This is a story about a sock.
Or rather, it is not about A sock so much as THE sock. The sock at the beginning of the whole Universe, yeah, way, way back at the start. The point to which every line can be traced back, if you only had the patience to trace back every line. Why, even the things that look like they came before it – the oceans and the canyons and the fossilized reptiles, the comets and the planets, old light and ageless black holes – those things were just thrown backwards in time from the story of the sock, instead of forward, like you and I were.
This is the way it all appears from my perspective, anyway, after years of thought and of measurement and research.
For you, maybe it is different.
I hope that I am not overselling this particular piece of men’s footwear.
The sock at the start was white. The sock was an ankle sock, cotton. It was my father’s. He kept it in a cigar box and he kept the cigar box in a footlocker inside his apartment. Now, this footlocker was chock full of these cigar boxes, and each one held something of immeasurable value to my father.
Sometimes, when he got sentimental after the drugs kicked in, he would reach down into the footlocker and he would take out one of his precious cigar boxes and he would show us what lay inside. Sometimes, upon opening up a cigar box, he would discover that it was empty. One time, upon opening up a cigar box, he found a ticket stub to a movie called Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.
And one time, when it was 1998 and almost time for my father to die, he reached down inside his footlocker and took out one last cigar box to show us. “Us” in this case was my twin brother, Antony, and me. I am Katy.
Antony and I were twelve years old.
The sock was in bad shape. Threadbare at some parts, yellowed and crusty at others, and we could hardly even read the part on the toes where it was supposed to say, “Hanes.”
My father stared at the sock for a long time. He said, “When you were conceived, your mother and I were only fourteen. That’s hardly any older than you are right now.”
Do not get ahead of me here.
He said, “The part of ME that became YOU was supposed to wind up on this sock.”
Antony turned whiter and whiter and looked absolutely mortified. I did not get it at the time.
My father said, “Life is an accident.”
He said, “It is random.”
He said, “Anything can happen!”
Then he turned on his stereo to Radiohead or maybe to Beck or maybe to Bjork or maybe to something else that people listened to when they thought they were being deep in 1998.
He said, “Whenever things begin to look hopeless to you, remember that YOU could have wound up in this sock. I could be sitting here, right now, showing this sock and saying these words to a different person. To someone who would sort of be you, but sort of be your brother or your sister, only you’d never know it because you never even would have been born.”
Then, satisfied that his point had been made, my father closed the cigar box and he put it back inside his footlocker.
What happened to that cigar box after my father died, it is a mystery to me. Your guess is as good as mine. I guess the sock probably got thrown away, just like it should have gotten thrown away (or at least washed) thirteen years before.
But if you will allow me to get sentimental for just a moment… Sometimes, when I am at a place in my life like this one I’m at, where the whole world looks full of endings – my relationships and buildings and schools and blogs – I travel back to that sock. I mean, in my head, I do.
I travel back to that sock at the beginning of the Universe and I find a new beginning stuck in it, one that is kind of me, but kind of not me – fresh and different and glistening and new. And I clean off this new beginning and I carry it with me, carefully carefully, out to the center of a vacant lot or to a construction site or maybe to some disused downtown alley.
The new beginning is shaking in my arms. It is raring to go. It is brimming with potential. I wonder to myself, “What will I be like this time? Will I be right-handed? Will I be straight? Will I be pretty or rich or able to do calculus?”
Then I take the new beginning by the tail, I peer up into the murky Houston sky, I hold onto it for one more moment, and I let it fly…
“They flutter behind you, your possible pasts
Some bright-eyed and crazy, some frightened and lost
A warning to anyone still in command
Of their possible futures to take care.”
-Pink Floyd, “Your Possible Pasts”