Do you know what the word “liminal” means?
You know “subliminal” — beneath a level of consciousness.
Remove the prefix and liminal is in-between consciousnesses
In between being.
I fell into liminality in my teenage isolation
Especially the spaces it occupied:
Cloudy landscapes dotted with empty houses
Houses vacant of furniture or residents
Rooms devoid of function or feeling.
I want to lay on the carpet of an endless hotel hallway,
I want to wander through an infinitely empty mall,
I want to call my parents at this clientless gas station,
I could breathe in the chlorine and drink in the entirety of these swimming pools.
I need to press my face against these stairs to avoid looking at the dreamless dark of the closet.
I’d spend hours on end
Trapping myself in these images
Not being able to know what nostalgia they held
Not being able to identify why they held me still
Wanting so badly to be in their comfort I horrified myself.
Maybe that’s why I physically sought them out when my isolation intensified —
First the forays into forests,
Next the closed-for-the-shutdown businesses,
Then the abandoned-for-good buildings,
And finally the realization that so much of my city was a ghost town.
I saw these sites as skeletons,
Their bare bones stripped save for a few still-abandoned organs
Cavernous ceilings that would likely never be reached again
Any cells that could have filled it left long ago —
A body in between being.
Maybe I grew up loving those kinds of bodies.
Every star-filled sky I see is seen by my inner child’s eyes —
I’ve grown taller towards them, a little closer with each year.
The vast universe doesn’t feel unfamiliar when my stardust knows its origin.
Planets without people, space without stars, event horizons of emptiness — bodies celestial but liminal too.
That feeling unites those spaces:
In star-filled skies,
Those skeletal structures,
These strange snapshots.
Oxymoronically unfamiliar nostalgia that I want to stay in so strongly it horrifies me.
I keep a Kodak photograph on my desk;
It’s of a boy that I can’t recognize on so many days.
I can tell he’s not smiling at the camera but at his parents behind —
And I have no memory of looking at either the day it was taken.
A boy sitting in a cloudy sky, beaming in between being.
I put him there as a reminder of who I was —
Who I still am, really,
In order to treat that child with kindness.
I really try on so many days, but no one lives there anymore —
On so many days his joy jeers at me.
On so many days I want to carve into this Kodak print
I want to live inside that boy’s skin again
I want to crawl back into his head
Into that body not yet cracked and diseased with time and otherwise,
Into that brain not yet bridled with the weight of the world he was born in.
I see the person I was months and years ago
And still want that same thing on so many days.
I want that now-alien comfort back so desperately it terrifies me,
A comfort as far as the stars, the past of my city and those unreachable images —
But I know it’s what I want, and not what I need.
But what do I need?
For now, I need not be scared of how far time has brought me
Or fearful of how far it will continue to push me.
I can need some nostalgia only for where it’s brought me so far.
A boy sitting in a cloudy sky, staring at his family, his city beyond and stars above
All the way in between states of being, beaming at what we’ll become next.
MiC Columnist Saarthak Johri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.