Proliferation of Cognate


nonfiction by Ali Rachel Pearl


The story about the time my brother ran away is proliferating.

There’s the story I told my Friend. That my brother was living in a lighthouse he was building somewhere in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. I told him that my brother’s backyard was the sea. That the deer that populated our childhood backyard have turned to orcas where my brother is. That I think maybe deer and orcas are actually the same thing. Always waiting outside for you, always pretending you’re not in their forest, not on their shore, not shoring yourself up with contrived narratives in a house in the woods, a house by the sea away from your sister. The story The Friend wrote and published. The Friend imagined my brother falling in love with a submarine. I imagined my brother falling in love with the end of his life.

There’s the story I told the Famous Professor. That my brother was climbing a mountain in Tanzania and encountered a Baboon whose eight-inch fangs faced off against my brother’s fists beating his own chest to scare the beast away. Something I later investigated on the internet, only to find thousands of people warning to do the exact opposite in such a situation. The Famous Professor scribbled a few sentences in his notebook while we were in Utah in a bar that was built next to an oil refinery. A bar that half burned down the next month in a refinery fire. A scribbling of sentences I can’t recall. A story The Famous Professor is writing about time & the desert & the continent my brother was at that time calling home.

There’s the story I’m writing. The translation I’m writing. A translation of a primary text that my brother has yet to write. In The Friend’s story, my brother character runs away. In that story, my brother character’s sister character writes to him from Los Angeles asking him to please come home. A sister character who made her brother leave because she wanted him to be a better man than he was. The Friend’s translation of the little I said about my brother’s story. The Friend’s near perfect translation of some things I never told him.

There’s the story itself. My brother’s story. Bits and pieces he’s read to me over the phone from the northern part of the state we now both inhabit. A primary text off of which we’re all working, all writing, but a primary text that does not yet exist as anything more than a jumble of memories in his brain and in his notebook that is also filled with lamentations on a lost love.

There’s a way in which my brother’s story is being unwritten by this story. By The Friend’s story. By The Professor’s story. Not unwritten like the page someone tore from my brother’s notebook when he lost it for two weeks in Denmark. Unwritten like erased and rewritten to suit everyone else’s purpose. My brother becoming a slightly different person in each incarnation of stories written about him by people he’ll never meet. My brother fractured. My brother re-conceptualized. My brother not my brother but my based-on-my-brother characters. Characters who will also never meet each other. Who exist in different stories written at different times by different people.

There is a person who is my brother who ran away to the other side of the world because of me because of my father because of the academy because of the deer populated forest in which we were raised and because those deer are really just ghosts of our grandmother our dead friends our unspoken unresolved genetic disorders that always appear in our backyard to eat our roses while our mother shouts and her dog barks in a team fought effort to scare them away.

There is a person who is my brother who ran away to the other side of the world to be with the person he loved and then ran to yet a third other side of the world to be with not being with the person he loved. The first other side of the world takes place in Africa. The third other side of the world—or is it the second other side of the world?—takes place across northern and western Europe on trains and on farms and in middle-of-the-night streets in cities our family has never seen.

There is a person who is my brother who I thought might never come back from either other side of the world. Who really was almost killed by a baboon on a mountain in Tanzania. Who really almost did go crazy building a lighthouse to live in north of the Arctic Circle. Who left upstate New York so angry, so dogmatic, that the only narrative I could envision for him was one I would eventually have to write in the form of a eulogy. And not even because of the baboon or the insanity inducing never ending daylight of a latitude so close to the top of the Earth. But because of the way he’d left, left everything, left our forest, our deer. And the way he’d talked about leaving before he left. How it was always about more than leaving our brick and wood home and the circuitry of our suburban compound. How it was about leaving another kind of circuitry all together. The circuitry in himself that held the blood that kept him, unforgivingly, irreconcilably tied to the people he wanted so badly not to be.

This isn’t even an honest translation. This is my best attempt, imbued with an abundance of false cognates. Things that sound like what happened, but that signify something entirely different. Proliferations that I spurred and lost control of as they ended up on pages and on screens in documents composed by people who aren’t me. Or more importantly, who aren’t my brother. My brother’s own version, mostly unwritten, skewed by his perception of the events of his story.

Unaware of these proliferations, this isn’t even his story to tell anymore.



Ali Rachel Pearl