How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.
Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard
I stumbled outside in a blinding thrall of whiskey and rainwater, defenseless, indefensible, and blistering to the core. The howling world all but deafened me, the wonderful wetness pooling in garlands on my lips, my hair streaming out in tides of burnished red, like the dust that shrouds these mountains at dawn. I lived fleetingly in the bliss of an autumnal tempest, face upturned towards an arcane moon, my bare skin drenched and dripping as the rain soaked through my clothes. It still hurts, it always hurts, but this was not the savage scorch of summer, when the sunlight sinks talons into my chest. My body was shivering wet, and when I let the memories come, they felt different. I was not suffering, but mourning. It was not like missing a real thing–a thing with a pulse that might return to me. It was like missing something already dead. I knew then, really knew, that there was no coming back from this.
I wonder what it feels like to be loved irrevocably, without ultimatum. I know that he has been cared for in this way, for it was I who sought to do so. I am not ashamed of that. Not anymore. I am allowed to feel this. A longstanding subject of trauma and abuse, I am allowed to be angry with such inhumanity: such willingness to mimic the horrors of my history. I am allowed to write. To recall. To seek meaning. To stay breathing. To hold such people accountable. Because I am tired of blaming myself. I am tired of hurting myself. This is not some barbed romanticized lament; this is simply an acknowledgment of the damage inflicted upon me by one careless, pulse-bearing occupant of this earth. I would still give anything, anything at all, to chalk it up to some misunderstanding. To move on with the memories unmarred. But to do so now would be to degrade myself so thoroughly that even I, presumptive masochist, could never attempt the act. Plath wrote once that every woman adores a fascist; but I will not deify my own deserter twice. The fact that I could survive him does not mean that I should have had to.
You know who you are. You’ve known for a long time yet. So know now that while I loved you, and often have, I do not forgive you. What you have wrought upon my flesh is not forgivable. You knew who I was, what I was anticipating, how this would ruin me. You did it anyways. You watched me face the gallows and senselessly, knowingly, you added misery to the act. You are not clean. And hell, if I could not love what mutilated me, then how could I ever endure my own self? So you are spared, once more, the filth and consequence of your own actions. But nineteen scars along my body now belong to the arbitrary silence of your still-living soul; and those nineteen jagged marks are more than you are worth.
I know that I lost nothing useful in the end. Nothing real. Just a fiction that took whatever I had to give, and offered precious little in return. All I ever gained from your positionality within my life was that which I, myself, projected upon the presence. The health that I would have sworn you had inspired in me was, I know now, mine all along. Yes, it was me–it was always me. The brilliance of sensation, the way my body sprang to life like a miracle: I am it, for Christ’s sake, I am everything. You could have been anyone, for I alone made my revival possible.
But there was a time when this did not hurt at all. Oh, how I remember you: this body recalls what it once loved. Whatever else has happened since, you did care for me. And why should two souls share a half-year of such affections, only to squander it all with clinical apathy? But that was your choice: it would never have been mine. I’ve seen enough already of such beautiful, barbaric acts. I knew that I was ready for an ending, but I could never have prepared myself for this. Twice now, in one lifetime, I have loved something that would just as soon have allowed me to die. Heaven knows how I waste my own time like this, when I have so little of it to spare. But I relent. I will not seek answers that aren’t worth their own telling, will not endeavor to make sense of this any longer. You have rendered yourself well beyond what I am capable of comprehending or caring for.
May whatever satisfaction eluded you in our time together be yours now. But know this: as surely as I once cared for you, and as surely as I have bled for that mistake, I know that you will one day read this, and feel things I don’t understand. Don’t want to understand. Don’t care to understand. And even if you don’t–it will not matter in the slightest. Because someday, when your luck runs out, you will remember everything.
That first night in the bathroom dim with cigarette smoke, when you drank in every half-formed phrase I offered. Later, my body wrenching with the tremors of a terror long deferred, until you took my face in your hands and moved with consecrated patience as from above you I glanced down. The mornings of our first connection, sensuous and calm. Kubrick films on a dormitory floor. Haunting strains of melody in an imprecise, minor key. My blood upon the bedsheets. How you always held my left hand in your sleep. The hours of affection, lying beneath you, both of us laughing and so alive. When you ran your fingers through my hair as I played your piano in the evenings. How I wrote, well into the dawn, with your sleeping form pressed against my bare heart, and tried not to wake you when I climbed through the window to smoke and watch the sunrise. The first night of spring, when I began, at last, to succumb to the specter of my illness, and you held me in silence, amidst a growing stillness, and I was safe, and simply cared for. The reckless nights that followed, chasing shadows upon the moonlit canals. The days when your absence made me wonder and wait. The time you were uncertain, even afraid, and allowed your head to fall against my chest like you had never been held before. How I wept with joy when, at last, my muscles did not spasm in pain any longer. The last time you saw me, my form all starved and burned and beautiful, and you had already undone me once, but we tried anyways, tried to say goodbye, tried with champagne and empty promises to amend the history we had forged and tarnished as one. The last steps I took down that narrow, winding staircase, towards home and solitude and blank hospital walls, as you watched from the threshold of the door. The empathy and uncertainty; the lovely and meaningless words that you wrought.
Remember yet? Remember now? Remember me? And on it goes. I scarred and killed and cried for nothing. This all returns to what it was, as though it always wasn’t. Too many people have been forced to watch as I compromised my own efforts towards recovery, worsened my already precarious health, sacrificed the energy that I needed so desperately in some brutal, senseless struggle to come to terms with what you never even bothered to explain. Now, it is time to stop trying. Nothing can alter what a body remembers; and no one, I swear, knows this better than me. So I am wrenching out every trace of you: I refuse to suffer the consequences of your cowardice any longer. I will abandon this, still contemptuous and completely alive, while you share the past with our formless, foreign horror. I expel you like an affliction: your name will fall no longer from my pen or from my lips. Your value is utterly spent.
No flesh, no heart can stay open forever: and my wounds, once gaping, have closed off like an iris. I am sure that your bruises, those gorgeous impressions I once wrought with my teeth, have faded away as well. So go on living, for as long as you can, some life like a viper; low and imbibed with the venom of what you cannot face. But you are no serpent, you are mere flesh. You cannot shed your own history so easily.
Even now, kid, I am a part of your skin. And I do not envy you that.