The Unbearable Lightness Being
When I was a kid, my spirit animal was part bird, part fish, and about three-percent bullshit. She neither had wings nor could breathe underwater but she frequently switched between pronouns before switching between pronouns was cool. She was useless in so many ways but she was my best friend, my only friend in fact, and I liked to call her the Unbearable Lightness Being.
One day, I asked the Unbearable Lightness Being what her spirit animal would be if she were to pick one. She pretended not to hear me for a while before admitting that she was identifying with the Native American culture lately and that was why she would refuse to pick a spirit animal on principle, which, as she claimed, was essentially a colonialist concept. The Unbearable Lightness Being talked a lot of trash, but I knew she could be sensitive about certain topics, so I kept my mouth shut, as always. She advised me that change can be good every now and again and that I should soon try and stop seeing the world so binary. She said it was nearing the twenty-first century and that I could even pick a television persona or, say, a television as my spirit animal if I felt like it. “Or,” she hesitated, “you could stop worrying about the whole thing and start making some real friends.” I remember staring back at her with tears in my eyes before I sulked back to my room, praying deep down that whatever spirit animal she might pick one day have rabies.
One Christmas Eve years later, the Unbearable Lightness Being told me she’d like to be addressed to as a he from now on and that she would only answer to “Brother Boris.” He moved into the attic after mutually deciding to separate our rooms, then spent the whole summer shedding his skin and the winter endless tears. He refused to see anyone during his rest unless necessary, including me, and had become a bit snippy about a lot of things in the process. When his transformation into a one-eyed pony was finally complete after eighteen sunless months, he told me he was feeling much better but he now needed some extra space for an extensive recovery.
Nearing the end of our seven years together, and shortly after his transformation, I confessed to Brother Boris that I was at last willing to take his advice and resume my life identifying with another spirit animal. I assured him my decision wouldn’t affect the status of our friendship in any way and we could move on from this as stronger beings. He stared at me for a very long time before asking, with what I took for a slight pang of jealousy, whether I had yet decided on what my next spirit animal would be. I told him I had to think about it first but was feeling strongly about walruses since this documentary I’d seen with my parents the other week. He shook his head in disappointment and spat on the floor. A poor man’s spirit animal if you ask me, he said, although I didn’t remember asking him. I took his words in stride to avoid further confrontation and told him I’d be open to suggestions. He said he’d give it a thought and turned around to leave the room, and then the house, without saying goodbye.
The next morning, I woke up to an empty house. Even before opening my eyes, I could feel the absence of someone else under the same roof with me as if a certain weight, or a veil of some sort, were lifted off my reality. I checked all the floors, including the attic, but neither Brother Boris nor my parents seemed to be around, not even Harold, the family collie. I searched everywhere in town from the community pool to the birch woods neighboring our backyard and called out for him until time became one thing and I another, but no one replied. I tried “the Unbearable Lightness Being” every few minutes for a change, to no avail. Later in the afternoon, my parents came back home with Harold from what they called a routine vet checkup, but there was still no sign of Brother Boris.
Years passed with me constantly asking around and occasionally checking the World Wide Web for any live-leak footage of an ex-part-bird, part-fish one-eyed pony. I graduated from high school friendless, powerless, hopeless, as Brother Boris once predicted, until I met Xian on one of those online forums dedicated to missing spirit animals. On xir profile, Xian claimed to be a German war prisoner in one of xir past lives and that xe could walk through walls when no one was looking. Every time we chatted, we rated and compared our past and present spirit animals (xe claimed to have identified with a B-type actor after xir lifelong caterpillar went missing one Christmas morning, to my on-and-off flings since Brother Boris). One particularly difficult day, I told xir that I was feeling a sense of darkness growing in my soul, in my body lately. Going on for quite some time, I said, this emptiness reminiscent of outer space. Xian told me xe understood and xe, too, had felt at times as if every piece of xir soul were being replaced by something black and rotten even though xe was now feeling lucky to be surrounded by the loveliest and most caring of spirit animals.
Later that night, I lit a candle for Brother Boris in my room, hoping one day we could be friends again. I sat in front of my computer before sleep and asked Xian if xe would care to be my next spirit animal. Or whatever you’d like to call it these days, I wrote xim. Whatever you’d like to call them. Or him. Or her.
It’s all one, yet none so, xe replied. Not unlike God or the universe if you ask me.
I wash my father every day since language escaped him. He gazes about from the violated privacy of his bathtub, his eyes wandering in search of someone to accuse. I know the lack of words angers him; he likes the loudness of things—big American fireworks; a sobbing spouse. He doesn’t realize it was the same words that often betrayed him in the past, first by announcing him an orphan, then a husband, and a father, a migrant, a hard worker that rewarded him with nothing but a bad back and a house crumbling in the same way his body would from places he didn’t even know existed. When I was a kid, he used to tell me my body was all wrong. Born wrong. That as a soldier the first thing he noticed was that a body was this malleable thing, wrung at heart’s will. That’s why, he said, he wanted to name me after Nanna, despite my mother’s protests. Nanna, the moon god, firm as a rock. A token of being from the tribe of desert people, a walking talisman for bad luck. His voice the word of another god, a divine microphone booming with conviction and judgment, marked with years of dictating his words to an audience not too older in age than him as the only imam in the fifty-mile radius of Assur, where I was born. These days, I watch him swallow his words and drown his belief in his muteness. I comb his hair to the scalp, trim his nails, and soap his moonlike knees that have cratered over the years with each fall, his member hanging like a warning between us, a deflated balloon. I never told him this, but I always liked him—like him—better this way, quiet and on the other side of control. Those little mind games he used to play with me when I was a kid, like burying everything dear to me in our backyard—my wishbones, my wisdom teeth, the tufts of my hair. Having me recite King Solomon’s story backward from memory, at which I would fail every time and cry. I started working alongside him at his best friend’s boating company when I turned fourteen, ferrying tourists across the River Tigris in the same way Charon would stranger souls in the afterlife. One day, a young British couple who were spending their honeymoon in the city tipped us generously for what the wife called the goodness of my face. My father thanked her, his eyes on her jade bracelet, which proved defenseless against the pull of gravity when I latched my hands on it and tried to snatch it off of her with all the power I could muster. When I succeeded, I threw the bracelet into the black waters. The woman slapped me left and right, telling me I’m a disgusting thief, the taste of blood a caramel in my mouth. My father started apologizing profusely, at loss for words again, just in a different way—for my behavior, for what had gotten into me, for me, my wishbones, my moon, my goddess. Nanna, my moon god, firm as a rock.
Sarp Sozdinler is a Turkish writer based in Philadelphia and Amsterdam. Their work has been published or is forthcoming in the Kenyon Review, Masters Review, Normal School, Hobart, Maudlin House, Passages North, The Offing, among other places. Some of their stories have been anthologized and received a recognition at literary events, the most recently the 2022 Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction Award.