“I don’t want to distract you from work,  but I just want to tell you that you’re hard on yourself for no reason I can fathom.”

Why should you be able to fathom it?  I tell people about you, about how far back our history goes, and it probably comes across as if we know each other so well, know levels of each other that might even be impenetrable to anybody else, at least very difficult to get not having been along for the ride the whole time.  Hell, maybe there is a small way in which it’s even true.  I mean, we have memories of each other that predate our graduating from cloth diapers.

But we don’t really know each other.  It’s a nice – and simultaneously, a powerful and painful – illusion that we do.

I know the six-year-old you fairly well.  I know the sixteen-year-old you fairly well.  Maybe even vice versa.  I knew the 25-year-old you for one too-short, stolen night, and I knew the 37-year-old you for another.  But when every meeting is some rare and monumental event, always already being turned into a memory to store up against the long famine ahead, then what’s missing becomes cavernous.  All those years are made up of an infinity of gaps and silences and regrets and postcards and secondhand stories passed on by our parents and siblings.  Your face surprises me every time- not its gradually denser population of laugh lines, not the slow but inexorable imprint of years, but just the full onslaught of your presence, of the depth of your eyes, of how you are at the same time so very real and present and alive but also so many, many layers of images and memories, hopes and dreams and love and sadness and so many unsaid things in all those goodbyes.  At a certain angle, those invisible and infinitesimally thin layers catch a peculiar ray of light, and I see, with a wrench of vertigo, how deep and shifting they are, how saturated with time.

There are ways in which I know you very well, but there are more gaps than images, more silences than words, and my imagination has probably filled in far too much.  While I was getting good at imagining how those blank leaves might have been filled, I was ruthlessly editing others, sometimes daring to write in your margins with pencil but wearing the paper quite through with erasures in my own.  So now, were it even possible for you to see those pages that you’ve missed, they’re likely illegible anyway.  The logic of where I find myself seems poetic, irrefutable, a blunt and ugly fact that I sometimes find the strength to be defiant about.  But there’s really no reason why you should be able to fathom it.  You simply don’t have the backstory.

“Every second I’ve spent thinking of you lately has been more sweet than bitter. The bitterness only comes with pointless internal what-ifs. We’ve chosen our paths and wouldn’t be who we are if we hadn’t.”

No, love – you’ve chosen your path and you wouldn’t be who you are if you hadn’t.  I don’t feel I’ve chosen anything at all.  I don’t see that I ever had a choice, at least not when it came to you.  I suppose it’s a personal quirk of mine that these things which leave me surprised and speechless, because I don’t even see the entirety of them until much, much too late, are less about choices and more about things passing me by because I misapprehend the options.   It’s almost even funny, or would be if it were happening to someone else.  But I censor this, because despite your protests, I know you don’t really want to hear it, cannot in fact endure thinking about it for very long, though I can’t seem to stop.  I censor this because you are at heart so very good and loving and you have found some astonishing way to live inside this complete contradiction we seem to have carved out for ourselves, a clever bit of negative space where neither the laws of physics nor any conventional morality can take hold, and I will not become a burden to you.  There is no particular reason for you to feel what I feel, and no particular reason why you should fathom my censorships and half-truths. I will bite my tongue and give you only the prettier half of the truth, and I will choke on what’s left over – because it is so very, very bitter and because I have cried so very, very much.  I privilege a gorgeous lie when I pretend otherwise, collude silently with you to offer a cruel aporia in place of any real knowledge or understanding at all.  And I pretend pleasure, a sadness that is nevertheless satisfied, at the elegance of our equation.

But outside this negative space, this impossible architecture of history and desire, our two worlds look very different.  You click your laptop shut and turn back to the regular pulse of your daily life, kissing the blond head of your wife and the pink cheek of your daughter, bundling up with them under the comforter to watch the logs crackle in the fireplace, making footprints in the snow as you walk her to school in the morning, hoping you have at least 300 days left in which she’ll let you both hold her hands even though her friends can see.  These days are full of gentle kisses and sticky fingerprints and the hundred precious banalities that fill up the pages of a life.  In a few weeks, my image will have faded again from the forefront of your mind; in a few months, the gentle friction of everyday life will have smudged my pencil marks in the margins.  In a few years, I am mostly forgotten, a few stray marks buried under too many pages to count.  Your daughter will find my name on a scrap of paper falling accidentally to the floor when she is packing her books for university, and no-one will think twice when she sets it on top of the old newspapers and magazines to be carried out in the morning.  The door will close behind you on your way down to the car, and I might be legible, for a moment, in a last peculiar shaft of light from the window as the sun sets outside the empty room.  And then there will be nothing left of me at all.

***

Smithereens – Cigarette

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