Toward a Topography of the Parallel Universe
People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can't answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It's easy.
And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe. There are so many of them: worlds of the insane, the criminal, the crippled, the dying, perhaps of the dead as well. These worlds exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it.
My roommate Georgina came in swiftly and totally, during her junior year at Vassar. She was in a theater watching a movie when a tidal wave of blackness broke over her head. The entire world was obliterated - for a few minutes. She knew she had gone crazy. She looked around the theater to see if it had happened to everyone, but all the other people were engrossed in the movie. She rushed out, because the darkness in the theater was too much when combined with the darkness in her head.
And after that? I asked her.
A lot of darkness, she said.
But most people pass over incrementally, making a series of perforations in the membrane between here and there until an opening exists. And who can resist an opening? In the parallel universe the laws of physics are suspended. What goes up does not necessarily come down. A body at rest does not tend to stay at rest, and not every action can be counted on to provoke an equal and opposite reaction. Time, too, is different. It may run in circles, flow backward, skip about from now to then. The very arrangement of molecules is fluid: Tables can be clocks; faces, flowers.
These are facts you find out later, though.
Another odd feature of the parallel universe is that although it is invisible from this side, once you are in it you can easily see the world you came from. Sometimes the world you came from looks huge and menacing, quivering like a vast pile of jelly; at other times it is miniaturized and alluring, aspin and shining in its orbit. Either way, it can't be discounted.
Every window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco.
"You have a pimple," said the doctor.
I'd hoped nobody would notice.
"You've been picking it," he went on.
When I'd woken that morning - early, so as to get to this appointment - the pimple had reached the stage of hard expectancy in which it begs to be picked. It was yearning for release. Freeing it from its little white dome, pressing until the blood ran, I felt a sense of accomplishment: I'd done all that could be done for this pimple.
"You've been picking at yourself," the doctor said.
I nodded. He was going to keep talking about it until I agreed with him, so I nodded.
"Have a boyfriend?" he asked.
I nodded to this too.
'Trouble with the boyfriend?" It wasn't a question, actually he was already nodding for me. "Picking at yourself," he repeated. He popped out from behind his desk and lunged toward me. He was a taut fat man, tight-bellied and dark.
"You need a rest," he announced.
I did need a rest, particularly since I'd gotten up so early that morning in order to see this doctor, who lived out in the suburbs. I'd changed trains twice. And I would have to retrace my steps to get to my job. Just thinking of it made me tired.
"Don't you think?" He was still standing in front of me. "Don't you think you need a rest?
"Yes," I said.
He strode off to the adjacent room, where I could hear him talking on the phone.
I have thought often of the next ten minutes - my last ten minutes. I had the impulse, once, to get up and leave through the door I'd entered, to walk the several blocks to the trolley stop and wait for the train that would take me back to my troublesome boyfriend, my job at the kitchen store. But I was too tired.
Excerpted from Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. Copyright© 1994 by Susanna Kaysen. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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