When wolves first meet up they have a ritual of smelling one other’s breath One wolf will put his nose to the mouth of another, asking What have you been hunting? The second wolf exhales thick breath, hot with blood and sulfur to explain, You can still smell the kill But nothing tells this story quite as well as a human. My father took me hunting every autumn Crouched down in the forest beside him, I felt the gravity of this genre, the deepness of its roots extending so far beyond men. It was the sensation of soil working its way into the grooves of my skin, the crunch of detritus underfoot. It becomes a type of language, like a prayer In college, I would later learn some theories which suggest that the human kiss began as a mouth-to-mouth greeting like that of the wolf. I knew this immediately to be true; my father is a wolf. Always quick and deliberate; gutting his animal in perfect technique. He taught me how to split open the ribcage and reach inside— you have to grab the heart and sever the moorings. But still, there is a right way and a wrong way to kill an animal.
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.
After everything, I couldn’t stand to be alone in my bedroom, so I started sleeping on the couch. Then I couldn’t stand the couch so I slept outside in the grass, but I couldn’t stand the grass. So I slept in my body, strung from my ankles and my wrists like a hammock. When I couldn't stand my body, I chiseled myself out of it. This use of knives broke my heart, because it was an act of violence. My weakness broke my heart, because Julia comes from Jupiter. The meaning of my name broke my heart because I would rather be beautiful than strong. My vanity broke my heart because I am a scholar. My education broke my heart because universities are mostly lonely places and knowledge, in the end, is empty. My emptiness ate me alive; I was starving to be whole. The thought of wholeness broke my heart because it is elusive and I could not have it. So I tried to rationalize wholeness as the mastery of all interests: I walked into the yard trying to vomit and pray simultaneously. I fell asleep while whispering a love song. I was empty empty empty. I've had enough heartbreak to fill every inch of this house. Really, I was drowning in a room I couldn't stand.