker starts to scan my groceries. “Maybe humans are the only ones that freak out about identities. I mean, while we’re in stoner philosophy territory, maybe those gifted centipedes didn’t even think it was all that different on land. I mean, hell, maybe they just thought it was all the same, that everything is connected, the wet sea and the big dry land and all their anthropod buddies and them, even if it didn’t really look like it at that moment. Maybe they just got on with their evolution without any of this drama we’re talking about.”
“Now that,” I say, grinning, “is exactly what I hope happened.”
I slide my debit card through the credit machine, then look back at Ryan. “Hell, if a primitive centipede can do it,” I say, “maybe there’s hope for me, too.”
Nick Mattos is a writer and yoga instructor who tries to take life easily as it unfolds — and he promises to tell you all about it. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.