Mother never had been able to see the world most of us live in with much clarity. Or maybe she had been much more interested in the world her mind’s eye could see. Either way, the result was that I always knew Mother wasn’t like other people, and it had something to do with her soul — the part I couldn’t see, but knew was there.
Perhaps that’s why one day, when I was perhaps seven or so, it occurred to me that maybe other people’s souls were different from mine too, even if they didn’t seem so different as Mother’s. I asked Adar, “What’s it like inside your thoughts?”
He gave me an amused look, then said, “It’s like an ocean full of stars. Each star is an idea. Some go together, some don’t, and much of it are the words that let me swim from star to star.” I still think of star-oceans when I think of father.
I asked Derrek, who was just a boy in my conversational Sindarin group at the time, and he said, “It’s like a conversation I’m always having with myself in my head. Only I can hear it. It’s mostly in Common, but sometimes it’s Sindarin or Khuzdul.” And he grew up to be a very good linguist.
Rindor, who was older and knew everything because he was from Minas Tirith, stopped giggling with Brinna long enough to tell the chubby girl with too-dark braids, “My mind consists of the governing principle, the human self, and the animal self, all warring in their desires.” Exactly what it said in the Tower formalist school, naturally. Rindor was never original. I think he’s an administrative dean of some sort.
Finally I asked Mother. You had to ask her a few times in a few different ways to be sure you’d said it in a way that made sense to her. She wouldn’t look at you, but you knew she was listening because she’d turn her ear your way. When she understood the question, she turned to her board and drew a dot. Another dot. Lines between the dots turned into shapes. Then she put down the chalk, and then she picked up the clay and colored sticks she always kept close. She held up two clay dots, joined them with a stick, then more dots and sticks made a shape that went up, down, and out. And then she rotated the polyhedron she’d made, counting each rotation, “One…. two… three… four…” and then she spun it twice as fast, saying, “One -one… two-two…” She put it down, and asked, “Understand?” Mother never used words unless she had to.
“I think so? More words, please.”
“In my head, more than that happens. It keeps going. One.” she held up a finger. “Two,” she pointed to the board. “Three,” she held up her model. “Four,” she spun it.
“What’s five?” I asked.
“I can’t show you five. But Five must be there. I can feel five. The numbers say there’s five. If you see five, will you let me know?”
“I will, Mother.”
Mother had just been denied a regular faculty chair that week. I remember Adar shouting about it and writing letters. All sorts of strangers wrote letters about how brilliant mother was. An elf came all the way from Rivendell to speak up for her. But they said because she was a mother, she wouldn’t be able to have the time to devote to it. Adar threatened to quit, but he didn’t. Everyone in our world was upset that week but Mother. Under stress that would have crippled most people, she remained a completely functional her. She didn’t care if she was liked or respected or valued. Mother cared that Adar and I were well, though plenty of people thought she didn’t. Mother also cared about the numbers said were there. She could see them, and she told us it would all be well because it was made well, and some day our souls would be part of the resolving chord. She still had time to answer a little girl’s abstract question. And she continued to be herself until they did give her a chair.
My head isn’t as different from other people’s as mother’s is, but I know I’m not like other women in many ways either. From seeing my parents, I knew being unusual didn’t mean you couldn’t be loved. They found ways to understand and adapt to each other’s souls, and they barely agreed on a thing besides the need for accurate data. Adar believed they were married, and never looked to another woman. Mother believed marriage was unnatural and made to restrict people from moving with the motion of the cosmos. Somehow, the cosmos always wanted her with Adar. She said he was the first who took the time to stop and see her, and until someone did it better, she would stay with him. Adar said the Valar made her for him. Mother said the Valar were a metaphorical construct that imperfectly reflect the process of the Creative Principle. And I grew up believing that someone would someday love me like Adar loved Mother.
Finubar said all the right words. I’d had a few flirtations and a few heated nights that came and went with superficial adolescent storms. Then, I thought I understood. Finubar was the One. He was Gondorian like Adar, and he spoke of love in the language Adar had used. Finubar had so many words for me, and I believed each one. There was poetry, and there was admiration, and flowers came with compliments. I thought he understood. The night we made love, I thought we were making love; he thought he owned me. And then he saw that I was drinking the teas that would keep me from kindling before I gained my mastery, and he said I was murdering his line. I told him I’d meant it when I said I would have my children after I was Master Tinuvist, and he hit me so hard my teeth cut my lip. He said I belonged to him, it was my natural place to have his children and support him, and that’s how the Valar made things to be.
I made excuses. I wondered if I was wrong and he was right. I wondered if I’d not been honest enough with him, perhaps, and now it was too late and he thought we were married and leaving him would mean he could never marry again. I hid my teas and learned to cook. As long as I behaved at home, he didn’t stop me from going to class. And then, one day, I disagreed with him in public as I had often before, and he hit me in front of a pub full of students. Adar’s mastery student took me home. Finubar came to claim me — “his wife” –, and Adar held a compass-point to his throat. Finubar was expelled, but Finubar had friends. Mother made sure I got a good internship away that summer, and Derrek gave me a new approach to consider. I vowed to learn and count myself lucky to have gotten away so easily with my prospects yet intact.
Why do I say all of this now? It has to do with how my soul looks to myself; layers of time, each preserving the past, each increasingly changed by the pressure of the present, and below, heat that boils and struggles to move through an increasingly dense crust of history. I look back at the old layers now that new strata are forming. The Derrek layer was laid out of fear and desperation, but it wasn’t bad. Derrek wasn’t bad. Finubar wasn’t either, though I know I describe him as the lowest of men. Each time I learned, grew wiser, and left a broken, confused, angry man behind me. The layer silted over and turned slowly to stone. Done. Bedrock.
I had it all worked out when I moved on from Dale’s wreckage. No more assumptions or romantic generalities. I would put down my rules clearly. I would make sure I can go if I need to. Before I even met Nallo, I’d solved the puzzle of what went so horribly wrong, and I came prepared to do better. I’d decided that companionship would be my limit. No more love until I have permanent employment.
And then there was Nallo. I thought that everyone who wanted us to meet was assuming that when a male geologist and a female geologist are in the same town, they naturally will form a subduction zone with each other. It was sweet to me that his friends were all so eager to tell me how lovely he was. I’m fairly sure his uncle is still hoping for great-nieces and nephews. Dear Ethnographer-Nallo and his gouty foot! He’s so old fashioned and so Gondorian. For that reason alone I was inclined to avoid any subduction with the nephew.
And then I met the man himself and found I liked him. And then I liked him more. Not only does he say the right things, but he seems to live them. Then I read his work, and I saw inside his head a little. I became suspicious, and intrigued, and I decided to hope for something more than a warmed bed or a playmate in the field. And so began the Nallo layer. This time, it’s volcanic ash. Pyroclastic. It rushes faster than horses and clears all that came before. If the eruption continues, he’ll lay down basalt higher enough to fill valleys. Which means he is subducting deeply enough to fuel volcanoes, pushing up from the place in us both that hopes and wants and tries to reach for the sky. He’s not sediment that’s just happened to was into a lakebed or the debris of a glacier that tries and fails to fit…
Geology isn’t always a good metaphor, I suppose. What I mean by this is that in a way, Nallo changes my paradigm entirely. He will not love me as Adar loves Mother. He’s not built for that. However, I could love him as Adar loves Mother. His mind is built on a rare model, and it is so interestingly similar to and different than Mother’s is. He can see the line between him and the rest of us in a way Mother couldn’t, perhaps because he’s closer to that line. He gives so much more of himself than he’s comfortable giving, and at great sacrifice. To have missed a year of fieldwork to put together a community museum! And organize a public lecture series! And to support friends and lovers when it doesn’t come easily to his nature. I admire his work. His geology isn’t badly done either.
It’s stunningly unexpected. But the timing… oh the timing. I must believe, this once more, that the cosmos directs all things to a good purpose.