Some are close, some are distant, and every now and then one streaks through the void.
I see what lies ahead.
Someone in our group mutters, “Oh my God.”
It’s a labyrinth built of Plexiglas, which by some visual effect appears to stretch on infinitely under the universe of stars.
Ripples of light travel through the panels.
Our group shuffles forward.
There are five entrances to the labyrinth, and I stand at the nexus of all of them, watching the others drift ahead on their separate paths.
A low-level sound that has been there all along catches my attention—it’s not music so much as white noise, like television static, hissing over a deep, sustained tone.
I choose a path, and as I enter the labyrinth, the transparency vanishes.
The Plexiglas is engulfed in near-blinding light, even under my feet.
One minute in, some of the panels begin to show looped imagery.
Birth—child screaming, mother weeping with joy.
A condemned man kicking and twisting at the end of a noose.
A desert landscape scrolling past.
I continue along my path.
Into dead ends.
Around blind curves.
The imagery appearing with greater frequency, on faster loops.
The crumpled remains of a car crash.
A couple in the throes of passionate sex.
The point of view of a patient rolling down a hospital corridor on a gurney with nurses and doctors looking down.
The peace sign.
A nuclear detonation.
The lights go out.
The stars return.
I can see through the Plexiglas again, only now there’s some kind of digital filter overlaid on the transparency—static and swarming insects and falling snow.
It makes the others in the labyrinth look like silhouettes moving through a vast wasteland.
And despite the confusion and fear of the last twenty-four hours, or perhaps precisely because of all I’ve experienced, what I’m witnessing in this moment breaks through and hits me hard.
While I can see the others in the labyrinth, it doesn’t feel like we’re in the same room, or even the same space.
They seem worlds apart and lost in their own vectors.
I’m struck for a fleeting moment by the overwhelming sense of loss.
Not grief or pain, but something more primal.
A realization and the terror that follows it—terror of the limitless indifference surrounding us.
I don’t know if that’s the intended takeaway from Daniela’s installation, but it’s certainly mine.
We’re all just wandering through the tundra of our existence, assigning value to worthlessness, when all that we love and hate, all we believe in and fight for and kill for and die for is as meaningless as images projected onto Plexiglas.
At the labyrinth’s exit, there’s one last loop—a man and a woman each hold the tiny hand of their child as they run together up a grassy hill under a clear, blue sky—with the following words slowly materializing on the panel—
All is a dream.
God—man—the world—the sun, the moon, the wilderness of stars—a dream, all a dream; they have no existence.
Nothing exists save empty space—and you….
And you are not you—you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought.
I step into another anteroom, where the rest of my group huddles around the plastic bag, retrieving their phones.
On through, into a large, well-lit gallery with glossy hardwood floors, art-adorned walls, a violin trio…and a woman in a stunning black dress, standing on a riser, addressing the crowd.
It takes me a full five seconds to realize this is Daniela.
She’s radiant, holding a glass of red wine in one hand and gesturing with the other.
“—just the most amazing night, and I’m so grateful to all of you for coming out to support my new project. It means the world.”
Daniela raises her wineglass.
The crowd responds in turn, and as everyone drinks, I move toward her.
In proximity, she’s electric, so sparkling with life that I have to restrain myself from calling out to her. This is Daniela with an energy like the first time we met fifteen years ago, before years of life—the normalcy, the elation, the depression, the compromise—transformed her into the woman who now shares my bed: amazing mother, amazing wife, but fighting always against the whispers of what might have been.
My Daniela carries a weight and a distance in her eyes that scare me sometimes.
This Daniela is an inch off the ground.
I’m now standing less than ten feet away, my heart thumping, wondering if she’ll spot me, and then—
Hers go wide and her mouth opens, and I can’t tell if she’s horrified or delighted or just surprised to see my face.
She pushes through the crowd, throws her arms around my neck, and pulls me in tight with, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you came. Is everything all right? I’d heard you left the country for a while or were missing or something.”
I’m not sure how to respond to that, so I just say, “Well, here I am.”
Daniela hasn’t worn perfume in years, but she’s wearing it tonight, and she smells like Daniela without me, like Daniela before our separate scents merged into us.
I don’t want to let go—I need her touch—but she pulls away.
I ask, “Where’s Charlie?”
“Who are you talking about?”
Something torques inside of me.
She doesn’t know who our son is.
Do we even have a son?
Does Charlie exist?
Of course he exists. I was at his birth. I held him ten seconds after he came writhing and screaming into the world.
“Everything okay?” she asks.
“Yeah. I just came through the labyrinth.”
“What did you think?”
“It almost made me cry.”
“It was all you,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
“That conversation we had a year and a half ago? When you came to see me? You inspired me, Jason. I thought of you every day I was building it. I thought of what you said. Didn’t you see the dedication?”