Arielle Robbins

Resonance Disaster

Our history begins with the collapse of the First Couple, their love a distinct frequency, the oscillations of their bodies codified in our books. We all know the story now, even preschoolers with paper doll replicas—a shaken arm, an ankle unbent: it was the couple’s second month of dating, they were eating at a sushi restaurant, drinking sake, and during the walk home, between 28th and 29th streets, the man put his arm around the woman, and they began to walk in a slow stride under the trees. Later, the forensic specialist would add that this was probably the trigger event, though, the details remain mysterious, we know their organs were folded like water skipped over by a flat stone.

It had been a secret office romance, so when the First Couple both were reported dead, together, most who knew them were shocked. It wasn’t until the receptionist admitted seeing them lunch frequently that the nature of their connection came out.

What was it about that night that brought them into pitch? Could they have known as they exited the restaurant that they were moments from death? Would he still have put his arm about her? Or asked her what she thought about Kant?

In subsequent days and months, it was popular to speculate on the exact order of events. Media successfully subpoenaed chat and text logs to reconstruct the couple’s final words. Restaurant goers and nearby residents were interrogated. A woman who lived above the restaurant claimed she saw their shadowy figures begin to shake a little in the distance, but this testimony was later recanted, the balcony angled toward the street. Everyone wanted to have the last word.

­­­Doctors couldn’t approximate what had incited an oxytocin surge so large it had caused the First Couple both to vibrate at the same frequency—a trembling so minute at first it might be attributable to shortened breath. We know from the location where their bodies were found that even if they had called for help, no one was near enough to have made sense, their voices likely too shaky to carry, the buildings around them shuttered office spaces, sleek in their numinous design.

The First Couple died in winter, and by spring, their celebrity flourished around the only extant image of the two. The grainy close-up of their faces in a low lit bedroom cycled through ad campaigns and thirty-second sponsored network commercial breaks; memes with block text traveled through Reddit and Facebook news feeds, t-shirt campaigns and coffee mugs and Valentine’s Day cards with their names printed in Comic Sans. The First Couple thrived in death.

The more important questions were asked almost immediately. If it could happen to this couple, who else might it affect? Had this happened before, and we had simply missed it? A short list of resonant events was produced—though, none were conclusive. Public outcry was immediate. An international committee of scientists, politicians, artists, and miscellaneous lottery winners convened to decide how best to approach the resonance.

Months passed, and the committee produced papers citing the importance of further study and the need for apportioned grants. Leaflets and infographics were shared across the internet, and a collection of small start-ups fought to create an app to gauge resonant potential.

With private investment and the backing of the First Couple’s families, a standardized frequency screener was produced. The news was cheered in the press and social networks; dating sites looked for exclusive contracts to provide screening at a low cost.

Though, not all segments of the population celebrated these advancements. A separate movement to support free love emerged in several coastal cities, beginning in San Francisco. “You can’t systemize love,” one spokeswoman for the Love is Free group said during an interview on the evening news. The newscaster and opposing spokesman let out a chuckle, “Wouldn’t you agree that it’s a health concern, though, and that that supersedes your point?” No, she would not concede that. “We’ve lived under this risk for centuries. More people die of sugar intake—by the thousands more—than of a resonance disaster. Who are we to interrupt the natural course of events?”

And it was precisely the natural course of events that couples following the news wanted to understand. The divorce rate briefly spiked the year the First Couple died, even though doctors assured couples that their love was still valid, even if not biologically in sync, more valid, doctors began to say, because the true measure of love is time, not chemistry. Examples of synchronous couples who claimed no attraction to one another were videoed and linked and tweeted. And there were the couples who were found to be matches bravely recording their final moments together—some under medical supervision via research trials to test for a cure.

Ten years after the First Couple died, the memorial service was attended remotely by millions. The site of their death had been razed, the business buildings sold and turned into a museum on the history of resonance disasters—though the sushi restaurant still remained—redesigned now to thematically echo the couple’s last meal. And near the site of their last steps, the names of couples lost were inscribed on a circular wall, at the center of which were two bodies in a pewter mid-step, their clothes, even their flesh a little rippled, their faces both inscrutable, unless, according to the artist, you’d really been in love.

“He just looks pained to me.” The sculpture of the First Couple hears this one often, usually from men who’ve come along with their wives, out of towners who’ve taken all the precautions and want now to know why. The women are generally quiet as they reach out and run their hand along the cold metal—sometimes it’s the arm they touch, others kneel to inspect the arc of the couple’s step, or run their fingers along the names on the circular wall, feeling thousands of characters of indelible love.

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Arielle Robbins is a writer, installation artist, and founding member of the art group, Retrograde Collective. Her collection of short stories, “Nothing To Do With Explosions,” won best creative thesis at UC Davis in 2012, and she received a Tomales Bay Fellowship for her story “The Workbook.” Visit www.retrogradecollective.org for more of her work.

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