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See You Again

When I return to the lab, the new tanks are the first thing I notice. My colleagues had no details about my daughter’s service, no address to show up at or send a card to, so I think the octopuses might be their version of sending flowers. I flip through the paperwork. They were delivered on the very same day as Kara’s burial—with the kind of spontaneity that has had no precedent in this lab for twenty years. And being the only evolutionary psychologist on staff, let’s say the bouquet is designed for the person meant to receive it.

I feel eyes on me that whole day, but no one says anything or makes any special presentation of the cephalopods. Sometimes people know you better than you think they do. Toward the end of the day, Estelia pours a glug of whiskey from her emergency flask into my coffee cup. Soon after, the others begin to encourage me to go home to rest. But I make the excuse of having loads of work to catch up on and wait impatiently for them, one by one, to leave me alone with the octopuses. Whatever this says about me, I have never been able to enjoy a gift until the person who gave it to me went away.

I turn on the lights installed underneath the lid of the tank. It was designed to look like sunlight filtering down from the surface of the ocean, and the effect is more or less as intended. I turn off the lights in the lab, with the exception of some blue light that emanates from a few of the half-sleeping monitors. There are four octopuses. The one called Pia—yellow and blue for the moment—sits on top of the large rock positioned at the center. She drapes her skirts around it, made of the webbing between her legs. Something glints on the ground a few inches from the rock. I squint and see that it is the gold-tinted lid from a jar of salsa. In this I recognize a familiar experiment designed to measure novel learning. Pia had obviously figured out how to open the jar and then refused to return the lid. In the depth of ocean she’s used to, any glimmer of light is a commodity.

The glass between us is a transparent lie. It allows us to look into each other’s eyes as if we were not looking across universes, across ages. Pia floats up, sinks back down. Her third heart stops pumping when she swims, so she prefers not to. At a certain point, I look at my watch. Fifteen minutes have passed. I consider the parts of my night I’ve yet to prepare for, my husband, our dinner, and I wonder how long our time together has felt to Pia. Her species has a lifespan of one year, and out of that year, perhaps four or five months have already been spent. If she is conscious of her mortality—although implausible, I do believe in the possibility—then I wonder what it feels like to have such an intense burst of short-lived awareness. Maybe it is all relative, maybe different existences take longer to resolve than others, maybe lives always feel over at the precise moment that they are over, all of the open questions and anxieties snapping to at the last moment, dissolving into the backlit beyond. Here’s to hoping, at least. Pia turns black, like the mini-shades of her dermis are pulled shut from the inside, blocking out all light.

She disappears into the backdrop of dark water, until she shoots off the rock and floats softly back down again, strange ghost with the parachuting grief, and I have the distinct feeling that I’m being mocked.


Funerals are full of redactions. I had never noticed before Kara’s, but it’s true. Everyone dressed in black, their whole bodies crossed out, pretending out of sympathy for the grievers that they also don’t exist, stepping softly. I’m not here, they seem to say. They believe they are acting with kindness when tracking lies into my house like dirt on the bottom of their shoes. There are no more clean cups, my sister kept insisting while guests still filled the house. You need to run the dishwasher. She treated me a little roughly, and I understood her meaning. She wanted me to admit to some degree of relief. Kara’s life had been too much trouble anyway, she thought. She couldn’t see around that view, and my husband might have taken her point, I’m not sure. They whispered something behind my back. What I know is that together they tried to get me to close the casket, and when I refused, they wanted me to let the undertaker use some 3D technique to make her head look larger. She was nine. I knew how badly I needed to see her as she was. I had already started to feel the foreign rays of my imagination move like northern lights, like someone making several arms of rope dance at once. Of course, I did not admit this to anyone. But when the undertaker emailed me the preview picture, I replied: HANDS MORE TWISTED.


Developmental regression, the doctors called it. At ten months, Kara abruptly stopped learning new things and forgot, one by one, those she already knew. It was like watching a broken VCR eat the tape of our daughter’s cognitive record, and we had to sit helplessly in front of the monitor to watch the static dance across the screen. Everything Kara had learned—everything I taught her—was snatched back. She had been able to say “cat” and “mama,” to get Cheerios into her mouth, to turn the pages of a book. I knew I could remember these things because I could picture the waxy shine of her little fingernails, the alien wrinkles on her skinny knuckles. But maybe I had imagined them? I brought out the baby book that my sister had given me, regretted the empty lines next to each milestone. Her development had always fallen in the normal range. So meticulous, always, at the lab, yet at home I had apparently found it too mundane to fill in the date that Kara first waved bye-bye, ate with her fingers.

I said nothing to Ed, except that I wanted her out of daycare. I wasn’t ready to involve him, and he did not protest, not even when I took leave from work. During that period, Kara and I would often pass the entire day without leaving the apartment. I remember once, after spending several days inside, we ventured out on the subway. I was dressed in formless clothes, my hair stringy but clean—I always kept us both clean—but I had not wanted to bother with the stroller. I held Kara in my arms, wrapped in a blanket. I remember that I refused to meet the eyes of a young derelict, wanting to avoid the scenario in which he would certainly beg for money. But he had us cornered, so I looked away from him and instead at our reflections in the glass doors of the moving train. But he followed suit and found eye contact with my reflection.

“Excuse me,” he said, “what is today?”

I would have answered him, but I couldn’t. I reached into my mind and found I had lost the whole concept of time. I stared at him dumbfounded, unable not only to tell Tuesday from Wednesday, or the fifteenth from thirteenth, but to get any foothold at all. Month or year. Our train stopped without the doors opening, and another train pulled in from the other direction, then started up again before us, provoking that strange illusion of backward movement.

Through all of this, the derelict and I continued to stare at each other.

“Monday, the seventeenth,” said the person behind me, and it was over.

I looked down and hugged my daughter to my chest, made sure the blanket was covering her face. When we got home, I pulled out my calendar and began to record day by day the things Kara could do (swallow her food, grip my finger in her hand, hold her head up), and then soon those she could no longer do (hold her head up, grip my finger in her hand, swallow her food). It’s difficult to describe the effect of this constant erosion, but maybe I will come close if I say that it felt like time was moving both forward and backward at the same time. A few weeks after the incident on the subway, we got the diagnosis.


When I had been dating my husband for six months, a friend asked me out for a drink for the sole purpose of letting me know on behalf of her entire circle that Ed was a jerk. This woman and I had been friends for several years, and though I felt barely close to her, she kept professing in a bald, and to me, embarrassing, way that she cared for me. She must have said so three or four times in the time it took to get to her point: that I was too blinded by love to see Ed accurately, so she felt obligated to step in. I politely thanked her and made it clear that her conclusion was probably accurate, but at the same time, that I preferred the term asshole, which I considered sexier than jerk.

I finished my drink and left the bar, never speaking to her or any of them again. She must have thought I was offended on behalf of Ed, but in reality I was absolutely furious with myself for having, apparently, presented such a dishonest face to the world. An attractive woman, young, petite. It was obvious that those who looked at me saw someone bookish, quiet, intelligently agreeable, and assumed therefore that I was sensitive and harmless; in fact, easily harmed. They had mistaken my reticence, my unwillingness to share my true feelings—in short, my selfishness—for weakness, and I had facilitated their misperceptions because, of course, it was easier for a woman if you did.


At the lab my colleague, Estelia, brings me a coffee. “Hi, bitch,” she says. We have known each other since before either of us were married. Now Estelia is divorced—her husband wanted children, she did not. After feeling the same for a long time, I changed my mind at the last possible moment and got pregnant. But now, again, I catch pace with her in childlessness. This is Monday, and she asks me about my first weekend since starting back to work. I tell her that Ed was in Chicago, so I spent both days in the lab with Pia. I do not say that my husband’s girlfriend was with him, but she picks it up. That Ed has girlfriends is not something I’ve gone out of my way to hide from Estelia. Though I could do without her ironic eyebrows.

“I admit I would have liked a trip to Chicago,” I say, not giving her a chance to make the joke that she is definitely in the process of devising. “To see the fossils.”

Fewer than ten octopus fossils have been discovered across the world, most of which belong to Lebanon, except for the temporary exhibit set up in Chicago. When I read about it, my hope was that I would get to see Styletoctopus annae