28 January 2020

You Cannot Evade the Knife

Never reach into foam and water through which you cannot see. Basic kitchen procedure. Familiarity begets imprudence disguised as confidence. The hands think they know what they are doing. They reach, swirling the water. Erstwhile Moses parts the sea of bubbles. Soft light over the sink limning the long blade in a nacreous glow. The left hand grabs the haft, the right a scrub brush. No offerings are made to the gods of good luck. A distracted mind is heedless. The blade turns. Swift as a viper, it lodges itself in a hapless fingertip. Kitchen air turns blue with invective in the midst of a desperate grab for a paper towel. A move to swathe the finger is put on pause by the sight of blood, bright spatters against the dull gray metal. Crimson on stainless steel is a morbid beauty, spots dotting the bowl like the bright eyes of tarantulas. The heart slows while wrapping the finger in gauze. Regret brings a newfound commitment to carefulness.

Caution is a blanket that keeps us warm. It is heavy, warm, and comforting. Such a blanket is also an imperfect armor against the knife. No amount of caution exempts us from the surprise phone call that shatters the mundanity of chores at the end of the day. A loved one has died, says the terse voice on the line. No warning, no indication, no clues this would happen. The blade finds the chink. Hot steel between the ribs and a choked shout. The pain sears. Every nerve in the body feels the edge drag as it parts the flesh. On the far side of agony, the mind boggles at the depth to which this knife can sink. The soul has not yet been quantified, but surely the blade cannot match its infinite depth. The truth is that the hilt eventually meets the torso. It is of cold comfort to survive long enough to feel it sink no further.

The razor edge evisceration of an ordinary day can be swift and savage. It is simple like nuclear fission to be shattered by trust become dust. Home from work, in a fog of fatigue, the mind cannot process unfamiliar shoes in the foyer. An open door reveals the truth. Eyes do not lie. Someone you thought you knew lies entwined with a stranger. Breathing now becomes a luxury as the blade moves up and into the heart.

The knife can make your greatest fear come true by separating you from that which you hold dearest. At the moment of cleaving this fact manifests like diamonds, clear and true. It is knowledge truly gained the hard way. It may be a slow build up to swift, blinding horror. Watching a child die is to have the knife pierce the breastbone up to the hilt, poison coursing along the blade to announce its presence with agony. To see it happen to a second child is to experience death by proxy. The body, the mind, both consumed by volcanic pain while holding the knowledge the child you love is insensible to it. Insensible to everything. Mercifully, perhaps. Machine noises fade into silence as the doctors and nurses turn off the equipment. Screens go dark. The knife remains with its point between the shoulder blades. The hilt is cold against the chest. In the coming darkness, one can contemplate kinship with butterflies pinned against cork under tired fluorescent lights.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger” is a great sound bite but a feeble palliative with blood welling up in the cut, bright as roses. Fear grows from the soil of memory, it is broken terrain watered by blood and pain. Fear latches tight the door to life, keeping us out of the kitchen. There is no shame in wanting to keep the door shut, but survival has its own imperative. Obeisance to it makes life possible. The kitchen cannot be ignored. It is a source of critical energy even when the air is thick with fear. This is the paradox that must be overcome.

The knife will cut you. This is a fact of existence. Now, later, somewhere on the continuum, it will happen. Believing that the knife can forever be evaded is dangerous self-deception, and serves to amplify the pain when the blade finally finds purchase in the flesh. Self-deception is understandable. No one willingly wants to experience pain that threatens life. But surviving pain sometimes requires picking up the knife to increase our chances to live long enough to remain alive because we know something. This is deep knowledge, and it is useful. Embrace it. You cannot evade the knife, but with knowledge you can master it, and resume your rightful place in the kitchen.