Andrew Bertaina: If I could remake the world

Before you left, we used to play this game, if I could remake the world, we’d populate these imaginary worlds with the silliest things—topiaries of candy, sexually indiscriminate walruses, melancholic trees, weeping in the breeze. Now that you’re gone, sometimes I still play the game, late at night, when my daughter is asleep, as a kind of waking meditation, a last thread of connection.

If I could remake the world, from first flicker of light piercing ether, to finishing the paper-thin wings of a gnat, I’d start by adding more land, more snowy crags, more windswept valleys rich with mangoes, more aspens quaking in the breeze. The land would stretch on forever, so people could search for themselves by getting lost—a northwest passage, a new species of hooded woodpecker, a ruined city covered by ivy in the deep, hot jungle.

As for male and female, I wouldn’t pull the rib from Adam as God did, I’d create both from dust. Only, I’d create numerous people, multifarious, to avoid the difficult question of how much incest it took for our species to spread out across that vast landscape of diaphanous rivers and flower-swathed plains. I don’t know whether I’d make emperor penguins in the precise way they are now, but rather, I’d give them a hat, round and small as the pontiff’s and make them enigmatic spiritual leaders as opposed to flightless birds. But perhaps this world has already gotten off track and must be started again, as God did, wiping the slate clean with acidic oceans, volcanic eruptions, and asteroids falling into the Yucatan peninsula.

I’d start then with water. Everything would be water—turquoise water, blue water, green waters, dark and deep waters. And I’d create two whales, both asexual, so there would be no question of future sadness. The two whales, picture something like a cross between a blue and a humpback, would be immortal, and they’d swim through the depths of the sea for eternity with nothing to see, except one another, powering through the water like freight trains carrying the dreams of a better world.

 I can already hear your objection, think of all the complexity lost by only having two whales. What would we do in a world where Becky Hanson doesn’t invite us to her fourth-grade birthday party or Doug Jones doesn’t kiss that girl in a shimmering green dress we’ve been mooning over all year? What will we do in a world with no tender cherry blossoms coated in bells of rain?  No raucous bird song, no power lines cleaving sky, no loves and lovers exchanging texts, envelopes of light stretching through the darkness of a failing relationship. No ballet recitals, pink tutus, and childish fits. No long drives with the radio blaring and tears streaming down our faces as we look towards the hills at a sky of orange fire.

Don’t worry, dearest, given an eternity, these whales would play out all our human dramas, dream all our dreams, write and discard Shakespeare’s sonnets, the essays of Montaigne, the Histories of Herodotus, the disastrous last season of Game of Thrones, they’d be enemies, boss and applicant, gardener and soil, father and son, husband and scorned lover.

In short, my love, if you’re still reading, I’d create a world only slightly like this one. You and I would still be there and maybe those two whales. We’d be otter-like creatures with webbed feet, webbed eyes, a penchant for wry jokes, and rye whiskey. We’d swim in the Adriatic, slither between the ruins of cities that never were, the Greek aisles, the abandoned arm of The Colossus of Rhodes. We’d watch the dreams of those whales start the long journey upriver, lumbering along to spawn the world to come.

We’d swim across molten gold water towards the half-orb of the sun. In this world, the light will be something you can attach yourself to, like a belay, and we’ll be so close together, as we once were, in a Florentine spring.

Of course, that world doesn’t exist yet because I haven’t created it. In this one, I’m looking at a painting, red and pink with flecks of white that could be birds, snowflakes, blossoms. In this one, life is different, but I still leave the couch, slip off my clothes, and walk into the painting. The pink, red, and white colors, flow past me like veils, like long and silken hair.

In this world, I’m swimming towards the horizon. Mid-way, I realize I’ll never make it, but I keep swimming anyway, like those goddamn stupid otter things in the other world. Or like we did that last fateful summer when our relationship was over, but we still traveled to Spain, drank wine and ate snails, fought in the moonlit square, made furious love and got drunk until we both ceased to exist, which was the only way we could go on—playing in the ashes of our relationship as children in the sand.

I swim because swimming through a painting filled with a piercing white light is to give life a meaning it so rarely has. And isn’t that the thing which bothered you most? That I couldn’t put a name to anything, to how I felt for you, us or myself, about a little house, a little dog, the names of our future children?

I could write like this for hours, but unlike God, I don’t have an eternity. I have a few moments at the end of the day to bring order to the swirling chaos. So I sit with my daughter, you still absent. I open a page in her coloring book, there is a princess, wide-eyed and innocent on her way to attend a ball. My daughter and I sit, side by side, drawing the princesses’ dress in with royal purple. Neither of us says a word, but you can feel between our two warm and breathing bodies, a kind of connection, of furious work, of love.

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