‘I was so silent that even now I am breathless with self-respect.’
-Grace Paley, An Irrevocable Diameter, The Little Disturbances of Man
I always think, “There must be a better way to say this” the moment I say anything or consider saying anything. There usually is. I have delayed responses. I am slow to the punch. I have a million perfectly crafted witticisms and conversations pasted to the back of my brain in moments of utter isolation and quiet. They have never been scraped from the walls.
I go places and I see people. There have been several moments in the last several weeks that I can see that someone feels interested in me. I see that there is a possible something that could happen, or many possible somethings. Mostly I don’t feel anything, just a calm and slightly cold realization, a factual forming of sentences in my brain that say, “You could easily kiss this person. You could easily climb into this person’s bed. How many times did that happen before without you noticing it?”
But nothing happens. These are people, nice people, attractive people, good people. These are people, and they are other people. They are not you.
I remember the first time you told me you loved me. It happened in this way:
We were in the process of walking from one bar to another bar.
I told you about something I did, though the specific something is not something I remember.
You smiled at me and said, “Oh, I really like you.”
I said, “You should love me by now.” I often made the mistake of finding myself charming.
You stopped walking, and I stopped walking. You turned toward me and said, “I do. I do love you.”
I was triumphant and grinning. I said, “I love you, too.”
You said, “No one has ever said that back to me before.”
You seemed to stare through me as you said this, unfocused, and then abruptly right at me.
I didn’t know what that meant or how it was possible, but somehow at the time, somehow I got it all wrong and thought that meant I was special, whatever was happening was special, and we should press our faces really close together and hold our hands really tightly so that we could somehow contain that feeling right there in the small spaces between us, between our fingers and faces, vibrating in the gap between our chests. I wanted that to be possible. It felt very possible.
I don’t know how I didn’t understand what you said. Why I couldn’t see you only wanted to love a person who did not want to love you back.
Sometimes I anxiously pace my room at night. It’s not very large, but there is enough room for me to make six steps in one direction and six steps back in the other direction. I have counted. I don’t know what to do with my hands and I seem to be afraid of losing something, something that I’ve maybe identified as my will, or else I am afraid of already having lost something, something I cannot identify yet.
The truth is I did not think of you for some weeks, perhaps a month. I pushed you very far down, maybe all the way to my knee caps. I stuffed you there and then put a blindfold over whatever part of me might want to look back at you, at the memory of you. I started to feel as though I were something manageable again. That my emotions could be separated from my actions, and that at the onset of some uncontrollable feeling, I could take the time to dissect it—its origins, its trajectory, its consequence—and then gently place that feeling away until it dissolved and I could smile and I could be grateful for my life.
I know that you want me to miss you. I know that you know you have succeeded, and now you are less sentimental, less desirous of seeing me, speaking to me.
I do not know how to hide myself. I have never had a broken heart before. I do not know how to hide myself.
Loneliness is funny in that it seems to become a stone in the bottom of my belly—a real, solid presence—when in groups of people. In crowds. Sitting in the middle. Chatting. Words zipping over my head, laughter, gestures, touches of hands and shoulders, then that free-fall sensation—falling right on my back from a great height.
“I am alone,” I say to myself. And then it sort of echoes. Just flutters out into nothing.
Scattered pieces. Remnants. Some life I thought I was living and wholly conscious of, but the more I read, the more I am able to determine I was not, am not. The first time I read about the kudzu plant I became anxious to compare it to people and events in my life. I believe there are no less than four instances wherein I use this analogy throughout the notebooks and papers I crammed my life into between the ages of 16 and 20. The word ‘kudzu’ or the phrase ‘like the kudzu’ is followed by words like consumed and voracious and covered and parasitic. Other words worth mentioning: completely (50+), sad (35+), paralysis (100+).
I’ll tell you about the kudzu. The kudzu is a lush, green, rapidly growing plant first introduced to the United States via Japan during the Dust Bowl. It was thought that the kudzu, known to thrive in nearly any type of climate, would promote vegetation and improve soil conditions. This plant, or rather, vine, is an invasive species; a plant that consumes other vegetation and plant life by competing for sunlight. I suppose this was an oversight. It still grows across the southern states at a rate of 160,000 acres annually, covering cars and even entire houses within mere weeks.
I don’t know what this means.
1. There are moments during my day when I’m alone and being myself and laughing out loud at something that crosses my mind or listening to opera—of which it should be noted I have absolutely no real interest in, and just pick out at random according to how intense and deeply depressing it sounds—while heaving around a glass of wine like it’s the most cumbersome thing I can’t seem to ever bring to my mouth, just this perpetually full vase I swish around as an extension of my hand, and I think to myself: Christ, you’re a creep.
2. If we had a conversation the way I’d like it to go, it would probably start with a lot of smiling. My teeth stick out a little bit, they’ve always been like that, I can’t really help it. I think it’s endearing to people, probably. Makes me seem like some kind of harmless animal and I suppose that’s not exactly far from the mark.
You would say: I can’t seem to have conversations anymore.
And I’d smile and say: Me either.
And then we’d just keep smiling at each other, me with the teeth out and you with your hands in your pockets, probably leaning back against something. That’s how I see you. I’m not sure where that image came from really, but there it is—you leaning against a wall or a table or a chair or I don’t even know. Our telepathic exchange here—the sub-conversation; the counterpart to the verbal exchange that’s only slightly less apparent and takes place mostly within glances, postures, and pure intuition—is that there is something wanting to be said here, but neither of us knows what it is or how to say it or what any of it would mean.
3. Interviewing my roommate:
Now to a more specific account. ‘Paul’ seems to be the giant rock around which all other relationships (whether these relationships ever came to fruition or were simply considered in a way that ‘could work’) orbit. She brings up, “Paul and Stefan were similar. There were a lot of things similar about them that I was immediately drawn to.” I asked, “Were you attracted to Stefan because he had similar qualities to Paul, or are these qualities intrinsic, in the larger scheme of what makes you attracted to anyone, even if Paul had not existed for you?” “Even if Paul had not existed. It is just something I like.”
What are these qualities?
Their manner of treating me was the same, despite the difference in the outcome of these relationships. They appreciated the qualities in me that I would like people to notice and appreciate rather than just the fact that I’m a female with two arms and two legs speaking a common language. They treated me like I was special without any air of desperation or the sense of an agenda.
What qualities, if you can specify, do you feel were appreciated?
They seemed to appreciate whatever intelligence I have. I always felt on even ground with them. There was a certain affection toward me that made me feel special. They both sort of had the ability to draw me out, or err on the side of being emotional, which I’m not typically prone to.
So this is about emotional response. Why do you feel you are not typically prone to this?
I’m always suspicious of an agenda, sexual or otherwise.
That’s fair. That’s normal. You should be.
It must be something other than that, though.