Find Your Oklahoma

by Rachel Kushner

Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.

“I once knew a man from a town in Texas,” he said to us, “small but not hickville, there was a college there, where he taught. Taught classes on weekdays and on weekends played a hanky-panky with his wife,” he said, “that involved pretending she was an amputee. She would strap her lower leg up behind her thigh, with his assistance, and go around in a knee-length skirt and crutches, hopping on the one serviceable leg. People assumed she had lost the other one in a terrible accident of some kind. The two of them were well known in the town where they lived, which bordered Oklahoma, too well known to go around town as if the wife were believably an amputee, so they went across state lines. They would dip into Oklahoma for “erotic weekends,” in places where no one knew them. That was an important thing, that they go where no one knew them. They would head north to Lawton, or Oklahoma City, once to Enid, which was the woman’s name, and another time to Slaughterville, which the man found humorous and Enid did not. They would arrive in Slaughterville or Enid in their respective play-act roles, a stoic amputee crutching her way into a motel office with the help of her doting caretaker. They would check into their room and then go to a restaurant, where they received looks of shy condolence from the hostess and waiters and the other clientele, order as if they were on some kind of significant date, an anniversary, say, in these special occasion restaurants where the waiter comes to the table with a pepper grinder that’s five feet tall. You know what I mean. Heavy and oversized furniture, ugly American-colonial lighting, either too bright or too dark, places where the wine is some kind of grapey burgundy served in a carafe by pimply waiters in bowties, small town goobers trained by the management to congratulate you on your order. Excellent choice, sir. Since having selected from their clichéd and obvious menu is proof of your inherent cleverness. As they ate their chops and drank their burgundy and took in the shabby ambiance, the husband covertly fondled his wife’s stump under the table, her not-real stump, her play-stump. The two or even three carafes of burgundy staining in, blurring inhibitions, they would return to the motel. The man, drunk now, and good and ready to get into the real business, would remain ever-patient and solicitous with his handicapped wife, helping her out of the car and to the room, carrying her over the threshold like a child bride being airlifted into a territory of freshness and anticipation, the lightness of his wife’s body in the man’s arms somehow exactly the weight of her light compliance. He would set her softly on the bed. Proceed to undress her slowly, with meaningful pauses and great care. Eye contact, deep and even breathing. Extra attention to her knee-stump, the surface of it, rounded but with shallow areas, like a very smooth rock, the knee. And then touching the cold bed below the knee, the emptiness of it. A complicated thrill, which I myself can only imagine. “Not for the layperson” was what this man said of their game, an advanced level of fantasy and humping. The idea of her missing leg was a shared space between them, it was practically a religion and they didn’t want to give it up.

“At the end of these Oklahoma weekends,” he said, “when for the return home she released her hidden leg, unstrapped it so that her ‘stump’ was yet again just a normal healthy knee, the sight of it there in front of her was beyond painful for both of them. The real leg contradicted everything. It ground the memories of their romantic weekends to nothing. The wife, her two healthy legs stretched out, would sob inconsolably all the way home. This distressed her husband, as you can imagine. And he had his own interest in hoping to find a solution to their problem. So they began to inquire. They saw various doctors at various clinics. Nobody was interested in helping them. One or two medical professionals even threatened to call the police, suggesting that the man could be arrested. Which is another topic for another discourse. But briefly, why is the common good dependent upon preventing these two semi-free individuals from removing something that belongs to them, and that they both agree must be disposed of? What interest do we have in her leg that she herself does not have? Because I must confess I am among those who would want it to stay attached to the rest of her, even as this seems an abuse of governance, and an imposition on the victimless sexual satisfaction of two people, as I said, semi-free. Last time I talked to this man, we have lost touch, the reason for which you’ll learn in a moment, anyhow the last time I heard from him, he and his wife had finally found some kind of doctor down in the Yucatan who was willing to perform the operation, and apparently there was a community there, for rehabilitation and general lifestyle support. They were planning to relocate from XX, and to make their Oklahoma weekends something permanent and irreversible. The man wrote to me and said, Our dream will soon be coming true. We’ve found our Oklahoma, down in Quintana Roo.”

“And here I arrive at my point,” he said to us.

What was his point?

“The point is that everyone has a different dream. The point is that it is a grave mistake to assume your dream is shared, that it’s a common dream. Not only is it not shared, not common, there is no reason to assume your dream is not actively hated by other people. That they don’t find you and it disgusting. Always go to another state, an Oklahoma so-called, if you want to live your dream without judgment.”

Rachel Kushner is the author of Telex from Cuba, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction in 2008, a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and winner of the California Book Award. Kushner’s writing has appeared in Artforum, Bookforum, the New York Times, Fence, Bomb, The Believer, Cabinet and Grand Street. She is co-editor of Soft Targets journal and lives in Los Angeles.