Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms.
-T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land; V, CCCCIIX
Isolation is fear, but after five years you acclimate. You have food to eat, a place to sleep, and books to read: all in all, it’s bearable. Certainly you’re lonely, but by choice. Rather than building relationships with the people around you, you prefer to create imaginary relationships, because you control them, and they cannot hurt you.
Real people have a tendency to hurt. Like shards of ice we shatter as easily as we cut, and when you’re young and you’re wounded you’d rather be safe than be broken. After all, you’ve been wrecked before, all in pieces and because of people that you loved. You are thirteen: you seek to gather the fragments, patch them together, and find a place where people can’t hurt you anymore.
You take your scatterings and make a rough analogue of what you were. An arm here, a leg here, and here your innocence, and it’s passable. At a distance it even looks like you. It laughs at all the right moments and says, “I love you” on cue. When the wind blows the cracks show, but nobody discerns them; there’s no one to see them but you, and after a while you stop noticing.
Your problem is that you attempted the repair without the instruction manual. When you were finished, there was a creak in the joints, eyes that didn’t smile, and parts left over. Your heart, for instance. You miss your heart, but remember what trouble it caused?
Time passes: your simulacra decays. Your skin is sagging, flaking off, your lips are drawn and wan, your eyes burn. Those that love you talk concernedly amongst themselves: did you see how he moved? Did you see his eyes?
They have discovered you, they want to give back your heart. But you do not take it. You are comfortable this way, you say. It’s been so very long, after all. They say they love you, but you smile sadly. Were you not innocent when they hurt you? No, you can do without your heart. It can only get in the way.
Except soon there is no way anymore, and there is only the walking over it, sullen and tired. Those who love you entreat you: walk with us, let us help you find your heart. You stop listening to them. You have your own places to go.
But the heart was both motive and destination, and without it you are nowhere.
And then you meet a girl; she is far away and beautiful. It’s perfect: you can give your heart to her, and she will never see your shellac skin, your wilting posture; you. She will see the best of you, and you will laugh at all the right moments. You will say, “I love you;” this time you will mean it. You find that this relationship is real even if distant. You notice that all around you everyday objects are real: your hand, for instance, or a phone, a keyboard, your life. And your life is less distant.
Because this relationship is real, you cannot control it, and it can hurt you. Her parents hate you; you cannot speak with her. Speech stretches to weeks, then to months. She sends you letters that cannot be returned, and you send her what you can, which is nothing. You love her: you write to her every day for 124 days and three hundred pages. You plan to send her the letters when the situation changes.
She leaves you: she rightly decides she cannot love that which she cannot be with, cannot grow with, and cannot speak to but secretly and at intervals. She has been pouring her love and her life into a void, looking at you with pleading eyes, but you cannot come to her. She must either move on, or live in paradox: she decides to move on.
She leaves her old life behind, and joins an Ivy-league school where she can have the intellectual, independent life she’s always wanted; your letters move to the back of a closet and you mourn. You cannot accept reality: surely you are here alone again and failing school because you grieve for her. She was not strong enough to wait for better times! It’s her fault! But the truth is that you’ve lived like this for years. Maybe nothing can change it.
You struggle and time passes.
One day, today, you look at yourself and find that you are eighteen years old, a young man in both mind and body. You are tall and strong. You stretch your arms, feel your pulse beneath your skin, and you wonder how you lived for so long like a thing of clay. There’s not much people do that you cannot learn to do.
The people you maligned as fools pass before you. Who was the fool after all? You see the people who loved you, and they still love you, and you smile a wicked smile and hold them to you, for you love them madly.
You see the sun rise across the valley where you live, and the clouds are the colors of stars.