Wikipedia: “Pottery is made by forming a ceramic (often clay) body into objects of a required shape and heating them to high temperatures in a kiln which removes all the water from the clay, which induces reactions that lead to permanent changes including increasing their strength and hardening and setting their shape.”
In middle school, you had to glaze things in the kiln. In high school, at your seminar for the gifted, you perused past the whale and oil-lamp shaped pottery of a stranger you had deemed too attractive to speak more than small talk to, looking at him describe his projects in a red plaid shirt, khaki pants, and an enthusiasm for the gray-blue fractures which riddle his clay whale which makes them appear almost intentional. Now you remember the Japanese pottery you bought once, an edamame holder before you moved to California and knew what edamame was, knew the structure, rectangular in form, of those bowls which hold our Pacific lives.
You’ve been thinking a lot about pottery, lately. You’ve been thinking how things are glazed over, how despite the exhibitionism of some bruises, the most of them are smoothed, the majority of people hardened so that you only glimpse the clay in its raw form under exceptional conditions. Injury. Sex. Medical operations in which the surface is grafted, sliced, stitched.
When you kissed a friend at writing camp you were afforded the materials. Now, in retrospect, you mold them into a form. You think how it is this distance from the clay which accounts for that surprise inherent to kissing not accounted for by the hands, the puzzle of the torsos, which becomes rote, but rather by the unshakable feeling of discovering—for it is, over and again, a discovery and not an observation—that the inside of other people’s mouths is wet and not ceramic like the faces which surround them.
You think it is the fact of this shock, and not the conservatives encouraged ‘moral values’ or any other crap, which makes casual lip-locking impossible. You think how the act carries an intimacy, no more extractable than wetness is from water, which is the effect of that shock we find in coming into contact with the clay.
You have a friend for whom such contact is a constant. You wonder aloud—in the overheated, humming confessional of her old BMW, heat blasting—to what degree she experiences the shock. As she kneads the thought, you wonder if people are vases, pottery, heat-fired objects, if her porcelain form others keep is the same one you came across the time she came to pick you up from school: a Patagonia Better Sweater popped against the wind, an i-Phone held as shield to small talk, a set of car keys gripped with a boredom reminiscent of every lackluster lecture, ever. One by one, as though in assessing a spread of objects for sale, you begin the task of tallying your own porcelain collection.
S. in the courtyard of Orinda Intermediate School—royal blue cable-knit pullover, turkey colored Topsiders, black leggings strained in that way of hers to lean backwards, her weight shifted to her heels—spewing loud and inherited Republican rhetoric. S. harboring a distant air as she fingered, in half daylight in the back room at Anthropologie, a transparent black bralette she planned to wear for a boy with Jewish hair and rough hands. S. in her tanned thighs and Nike shorts supine on a tomato colored gingham sleeping bag admitting she wouldn’t hold it against other girls for partaking in masturbation. S. distraught over the destruction of a custom-ordered house marker, black marble and ordered from a sign shop in Cape Code, stolen, like her innocence, by two boys in a reckless and drunken night black stunt.
In middle school, she spent an afternoon pressed against a bathroom wall tiled the color of creamed corn. In high school, at sailing nationals, she steered I-420s and explicit conversational ropes. Now, finding that edamame holder purchased 2006 in Rochester, or near Rochester, NY, which you gave her freshman year, she tries to discern whether or not your inquiry’s answer lies in the vigor with which she sucked the sesame sauce off the shells, sucked the shells for the beans that past weekend, and so many other weekends, when you met her for Saturday night Asian dinner.
It seems an exceptional irony to you, later, to find that one of the boys she so long pinned over was the same who, at your seminar for the gifted, stood before the cracked oil-lamp, the fractured whale. Waiting for her to reply, you wonder whether it was her or him—she, who earlier than the rest of us shed softness to the kiln, or he, who showed such a glowing adeptness for the handling of broken things—who carried more of the shock at the texture of their union.
Alexandra A. Reinecke is a writer and journalist who uses writing as a tool to encourage empathy and affect positive change.