Excerpt from “Inside: A Memoir From Beyond the Birth Canal,” by James Piacentini

Me: I don’t really remember when it came to me, when I first realized I was there. I mean, I knew somehow that I had been in this place, festering here long before I could perceive my surroundings or even myself. Perhaps festering is the wrong word. Hmm, growing, lets say.

Interviewer: You mean to say that you existed before you knew you existed?

M: Yes, rather before I was capable of knowing such a thing, before I was able to know anything, to even be sentient or self-aware. It is remarkable because, as I said, I don’t remember the first moment I ever perceived, but at some point, I, as a mind, as an entity, as a person, was suddenly present in a body that had existed before “I” had.

I: What was it like in there? I mean to say, what were the conditions of your surroundings as well as within your own mind?

M: Well, at first I really did feel like I was festering. I mean it was such a bizarre feeling, to be able to recognize something, anything, but not understanding what that is. At first, it’s almost too daunting Even the lack of sensory information “inside” is a sensory overload the first time you perceive it. But time feels eternal in there, and eventually certain things start to come together. I was granted the ability to use my mind, and my senses, but I was still unable to really comprehend what I was, and what my senses meant until I came to a certain realization. I realized, quite simply, that I was there. I mean, so profound was the moment when I realized “I” existed. From there, one can try to understand more, who am I, where am I, and what am I doing here? But the problem is it was all so foreign to me at the time, all so new and unlike anything I had experienced before because frankly I had never experienced anything before. And, considering where I was, my sensory understanding of the world was extremely distorted.

I: How so?

M: For one thing, I was basically limited to my state of development. There is only so much one can deduce from minor feelings of touch, half working ears and barely visible light perception. I felt like I wasn’t even a person yet, that I was … incomplete. I mean you think college kids get existential after their first foray into Nietzsche or Kafka? It’s always the same old group of stoners sitting around pondering “What does it all even mean, man? Do I even exist, bro?” Try actually realizing you only half exist, and that you are trapped in an all-confining prison for months with no sign of getting out. On top of that, there is no way to learn who you are or what you are, no one to teach you anything, all you have is your own clueless self to answer your mind’s questions. And let me tell you, being in there, it is a major feat just to understand what a question even is. I mean, there is no language in there, no real worthwhile sight or sound, and not much to feel either. It’s almost entirely about thought, and in there, for obvious reasons, thought is both limited and difficult.

I: Tell us about “the moment” which you mentioned a while back “changed my perception for all of time.”

M: Yes, well, as I’ve said before being in there is like being chained down in a cave, sensing only illusions of reality. It is like solitary confinement, one is left with only his mind to think, but has nothing to think about. I felt like I was going crazy, like I was trapped in a world where I was the only one who existed. It became like a prison. It became like Hell. All I wanted was to break free, to rip myself from this torture and rid myself of its concerns. I had sacrificed enough of my sanity, and the saddest part was that although I wasn’t aware at the time, I hadn’t even begun to really live. I thought I had sacrificed myself, my entire being. But really She was the one doing most of the work. Lord knows She sacrificed everything for me.

I: Yes, let’s talk about Her. What do you think it meant to her, to see you as you were for the first time?

M: I’ll tell you it must have been pretty amazing. You see, up until “the moment”, I couldn’t fathom that such a world as this existed. Oh yes, I wanted to escape my world, my little dungeon, but you must understand that it was absolutely impossible for me to even imagine such a place as this, so rich in light and color and noises and smells and tastes. Oh my goodness, the first time I ever tasted, I mean I couldn’t let go of the thing. And that was profound enough on its own. But what truly changed my life was when I first looked into Her eyes. I saw something that I didn’t know could exist. Looking into Her eyes looking into mine, I underwent a transformation of reality I dare to say more significant than being born moments earlier, I actually saw her love. In that moment, I perceived, and even understood the real power of life: the power of emotion. I had no way to know it existed in the womb. Sure, I had longed for something new, something different and exciting, but there was no way my mind could handle such a complex and powerful issue as real emotion. And it’s really amazing because since then, I have always been able to feel one thing or another – love, hate, sorrow, joy, and all the rest – but it was only in that moment when I first looked into the soft, elegant, smiling eyes of my mother that I really understood what love means. And I’ve lost that now, just as everyone loses it. As infants we really can’t even dream of anything else, we are so enamored by its power, but as we grow, as we learn and change, we put that knowledge aside, and many of us never get it back. And I think that’s the real purpose of living, to seek out once again that piece of knowledge, that one thing, which is infinite in its oneness, and brings about a state of being so profoundly beautiful – really the only time in which the full potential of the word “beautiful” can be expressed – that it actually has the ability to block out the rest of this grand and wonderful world. I mean, I spent nine months trapped in a prison. Yes, I was only aware of it for part of that, how big a part I truly can’t say, not sure anyone really can. But I drove myself to near insanity in there, and it took but one glance of love to eradicate all of my sorrow, all of my desire for the “outside” and all of my need of knowing. Love, it’s the key to everything. How do we find it? If I knew I’d tell you. But you’re only hope of finding it is to start looking. Oh yes, love really is the key to everything. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else matters.

James Piacentini is a student of Architecture, teacher of truths, proponent of porridge, and friend of the Quaker Oats man.

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