Why are you so in love with
things unbearable?

Sophocles, Electra

In my dresser drawer today, tucked beneath stubs of charcoal and reams of paper and packs of stale Marlboros, I found a small pile of photographs. They are the last remaining relics of a living nightmare: some languishing artifacts I haven’t yet found strength to burn. Only one seems real. It is a dimly lit, faded polaroid. A date is marked on its back in smeared lipstick. It shows what is, what could only be called, a most peculiar bedroom scene.

Two women sprawled atop a bare mattress. It is stained with ash and something darker, dryer, more deadly. Books and pencils are strewn across the floor. The curtains are drawn, but hints of dying light filter through them, dappling our bruised white skin. I am younger and stranger, more ragged and more radiant: so awake and yet so dreadfully thin. She is slighter still, with dark hair and half-closed eyes. Her face is thrown into shadow, the outline sharp and fine against the window: as if someone had taken a blade to the sky beyond the fabric, and carved blissful darkness into its pallor. We are a mass of undone sheets and tangled limbs, our two faces and four hands, our legs, our teeth, our entwined fingertips. My lips are pressed against her cheek. Yes, I remember that night. I remember it all.

Gnawing away always at the cartilage of my life, is the etherizing question, the opiate, the scourge. What did I become when my words no longer mattered? I was nineteen years old and I was resolute, reckless, cruel to myself. I was also (for whatever it may be worth) singularly, indomitably, unfathomably alive. I miss that with every bone in my body. And I loathe it as well. Because I am the only one who really knows how it ended. And if it had not come to this, if I were treated differently, would I still be as driven, as damaged? And if I wasn’t–would I ever have gotten out? 

I cannot be sure. But the saddest, sickest part of it all is knowing that either way, it was not worth it. Not the clandestine joys. Not the terrible moments. Not the poetry or promises. Not any of it. Looking back entails the nauseating realization that I would not have done anything differently. I only wish that none of it had happened in the first place. This was not a once-beautiful thing, not a thing that died or changed or went went wrong. It was simply a waste from start to finish, a self-immolating era, a cannibalizing year. 

They say that even bad experiences teach you something. But what did I learn? That I am deficient in my own ways, that sycophants are more dangerous than narcissists or narcotics, that honestly kills swiftly, that non-normative mentalities are a cancer that no one will support you through, that cliff-edges are just things you get cast off of eventually, and people can lie and then leave with impunity. But I already knew all of these things. I learned them in childhood. I learned them in hospitals. I learned them on my father’s knee and on the undersides of my wrists. Why, you might wonder, did I choose to live them through again?

I believe that I made the same mistake twice because the second time around, I was actively choosing to do so. It was six months’ willful suspension of disbelief with a lifetime’s worth of possibility on the line. I had to believe that people could be better, despite all evidence to the contrary. I had some vague, unrealized hope that things could be different. That I could be known and loved, at the same time, indiscriminately. I don’t have that anymore. The hypothesis is tested, disproved, and I have next to nothing now. Not suffering. Not sadness. Just knowledge, some blood, and a sense of weariness I can never quite place. 

People behave in the strangest ways if you tell them this. They feel sorry for you, or try to change your mind. They say don’t give up. They say it gets better. They say you have plenty of things to stick around for. You have drive, you have purpose, you have ambition, you have a future. The very generous might even say you have talent. But what does that matter? These terms are irrelevant. They are all things that I can tell myself. Hell, I like hearing them better when they’re coming from me. So why do people think I need my own self reaffirmed? After all, it is not me that’s wanting.

I wanted to keep clinging to the last shred of naïveté I had left: that some people stayed, or if they didn’t stay, they said goodbye properly–even if no one had ever done that for me before. But I knew better. I have always known better. And why can’t someone else have this terrible knowledge, so I can just be vacant and vapid, swollen with the comfortable notion that I will not end up crying in a locked room, chewing on words that disavow my humanity and my worth as surely as they affirm what I have always known? Why can’t somebody else have my ambition and my convictions and all of my fucking medication, and I can just have that? 

In the end, it was not the transience that undid me; nor was it the oaths or ultimatums. As far as I’m concerned, love should be conditional. But you don’t tell someone you love them and then just leave. The retroactive sapping of meaning, the amputated limb, the loss that tore backwards through my past and left us all with nothing to show for it–that was it. That was the worst sin. That they caused all of this pain for nothing, and that I took the bait and the blame because I wanted to keep loving them anyways. 

So I wasted a year of my life in violent stasis. I tasted blood and bliss and the beginnings of a memory I thought I’d never take a match to. I flirted with death and a dream of something better. I went to hell and halfway back on a rough-edged hope for human decency. Now I do not write anymore–at least, not the way I used to. Just like I do not feel in any of the same ways that I used to. The passion, the consistency, the urgency, is all gone. It is scarcely worth the effort anymore. This lacking language is hardly fit for regurgitation. It is barren, disconsolate, an absence more than an art. Is this the unnameable tragedy of which White once wrote –that difference between planetary light, and the combustion of stars?

But what did I expect, having fashioned myself an existence of such profound isolation? No one waits out the long nights with me anymore. They cannot, because I will not let them. I resolved to be something different, and swore to myself that no would ever again see what I might really look like, if I were to fling my bare heart against the skin of the world. I chose this because I had to. That has not changed. 

So here I am. It’s been a while now. So long, in fact, that it feels like a lifetime. It must not really matter anymore, in the trajectory of regained sanity wherein those scenes were framed. But perhaps I learned something from them after all. Because now, for better or worse, I do not turn to face my past. I do not try to know the loss. Instead, I try to live out what I have witnessed in all of them. I eschew my promises, I swallow my tongue–and when my history comes howling, I lock the fucking door.