Mile 0

By

0.0 It starts with zero. No matter how many times we begin, everything begins again.

0.1 There is no way forward except through. There is no way to begin everything again without beginning once, twice, three times over. I have tried to begin again so many times—the moment where you say to yourself that the world is worth changing for; you must change your life, you have wasted your life, and all the lines that come at the end of things that dare you to move. A foot in front of another, the learning of how language is conjugated—how when a mark points to the sky it means you must raise your voice, or how when it slopes downwards you must swallow the vowels whole.

0.2 To start translating a book that your grandfather wrote in Catalan, you must first learn Catalan. You must buy a dictionary with all of its secrets. You must understand that every “X” is a “CH,” that letters you always knew do not function the same way anymore. Your confirmation name is Xavier—named after a priest from Navarre: a flaming heart’s throw away from the mountains where your grandfather was born. 0.2You chose this name because of a basketball player—you chose this name because of a comic book character—you did not choose this name because of how he traveled, how your grandfather was plucked from the same town in the mountains and placed in a Jesuit school in Barcelona, how you knew that when you were older you would leave your town of smaller mountains for a Jesuit school in Baltimore. You would say your own name incorrectly: a hard X when there was none. You know the word for chocolate is xocolat, that your aunt would pour it for you as a child: hot and thick, nothing familiar except the color, which would darken and deepen as it turned cold.

0.3 To start translating a book that your grandfather wrote in Catalan about long distance running, you must first learn how to run. You must buy the proper footwear: you must realize that you have been wearing the wrong size your entire life. Your feet are wide and clumsy; your arches have fallen. You have the wrong flatness—your sinews thin in the wrong places. You are not built for this: a shire horse, a draft horse. You are here to pull the cart—you are here to drag a body along through the dirt until there is nothing left to pull.

0.4 There are charts in your grandfather’s book: slopes and angles, axes and coordinates. There is a beautiful balance here—your grandfather was a chemical engineer, petroleum, specifically. This is where you can begin to understand everything if you knew the language of numbers—you could feel the trends, you could see the road unfolding ahead if only you knew where to start. Yet there are graphs that are asymptote: lines that never reach zero, despite continuing on beyond the confines of pages.

0.5 Un bon dia, quan la meva edat s’aproximava als 50, vaig prendre la decisió de posar en bon ús el meu cos. Vaig començar a caminar—lentament I en distàncies curtes—I aquest caminar es va anar, també molt lentamente, allargant I accelerant. One nice day, when I approached age 50, I decided to put my body to good use. I started to walk short distances slowly—I started slowly at first, extending and accelerating.0.6

0.6 Cantonigròs is in the foothills of the Pyrenees’ mountains. I could tell you the towns it is close to, but you would not know their names either: Vic, Rupit, Manlleu. This is where my grandfather was born. This is not where my grandfather started running. To start running is to acknowledge that you have not always been running: that you have no wish to put toe in front of toe and tip your weight forward in a way that makes you faster, more beautiful. The thing you must know is that this is a town in the mountains: that my grandfather is from a place with no flatness—that everything will always slope toward the sky. In the distance, a range with a long plateau: a brief moment of stability before it jags downward then upward again. This is how you start running—the slow wear down of something beautiful, or, a quick slice from sight unseen; the great leveling.

0.7 You are misremembering yourself as a horse. In Catalunya, all parables begin and end with donkeys: beasts of burden—the Catalan seny, the Catalan way of doing business. You, the ass, too ugly for grace, carrying instead of dragging: a reversal in majesty. Your grandfather’s house was in the mountains: the donkeys lived on the first floor while he lived on the second—the heat from the animals would keep his family warm on nights where the chill came in a little too sharply off of the mountains. I cannot sleep when it is too warm: I would rather have my toes freeze than my forehead sweat, though these are luxuries that I can afford. As a child, I lived in that house for a summer: I slept upstairs, though the donkeys have been long left for dead.

0.8 My father has two nightmares: one is being told he has to return to the Air Force—that his time is not up, that he is still somewhere on the record. The other is of his own father, tormented by the donkey that kept him awake nights: that it would steal his food, that it would disobey his command as he tried to bring it stumbling to the market in a town you’ve never spoken the name. Here is mine: I am in a car that has no driver. 0.8I am in the backseat and the doors are locked. The car passes my house. I cannot speak: anything that comes out of my mouth is spittle and noises I cannot comprehend—my tongue does not touch the roof of my mouth the way it should. The car stops at the top of a mountain, far away from anyone, and the doors open.

0.9 In the house in Catalunya where my grandfather slept, I drew pictures. I mapped out worlds on postcards; I taped them together to create a long chain of paper. I drew mountains, lakes, rivers, clouds, lava, spikes, lifts, wheels. I played dominos with my aunts. I understood the number of dots on each side: how a white dimple feels under my thumb is something that does not need to be broken down into smaller syllables. I would walk to the store to buy tape and an ice cream bar, my white sneakers covered in a film of dust. I would hang the worlds on the wall in hopes of someday filling them with someone greater than myself: of being able to move through a space without stumbling—to understand the world in front of me as something more than lines—to recreate something from air. To toward. To turn my gravity to quickness.

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Rumpus original art by Max Winter.


Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently teaches at the University of Alabama, where he is the Associate Director of the Slash Pine Press internship. He is the author of So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011) a series of Craigslist Missed Connections, Level End (Origami Zoo Press, 2012), a chapbook based on videogame boss battles, Leave Luck to Heaven, an ode to 8-bit videogames, and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. He is working on a memoir about translating his late grandfather's book on long-distance running. More from this author →