Or: ‘This is how we go on.’
This is how we go on: one day at a time, one meal at a time, one pain at a time, one breath at a time. Dentists go on one root-canal at a time; boat-builders go on one hull at a time. If you write books, you go on one page at a time. We turn from all we know and all we fear. We study catalogues, watch football games, choose Sprint over AT&T. We count the birds in the sky and will not turn from the window when we hear the footsteps behind us as something comes up the hall; we say yes, I agree that clouds often look like other things—fish and unicorns and men on horseback—but they really are only clouds. Even when the lightning flashes inside them we say they are only clouds and turn our attention to the next meal, the next pain, the next breath, the next page. This is how we go on.
— from Stephen King’s Bag of Bones
Life became recitation, a bathos unfamiliar to its former self, a series of habits and cycles and phases repeated with rote efficiency. The love of friends and family bathed me, work occupied me, nature exhilarated me, and all the while I accepted the staid form of my life. It became the comfortable harness I wore faute de mieux, the obdurate reality with which I cloaked myself.
I flew through the gloaming of my self-imposed exile as if suspended by the air itself, a sprite held captive by a breeze too weak to lift a leaf yet powerful enough to give me wings, and only crimson hues seeping over the horizon kept me company in the sky. I used sophistry to keep myself distanced, disinterested, disenfranchised from the possibilities.
At least once over the years I held in my hand the very real promise of something more, yet I released it with intent so it would not become an object to crave.
Lest I deceive even myself, I never proscribed relationships after Derek’s death. On the contrary, like all feeling people I still longed to be held, to be loved, to be kissed passionately; I longed to share life with someone, yes, but it stopped being the crux of existence, the pinnacle of direction, and it became a constant war betwixt my emotional self and my reasoning self, between the part of me that wants and the part of me that defines via logic the next step to take. For if one can avoid pain, one wishes to do as much.
Despite my efforts to hold the world at bay, living never became a vapid endeavor, never became a tedious employ. My life ab ovo has never been such a thing, most certainly not after thinking myself above the tawdry motives that push so many to seek relationships, even damaging ones, simply because they feel they need to be connected to someone, need to call someone their own.
I walked the path of relationships with adroit avoidance, constantly dispelling the myths of promises made for days to come by telling myself that quotidian rhythms could comfort as much as strong arms. And so I marched forward, happy in the ways I could be and satisfied in the ways required for existence. In a sense it coupled the base essence of both survival and living.
Some days were better than others and some were stranger than others, but regardless of which I received, all I could do was go with what I had rather than what I wished for.
My feet trembled with each falling step. Rocky and treacherous, the road appeared to lead toward the destination I set before me. And still it felt laden with dangerous travelers and pitfalls. I feared the threat of being crushed under carriages drawn on hooves of trampling steeds.
When the sky stretched out before me, painted in dark hues marked only by countless stars, my journey seemed illuminated by those busy on their way to and fro, scampering here and there in hurries of worldly endeavors. That a few caught my attention and drew me in gave me reason to pause, reason to wonder, reason to think.
In foliage dark and deep lining the road I heard predators stalking me. They kept pace, their eyes flashing brilliantly in small, open spaces where they chanced a peek at their quarry. I felt like so much game dashing about the savanna trying to escape the inescapable. I felt the hunter’s breath upon my neck, felt the rumble of its growl as it leaned near and whispered promises of pain and anguish.
How did I come by this bleak boulevard? On what road did I travel before my footfalls echoed silently?
This way, one so lightless and hostile, began to appear impassible, the menacing trace of lifeless prey too long removed from this time to warn others of the perils. Sinister beasts were on the prowl in the night, and I feared their eyes had settled upon me already. With no exits in sight, what was one to do? How was one to survive?
In all I had denied, in all I had pushed away, I found reason to long. Longing to take flight on gossamer wings I did not possess. Foes rested around every corner lurking in shadows deep, the cold of their gazes my only company in such lonely nights. I tried to take comfort from the dark and only wrap myself in shameful dross. It was cold to the touch. It felt like me.
The smell of ashes filled the air. Was it the hope of fire around which brethren meet and join together for warmth, or was it the telltale sign of more lives giving way? I had no way of knowing. I dared not investigate without inhaling the danger in too deep breaths.
In the distance, I heard music, perhaps an aria carried by the voice of a goddess, yet the song chanted verses incomprehensible to the ear but equally graspable as it floated through the heart. She wept, lamented even, and sang of aloneness. Too distant and too quiet, I couldn’t make out the language her tongue unfolded into the night sky, but I didn’t need understand her. I needed only listen. Her faint and melodic dirge seemed all too clear. I could almost see the tears streaming down her face as she cried out. Did she know there was no one to answer her plaintive cries? Despite the beauty she offered freely into the empty coldness, I dared not respond lest I deepen her sadness with my own. Or invite the hunters to take us both.
Yet beneath her singing, I heard something else. A dog barked somewhere in the distance. The warning fell on ears too eager for life to hear its meaning, and even as I strained to absorb as much of it as I could, I suspected it was a voice of loneliness. He spoke for all of us, methinks, this dog barking not in savage tones but in pleading ones. He answered the woman, or he answered my heart, or even both called to him.
And in that moment of realization, that metaphorical discovery of languished longing held too distant for true happiness, I received a piquant missive, a delightfully presumptuous message that at first made me laugh. A voice from the digital ether. An unknown. A challenge to my being that said the voice knew what I was but not who I was, and asked if I would take a chance on a stranger who seemed contrary to my being.
Part 1 | To be continued…
[photo of the moon waning gibbous]