written/non-written things by me (from 2005-2008)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Deja Vu

My toes are numb. I'm wearing two layers of thermal sweaters and a cold weather coat. I have been running at least a mile along a length of a high brick wall with barbed wire along the top. The sidewalk is only four feet wide. Its 8:30pm. And it’s moonless. The winds are astounding, but the wall braces the wind. Heading out from my apartment I escaped the busy neighborhood, ran beneath the interlooping highway overpasses, and past the 3rd Ring Road. I followed a man on a bicycle trailer carting a load of pineapple shavings until he disappeared into the darkness. Thought I might follow him to a more rural road. There is an orange haze south of me, Beijing. I’m headed down this dark dark road. Every so often a line of 3 or 4 large red dump trucks pass me leaving a billow of chalk dust. That’s what it smells like. To the right is a sunken field. Though it’s dark, I can make out from even darker silhouettes tangled shrubs and crumbling shacks, or maybe piles of bricks and sheets of tin. But suddenly I am overwhelmed.

An unshakable feeling of certainty consumes me. There is now a single track of dialogue in my head, this has happened before, this has happened before, this has happened before, I am having déjà vu, I am having déjà vu. It occurs to me: maybe in Spring, Tx? In Huntsville, Tx, a back road in France, in Chandler, Az? But I can’t place it anywhere else; only in this spot in China does it seem right. And then it passes.

This is the second time since I have been in China that I have had a powerful spell of déjà vu. The first time was a few weeks ago at the Bookworm, a café where I had gone to listen to my boss, David, read his essay about the schizophrenia of modern Irish literature. To say nothing more, it was a unique night. But the sense struck me as I was sitting across from him after the lecture. He was smoking and we were both amidst a conversation at the table. I was just listening to someone talk when it struck. And then this has happened before, this has happened before, this has happened before, I am having déjà vu, I am having déjà vu .I am not trying to be poetic I just want to describe this. The feeling is: my vision becomes soft and out of focus, secondary to the loud track in my head. Nearly like nausea. It’s like an absolute presence in the moment, full awareness of being somewhere, but at the same time the details become background noise.

The chalk, the cold, the wind. My nose is dripping. There is an urgency to blow my nose. I have only my wool gloves to wipe away the drips, but they are steely and abrasive. My wet nostrils burn and crack in the wind. I am running quickly but it’s effortless. I approach the end of the wall. The road turns right into the space contained by the wall. A convoy of red trucks pass. The plume of chalk subsides and I see momentarily in the bobbing headlights of the trucks ahead of me a vast expanse of rubble.

My earliest moment of déjà vu (that I can remember) occurred when I was about 6. I had gone to visit my grandparents in Columbia, Tennessee. That year they lived in a very old stone mansion. There were a few rooms that were furnished, but were rarely used. The large dining room was one of them. One afternoon, I was walked from the main foyer into the dining room. (Perhaps this is the most vivid memory from my childhood). I remember being overwhelmed passing through the threshold of the door. I noticed that the wooden inlays in the flooring change direction from room to room. Something inside of me said, “You’ve been here before.” Then I pulled out a chair and sat down at the long dining table. I remember feeling very empty, as if I had no reason to ever leave the table. Until eventually it passed.

The sight of the field of rubble scares me. The chalk is thick in the air. Now that there is no wall I am exposed to the violent wind. I turn and run home.

My name is Hannah Pierce-Carlson