You've snuck around here before, dangling inside the word forget like a tiny bell on a leash. Swaying inside our darkness you noiseless bat. Begging me to neglect you. Oh, I remember you said it will be okay, like you could know and like I asked you and like it would be. Well. The heart is like a mirror, it can only be broken once. I'm not mad. If love was meant to be bloodless then why would we have knuckles to grind and lips to chew on? I never asked you to go easy on me. Really. Show me true anguish, yours, and I will show you mine. Winks. So we glue the mirror back together and it still reflects, but so distorted. Anyone can love a demented thing if it is done just right. If it is just done right. I can't help the way I am. If only you had a sickly half-heart like mine, you would understand. This is my weak attempt at telling the truth-- I usually just watch you stumble around and feel your way through the dim corridor. Are you starting to understand? My heart is like a mirror, it will show you who you really are. I have always chosen a severe life even when I said I wouldn't. I was resolute. I was brave. But I still never figured it out: how to behave, how to be tender, how to be selfless, how to start over. I opened the book on my lap, but only sat there crying. It is hard to be your own terrorist. Really who doesn't want to be remembered as better than we are? Every day I have allowed you to overemphasize my gentleness. This is when I have been most selfish. Who can blame me? You said hello so nicely that I didn't sense any interpersonal boundaries. For once, I did not have to be gracious. I did not have to starve myself for days or defy my impulses. No, for once I let the desperate animal in my bones devour what it craved most. Yes, I remember you.
The summer slipped away again, washed away in heavy rain, turning itself over to a burnt October The pear trees slowly slumped beneath the balmy weight of southern sky and finally they bore their swollen fruit Now the mild autumn days roll by calmly, slow as summer thunder. This house is very quiet. Outside the world keeps blooming into auburn color, flooding through the kitchen windows where I am baking bread or reading novels Even the bees drift lazily among the fallen pears fermenting in the sun. I watch them start to fly then float back down to the sugar-bruised fruit Surely nothing is more silent than steam escaping hot bread broken alone, than black tea going cold.
Libraries, for example, are good places to escape the viciousness of people when they try to get inside of you. Between the shelves there is plenty of space to lick your wounds. This is something I do often. My first twenty years weren’t easy I was always busy with the important occupation of dismantling myself—an exhausting and ungrateful enterprise. I did this so earnestly that I was, in fact, convinced I had invented the vocation. I just kept carving and carving. Did I ever succeed? in scraping clean the rind. in turning myself inside-out. What is left? after such a thorough cauterization. One raw little soul. I can still taste that grief in my mouth like champagne, icy & no hint of sweetness. I could have stayed inside all day. Meanwhile on the quad, a pretty girl walks her small white dog across the grass & shadows sprawl across the perfect lawn with their splotchy memory. Although memory, I am learning, always give back much more color than what was there in the first place. I look back now, and I want to feel that grass on my skin. But all I can remember is that I hated my life and I hated my life. The feeling comes and goes, but at least I find a quiet absolution in my landscape: the restfulness of books and sunlight in an empty room that transforms the isolation into something else entirely.
Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find someone who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle get in the way.
Excerpt adapted from White Oleander, by Janet Fitch.