You wake up one day and the bed is empty. Love has left. Wait, there is movement. Someone pulls the covers away. You rub your eyes and there she is, but she looks different. Older. Sadder. There are grey hairs. Autonomy stares at you. You shift uncomfortably under her gaze. What to do now?
I could hear the sound of muffled screams, a whimpering cry. I had no idea where it was coming from, but some entity tugged at my jacket, pulling me forward. I found myself going up the stairs. I was still afraid of heights, but there was no escape. I was no longer myself. I had to find you.
I opened the first door but you weren’t there. Was that my name I heard? The second door, the third, nothing. And finally, I found you lying on the floor. Drenched and bloody. What had happened to your skin? I dried your face, kissed your forehead, and pulled you closer. But nothing. Nothing. No pulse.
I took off my jacket and wrapped you in it. The gut-wrenching feeling of having lost you. The whimpers were so close. I could have found you in time. I put your limp arm around my neck, and carried my dead downstairs.
“Have we met before?”
“No, because I don’t believe in past lives.”
“Then how is it you already know too much?”
And that was it. I told you everything. Maybe I told you too much. Maybe I gave it all away. Open-book syndrome, they say. We sat down, across from each other, the wind blowing outside, and it was noisy. I had to look you straight in the eye and tell you what I feared telling you the most. And you said you already knew.
I remember that night, even though my memory betrays me, lies to me, deceives me. I could have made it all up.
You had that drink they used to sell at Starbucks years ago, I forget the name. Caramel hot chocolate, was it? Your caramel curls, inquisitive eyes, nervous laughter, and me, talking about how all I wanted in life was to be a professor. When I said it out loud, my voice cracked.
“You will be,” you said, smiling at me, like I was the only person in the world with a dream.
“I love how optimistic you are. But I am a realist. It’s all downhill with me. Can’t we just accept it?”
“You’re too strong to accept it.”
Perhaps you overestimated me. Or maybe I glorified my supposed strengths. I should have been human. I should have cried out when you walked away. This superhuman is an illusion. I was the first to give it up. No superhuman ever suffered from lack. But I have my dream now – and a phantom limb that is you.
We were friends. Every night, I went to sleep, not thinking of consequences. But one fine morning (nah, I’m kidding, it wasn’t fine), I found that the cat’s scratch was right underneath my eyelid. I ignored it. The following morning, the scratch had made itself at home. I stared at its presence. Words on flesh. The cat’s constant purring was too close for comfort, and just when I thought I could hold her close, it pawed at my face, clumsily perhaps, but nevertheless, there it was, a scar had formed. On my face. Just in case I tried to forget. I am still me, except for the scar she carved. But the cat is still a fine creature, demanding of attention, willing to reciprocate every once in awhile, moody, loving, and unpredictable. Would she have scratched if she cared “enough”? Can you measure a concept as vague and as fleeting as affection/love?
After a long day, when all I want to do is drop my guard, she climbs onto my lap and stares at me. Anticipating. Waiting. Inquiring. Greeted by silence, she meows and purrs as though we have no history. I don’t recall the words, it’s hard enough when we speak different languages. I can only touch the now scabrous skin. Each night it digs itself further into me.
This is yet another one of my favorite novels. Here is the link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10746542-the-sense-of-an-ending.
The Sense of an Ending. Even the title captivates. As usual, this is not a book review, but a brief commentary on how the book affects me. Yes, it’s always about the reader. Reader-response theory all the way, baby.
The writer ponders life – a major theme, but he also considers the similarities between life and literature. Of course, literature mimics life, and also distorts it. But I am concerned with our lives. Are they actually better than/worse than fiction? Here’s the quote:
“This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature. Look at our parents–were they the stuff of Literature? At best, they might aspire to the condition of onlookers and bystanders, part of a social backdrop against which real, true, important things could happen. Like what? The things Literature was about: Love, sex, morality, friendship, happiness, suffering, betrayal, adultery, good and evil, heroes and villains, guilt and innocence, ambition, power, justice, revolution, war, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the individual against society, success and failure, murder, suicide, death, God.”
When I talk to people (and I love talking to people, about the deep, real, raw instances of life), their stories usually share a similar theme: a lack of contentedness. A struggle for happiness. A desire to be happy, fulfilled, but just not being able to reach that state. I have spoken to people my age, people younger, and those who are older. People who are healthy, people who are single, married, divorced, widowed – all sorts of people. And yet when I ask “are you happy?” I am usually met with silence, tears, or shock. The shock comes from my question, I think. We hardly ask. Are you happy? Are you okay? And when people do ask if you’re “okay”, they rarely ever wait for a response. As characters, as people, they have grown accustomed to a life filled with conflict and damage.
Which brings me to the second quotation, also one that has affected me greatly:
“I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not,except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is the question on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it,and how this affects our dealings with others.Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it;some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of.”
We are all damaged. Some of us beyond repair. Some of us still try to find a sense of lightness. Some try to heal. Others take up therapy, others become healers, while others just disconnect entirely from the world of emotions, to “avoid further damage.” Does it mean they are ruthless, like Barnes states? I disagree. But I do wonder whether damage really lasts a lifetime. Do damaged people bring on further damage to those around them? A friend says we always need to be in a “healthy” environment, away from anyone that is emotionally damaging to our well-being. I haven’t made up my mind. As always, I am listening, observing, and analyzing. My one conclusion so far is that we are all one Psycho Nation.
The other day I was with a group of friends, and one of them knows who I was ten years ago. She was telling a “new” friend about how Shahd used to be really tough, scary, and difficult to approach. I thought about this for awhile. I used to be very defensive. I used to be guarded, at all times. I was rational, and always very afraid of emotion, of drama, and of people. I still don’t enjoy being around too many people. Give me one or two at a time. Intimate conversation over coffee, never a group’s gathering. I hate having to politely socialize and I end up extremely awkward anyway.
So throughout the past decade, and especially the past year, I have shed a layer or two of my skin. I am not as thick-skinned as I used to be. Back in the day, criticism wouldn’t make or break me. Today, it affects me. I am left baffled and insulted. When I was younger, I would shrug my shoulders and assume the bully has issues (smart, I know). But today, as an adult, I can’t make sense of unkindness. I can’t understand why people poke at your wounds once they know just how bad they are. I don’t like confrontation much, but sometimes I think I’d rather be a child shoving someone back when they shove me. That simple. But with adult language, with etiquette, with sensitivity, “proper socializing”, one stops and thinks. We have to assess the situation. Is it worth speaking up? Is it worth inflicting pain on the other person? Maybe we should excuse their behavior? Then again, how much is enough?
As much as I despise confrontation, because of how difficult it is to show vulnerability (which is automatically read as weakness), I hate the aftermath of it. I can’t deal with silence, passive aggressiveness, and yet I also cannot handle a war-zone of aggression and insults. Women are labeled as “emotional”, “crazy”, “unpredictable” – and what bothers me is when women do it to each other. I don’t understand how emotions are dismissed, how “dramatic” becomes the easiest term to throw around, when instead we should really listen. We don’t listen. I don’t mean listening to the words. Over the years, I’ve learned to be less defensive, yes. I’ve learned to listen, to listen to the silence, to the words left unsaid, to see through patterns and assess before I conclude. But this has left me more open to injury. Am I right to believe we need to be neither rational nor emotional, neither defensive nor defenseless? In theory, yes, it sounds do-able. Now for the application. How? Can someone give me a formula I can depend on?
Sometimes words fail me. No matter how much I think I have mastered the art of words, I am still unable to articulate the intricacies of failure. When I am standing in front of the mirror, running my fingers through my hair, attempting to tame it, I stand back and look at the way my fingers spasm in defiance. There is a fault, there is miscommunication.
Lately I think I am in my own world. Language constantly disappoints me. We rely too much on rational thought and language to express, to describe. Silence is underrated. The human touch is shunned.
But I know that when I put my head on your lap, a layer of strength was shed. A disclosure of denial. I was defenseless, childlike. When we allow that to happen, when we don’t uphold barriers, I notice that your face softens, and my voice loses its need to be heard.
I have always been angered with the sharp distinction between logic and emotion. When did logic become so favored, and why is it that only when the world stays on the outside, when we are in the dark, are we able to let our hard exteriors fall away? Vulnerability is a state of being that terrifies me, and I have heard so many people insist that it is a weakness, that it leaves you open to attack.
But after that night, vulnerability seems to be a good place. The silence confirmed it. Vulnerability is dependent on trust. I trusted you, and I wonder if you knew.
If we ask ourselves one question: was it worth it? What do you usually think? Was it? Are risks worth it? Do you choose to stay safe?
I think life is about taking risks, yes, but sometimes the damage is colossal. I haven’t made up my mind yet.
There used to be a spot at the Scientific Center, a place we’d meet, and we would grab our morning coffee and I would comment that I liked it “bitter, like me.” Your reply would always be giggles and then offering me a piece of that double chocolate chip cookie, reminding me that sometimes good things are thrust upon us. That was a time when I used to struggle to walk with you, and yet I refused to lean on you.