The fog. A roadblock. The boat—as in don’t rock it. The can of worms—as in don’t open it. These are some of my—well, not my favorite metaphors, necessarily. Metaphors can be tritely employed, become unnoticed parts of verbal furniture. Don’t forget ships: they sail, and by doing so they suggest something else that’s slipped away, a calamity not prevented. Oh, and that reminds me of boulders. They block. Or they roll and crush. Don’t overthink them, said a friend once. He meant metaphors in general, not just boulders. Don’t overthink them? Don’t read into them, he clarified, forgetting himself. His favorite book was Catcher in the Rye. His second favorite was One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
I suppose I started with fog because it’s the freshest metaphor I can bring to mind. It’s an oldie but goodie, but it showed up in my office the other day, reminding me first of a patient’s depression, then shortly thereafter of a writing assignment I hadn’t gotten to yet. J. was describing his state of mind the week he first heard of his now late-wife’s cancer. These days, he may have other apt metaphors for the stuck place he’s been in since her death, but fog is what came to mind as a signifier of confusion and comfort. The wife had been in a fog also: “I feel fine,” she said, following the appointment that first spoke of the tumor. Neither of them really took in the words. A year later she wasn’t fine at all. She was in another kind of fog, having lost a third of her body weight; roughly a third of her memory, by my patient’s estimation. Almost the entirety of her will in her last days. In the end the bond between had been foggy also—the apparent result of an affair the wife had been caught having a year before the illness was discovered. J. was stuck between resentment, guilt, and a layered coming together of loss.
He doesn’t dwell much upon the elements of fog. In that respect, he’s like my friend, incuriously using words, then moving on. For J., the metaphor of fog denotes a hateful condition that thwarts efficiency or focused energy. It’s something that keeps coming back. It’s unwelcome, something he and I should be working on, or something he should get medication for, not learn something from. Therefore, the reverie on foggy details is mine: I think of creeping white air of the type that hovers about my valley home on wintry days. Where I live fog is a rarity. It appears as if on schedule, heralding the height of a season, and a stilled, ritual presence. Its texture is moist but not sticky; its temperature is cool, which enables feeling cool; one can wade through it, seeing just a few feet ahead, which is all you need really if you move through life carefully, at a slow and sensible pace. You don’t have to get lost in a fog, not if you relax. I got lost in a fog—in the word fog, and with my indulgent conjuring. And as I waded sightless through the hour I lost touch with my patient, who had moved on to other words, but not moved on from his state of mind. But I think he saw me looking away, past his shoulder to some indefinite spot on a wall. His eyes seemed glazed, half registering my distraction but not speaking to it; not really noticing something important, that I was not paying attention. I looked back at him, seeking to recapture something, hide the sin of my disappearance. I’m sorry, I wanted to say. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry I went away, but I’m back now. And I’m not going anywhere.