By Daniel Boscaljon
Images by Melissa D. Johnston
“Characters: X and I (and you)” is the second letter in a series of posts called Letters to You written by Daniel Boscaljon with images by Melissa D. Johnston (from one of her ongoing projects). Letters to You began in July with “everytime i write i feel myself disintegrate.”
I know you to be a fan of neo-pirate cultures: thus I’m sure that you’ve heard the phrase, X marks the spot. On a treasure map, the treasure site, hidden from sight, was always demarcated with this character. Something similar, of course, occurs in the English Language, except that in common discourse, I marks the spot. I am a cipher, a character. I enter into the text, formless and empty, a spirit hovering over (and not within) the page. Over time, you learn things and gradually my I takes shape and dimension. But I don’t exist in reality, just as no X is ever imprinted onto the ground. In maps and charts and texts, such characters hold significant value…but both I and X prove to be equally difficult to find. You are such a character as well. I thought I knew you, and knew you well. And one day, I wake to find that you had gone, long ago. The treasures that I had–your voice, your laughter…your insights and your sense of humor–these you had taken from me as well. I would never have expected that you could laugh in such a hollow way, or hug me as only a distant or nervous acquaintance could. I wanted to feel it as sincere, but this was denied to me. In stealing your presence, you stole the past from me as well. My memories of you are tarnished–was I deluding myself about our friendship all along? What did I do that could make you run from me? I would rather blame myself, of course, for a specific action or comment than realize that my ability to judge others is flawed. And yet…even now, I cannot blame you. Characters change. I can become you, and be you for another. Time passes and the sand shifts. The map designates a space which existed once in time, but no longer. The X remains forever arbitrary, and just as X, you. And just as you, I. When I judge you, I judge also myself and we all are guilty, every one of us. Tragically, however, when the sword of judgment descends I will have your laughter in my ear, and while on the surface it may resemble the musical sounds in which I found solace, I know that as I dig I will find only hollow tones which mock me until I end.
Daniel Boscaljon has Ph.D.s in Modern Religious Thought and 19th-century American Literature, both from the University of Iowa. His interest is in the fragility and liminality of human experiences. His first book, Vigilant Faith: Passionate Agnosticism in the Secular World will be published by the University of Virginia Press this August.