ALT TEXT FOR A CANDID AUDIENCE PHOTO by Taylor Alexandra Duffy

<img src=“201704WomanInAudience.png” alt=“This is one of several candid photos of me, gaze upturned and listening intently at a museum lecture, the sharp worry on my face readily apparent, though I laugh self-consciously at the thoughtfully placed jokes. It’s night, and we’re gathered in the formerly Koch-funded planetarium, and we’re here thanks to some shared sense of scientific inquiry or the open bar. On stage is a prominent researcher in her field, and her lecture is titled Stress and Human Evolution. She’s patiently describing how our grandchildren’s genes will be irreversibly warped by our suffering, calmly listing the collective atrocities she knows we or our mothers have lived through, delicately acknowledging our own individual, personal horrors to which she’s not privy. She shows us the life expectancy by zip code of the city we’re all gathered in, lets the choked silence hang heavy as our eyes scan for our own particular block, white faces settling quickly on much more generous numbers. For years I’ve lived next to this natural history museum (a neighborhood, I have just learned, allotted approximately five more years than the one in which I was born), I’m a regular at these evening events, have the punch card to prove it, and I recognize the staffer who’s taking my photo. And I know she recognizes the look on my face because I see it on hers, though partially obscured by her camera. It says: I have irrevocably damaged what should have been a prenatal blank slate, and this is so beyond me that my own participation or autonomy in the situation is trivial if not irrelevant, news that only a qualified anthropologist could gently deliver to a slightly buzzed crowd. The epiphany that one day, possibly when I’m gone, fossilized in the DNA of a future generation is a paper trail of everything I’ve inadvertently buried far too deep, accidentally repressed down to the atomic level in an attempt to leave space for the next unwanted thing. It turns out we’re so maladapted that now even this tense moment of collective anxiety filling the room as we reflect on this troubling phenomenon can trigger our stress-response and permanently calcify tonight and the dull tightness in our chests into further intergenerational rewiring. When the lecture is over we disperse out through the empty, quiet museum, navigating the same exhibits I often pace to decompress, frequently wandering after work or on the weekends to still my pressing panic, alone and weaving my way through families gesturing at dead animals behind glass. For how long did conservation mean trophy hunting to stop time, and why did I convince myself that was no longer the case? In my many expeditions I have discovered that if you walk backwards through the Hall of Human Origins, you end up six million years in the past, at a sign that implores you to ‘Meet Your Relatives,’ and face-to-face with whatever Pliocene trauma I must have inherited, I’m afraid we’re already well-acquainted.”>

 

With thanks to Dr. Zaneta M. Thayer, biological anthropologist


Taylor Alexandra Duffy lives in New York and works in research & development. She specializes in pending patents and penning short short stories. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, HAD, Truffle, Passages North, and elsewhere. She was longlisted for the 2021 SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro. www.tayloraduffy.com

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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