“Come with me, I need to show you something,” I try to say as I look at my arms in the mirror, long and frail like thin branches. They’re getting bigger though, there’s hope in this part of my life—at last something to be truly thankful for! I’m growing more muscular in my thirties, my chest has bulged a little, my calves are a bit thicker, my thighs look more developed. Hard work pays off I suppose; I’ve been going to the gym, looking silly but comfortable in my white plimsolls and ¾ black joggers with small white strings at the waist, my favourite pair, a metaphor for my situation these days—nearly all black with a hint of hope or something like it, self-deception perhaps.
Also these silly pants remind me of a particular phase of my psychology that I don’t want to forget, the period right after I stopped hearing a drumming noise inside my head which used to start whenever my soul mate was around and stayed with me even while I was asleep because my dreams were usually about her. It stopped the moment she broke up with me of course—silence replaced it—and on that day, the 5th of January 2005, I learnt something important: I wasn’t too young to die. This was all back in my twenties, 10 years ago, a time of tearing up then smiling. A nightmare to be sure but one with interesting little flashbacks that cheered me up some.
Now a days, it’s her smile that I remember most, it’s burned in me but only because it’s linked to the period as one dimension of a funny paradox, not because of something as silly as romantic love although at the time I thought the bond between lovers was a thing that could and should last forever; I’ve since looked at my history with her with opened eyes and decided that she wasn’t important, neither for the outcome nor the lesson. Yes, the love of my life was and is totally superfluous; that is, what happened would have happened without her. And what exactly has happened? Well, two things: after her, I developed a lust for loneliness, a perversion that has beautified my life; and secondly, I’ve come to see sex in what can be called the “Freudian Way”—sex as the ultimate means to gain power over another. There’s no doubt about it, I’m a sick man!
I remember when I became sick too, that is, when my sickness first showed itself the clearest. One Sunday afternoon I was beginning to tear up because our favourite song had started playing on the radio and when it reached the part that we (she and I) used to sing the loudest, my tears increased like a small stream that suddenly became a waterfall. I went to the bathroom to grab paper towel to dry them and as the cheap, rough, store brand paper rubbed over my cheek bones, I started to smile and then to laugh and then I blew my hot breath at my face in the bathroom mirror, making it foggy so that I couldn’t see my reflection anymore. And right then and there, for the first time in my life, I came to know the peace that comes with accepting that I am a nobody, an outcast; it was peace that flows like a muddy, almost dried up river but it was still peace, one which I’ve been experiencing for the last seven years now. I suppose you could say I can’t feel good unless I feel dirty, a sort of sickness that was hidden in my childhood, exposed in my twenties and has been developing ever since.
But what does it mean to even feel dirty? Well I suppose, as in my case, it is feeling like you’re too lonely—you have no one to depend on and there’s no one depending on you. It’s a black feeling, a feeling of guilt, an instinct that reminds you that you’re not to be loved. An instinct that carries with it a strange kind of freedom also, a reminder that you don’t have to worry or care—the peaceful side, the side I love; there’s no one to let down, if you fail at anything it’s on you and if you succeed it’s on you also. And It’s the failing that I love the most to be honest, I love blaming myself whenever I do and I always refuse help because as I said, my delight is to blame myself, it’s how I enjoy my quiet time. The more I fail, the more I enjoy myself. It’s a kind of game, one like what the Christian plays when he calls himself sinful and redeemable only by God, so he constantly does what he shouldn’t because he loves feeling weak and dependent on a power outside himself—God. My case is a little different because I have only myself to turn to, which simply means I will never know the comfort of being forgiven—I can’t let my failures go, they’re too sweet.
When I tell these things to people they react as if I’m saying something complicated, but there’s nothing complex about my feelings or my nature. I’m simply a man who feels like he was designed to be single, born as a sacrifice and from a sacrifice. My mother never really loved my father but she allowed him to get her pregnant because he had money. Her parents hated her for it I’ve heard her say but what she did is alright with me, the winters of Normandy, France are cruel with temperatures falling below -20 degrees—a choking cold—all the warm clothes in the world couldn’t keep you warm there, cost of living is also high there too, so in my opinion, a single woman with no job or income had the right to find a man who could provide for her even if he was stupid, clumsy and arrogant to the point of being very hard to live with. All I ever saw them do was argue, most of the time about nothing significant, he wanted to feel like she was ungrateful so he could satisfy his martyr’s complex and she wanted an excuse to push him away. It was all theatre and I was growing to love it when at age eight she found both a man and country she could love and left for North Carolina with a single purse on her right side and me on her left. I haven’t seen or spoken to my father since. I was sitting on the brown swing in our new yard, right in the middle of some blue roses and yellow daffodils that were beautifully sculpted along the ground into an interesting wiggly shape, when I overheard her on the phone telling a friend that she has back home in Normandy to “let the dead bury the dead” and that “all men are mortal even pompous fools.” I was young then—perhaps around 10—but I still had sense enough to admire her poetry, her words made me smile that day like so many other days.
My mother lived a reasonably happy life with her new lover but only because she found out that sex is a powerful tool and it is normally the woman who wields it. I can see that these days only because I’m single and jobless, I’ve got a lot of time to think and reflect, it has become more than a hobby, I consider it as at least a job. I remember my mother telling my step-father that only a delicate and tender man could get her into the mood but sometimes even after my step-father brought back expensive chocolates and flowers and played “mood inspiring music” while trying his best to say the sweetest things, she would tell him that she’s tired and “not feeling it tonight” which to me is a lie because our maid did all the house work, she did nothing all day. I used to hear these talks about moods when I got scared in my big, lonely room and pressed my ears to the wall of our joint rooms, there was a little spot where the dry wall was extremely thin because the house got damaged in a fire a couple years back and if you placed your ear on it you could hear everything that went on in the other room although at the time I was too young to understand any of it. Needless to say, these days when I reflect on the conversations and noises that I heard as a child I start feeling sick and fragile.
Perhaps I’m too sensitive, too aware of my how I am, too in love with my sickness. I’m not sure if I can change or would even want to change, although when I see couples strolling hand in hand down a charming side road in the city, I feel a little pang in my stomach. But the feeling gets weaker and weaker as I get older—a man can get used to anything. Sometimes when I’m doing my best thinking I sit and ask the same questions for hours: “do I even want a family at this point? Do I even deserve one? What would I do with my wife besides have sex? Before that, could she even understand me?” The answers to these questions are all funny, almost as funny as watching yourself flex in the mirror, trying to make as much use of the sun before it sets because there’s no electricity in your apartment. There has been none for a while now and perhaps this is why I’m like this, once I put the candle out at 9 pm each night I can make out only a few dark shapes. I’ve come to consider these shapes as my friends, I talk to them too like I’m doing now. It’s my dresser that I try to show my arms. Of course, I know they’re not my friends, but the fact of the matter is I need my voice to be heard, that is I need to hear my voice and I’d feel crazy talking to just myself. Who wouldn’t?
I’m laughing now; the dresser, the stove and my bed are saying nothing as usual. It’s so peaceful. I step away from the mirror for a while and step outside to see something—anything—the fancy cars, the well-dressed people, the bold, the beautiful, the Manhattan sky, anything! I see a white, crooked billboard across from my apartment that has the word “nothing” on it in black, bold letters. How contrasting, how cliché! Perhaps I’m like that, a cliché and perhaps this how I will always be—a man watching the world passing him by while he sits comfortably and looks from his perch on a dusty doorstep.
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