There is a vague sense I feel sometimes of someone watching me. I toss and turn in bed and there is a dark figure floating beneath the surface. “Are you even happy?” She stands by my doorway in the middle of the night. “Here with these tiny people and their tiny rules and the silent desperation of lives unfulfilled?”
I roll over in bed and throw a pillow at her. “Stop shoving your psychological analysis in my face; go to sleep.”
She throws the covers off my bed. “Wake up! Feel the world! Remember what it felt like to be alive!”
“I am alive!” I push her off my bed and storm down the hallway.
“Oh yeah?” Her voice follows me out of the room. “So why is what I’m saying bothering you so much?”
I’m washing the unfinished dishes in the sink. “You just don’t realize yet, you haven’t grown up yet.”
She stands behind me, her hands clenched. “Don’t invalidate my thoughts just because you once had them.”
“Listen,” I say over the running water, “I have to get up tomorrow at 6, so if you could…”
She is shouting now. “What about your dreams? What about all those questions and thoughts about existence, about the meanings of things, about the meaning of yourself, what happened…”
“Shhh,” I put my hand over her mouth. “You’re going to wake up the neighbors.”
“Who cares about the freaking neighbors!” She rips my hand away. “You’ve turned into this mediocre version of someone else, and you just need to admit…”
“Just stop, just stop.” I wave my hands. “You and your lofty dreams that don’t mean anything, don’t do anything.” I point towards the sink, “Here I am trying to actually improve the world, to actually do something in it. What did you do? Talk! All you did was talk about things, talk about changing the human consciousness. Don’t you see, here I am doing it.” I turn around and start to dry the dishes.
Her mouth is sputtering trying to find words. She is quiet for a while. And then she speaks. “You’re just not how I expected you’d be.”
“This is what you wanted.” I walk towards the bathroom to wash my hands.
“Are you even happy?” She asks again, her voice searching, and I glance up in the mirror, at my face, and there is something in there that is empty, something lacking, behind the eyes. “Of course,” I say. The hesitation before my answer hovers like a break in the air between us.
I shake my head. “Just go please.”
As I walk past her towards my bed, she whispers after me.
“You just feel like you need to do something in order for people to love you.”
I stop. My face reddens. I turn around.
“Stop flinging your own insecurities onto me. You are trying to understand how I turned out like this, I get that. But don’t pretend to know, don’t pretend to know me, okay? I want to do something to help the world, okay it’s tedious, and okay it’s not what you expected, but life isn’t what you expect and….”
“Remember you thought you could defeat entropy with your mind. Remember when you would argue philosophy with friends and it felt the entire world would melt apart under your words. Even last year, for goodness sake, when you would paint things that felt like they could speak. What’s happened to you, with this ten o’clock bed time and scheduling things into your day, and…”
She is struggling for words. “….and giving up on doing anything spectacular.”
I shake my head and spew frustrating adult-like aphorisms. “Life isn’t about doing anything spectacular.”
“But it could be.” She shakes her head and looks at me. But really looks at me.
All those memories drowning me back. She is so real, so vibrant, so in love with life, so hopeful, so unexposed, so ignorant, so beautiful.
I mutter bitterly. “I pity you.”
And shut the bedroom door.
The door bangs open.
“I am not leaving.” She says. “Until you deal with me.” “You can’t get rid of me,” she leans down into my face, “because I am you, I am your consciousness from when you still believed in things.”
“I still believe in things!” I shout and throw my covers at her. “I am better, I am doing things, I am helping people, I am going to pay taxes soon, and I am going to rent out a place, and I am going to be my own independent person with a career.”
She throws the covers down in anger. “You never wanted a career.” Ugggh, she spits. “What an ugly word.” You wanted to touch the invisible chords behind words, behind objects, behind the hearts of people, you wanted to touch them and make music, but more than that you wanted to look at them, you wanted to understand, you wanted to make life more whole in that understanding, in that ineffable melody that we could create together.
“What does that even mean?” I stand up and hold a pillow over my head and my eyes grow wide as I shout loudly and slowly, “WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?”
“You wanted to hold reality,” she said, “you wanted to take our existence which is like smoke and escapes between our fingers in every grasp, and you wanted to hold it.” Do you even think about your life anymore?
This time she is the one who grabs the pillow and shouts slowly, “DO YOU? HUH. OR ARE YOU JUST QUIET INSIDE.”
“What’s wrong with being quiet inside?” I mutter.
“Because… she stammers.
“Because what?” I say. Here you come bothering me, when I got my life together, when I am happy….
Are you happy? She asks.
Stop asking me that question!
Why? She stares into my eyes. Why?
“What about you?” I slide across the hallway in my socks. “What are you doing in your life?”
I point my finger at her. “Look at those paintings you made over there.” She pulls them out, old paint-night paintings, mostly scenic sketches of trees and sky. “You were just copying pictures,” I say, my voice rumbling with emotion. “There was no individual thought. See that one there. You just wrote on it ‘Change the world.’ But you didn’t even know what that meant. You didn’t even know what you wanted to do.”
Her voice is trembling. “Just because there was this feeling of wanting to do something but not knowing what,” she shakes her head, “…my confusion doesn’t invalidate my…” she closes her eyes and starts again. “My longing was real and my longing was raw.”
“And here I am trying to figure it out,”I say. “I am trying to figure out what you wanted. What you really wanted. And it wasn’t just words and it wasn’t just ideas. It was something about touching people, about really touching the heart of people. And I am trying to do that.” My sinuses start to run. “I’m really trying to do that.”
She nods and sits down next to me. Our shadows shift between us.
“I just want to be real,” she mutters, and she folds her hand together as if trying to hold onto the air. “And I don’t even know what that means.”
I nod and silence my advice because that’s not what she wants to hear, because all she wants to hear is me breathing next to her.
I thought it would be different, she said.
“In what way?” I ask.
She looks away, at the window, at the black room. “I thought you would be less lonely.”
I swallow and look at the night seeping in through the windowsill.
“The older I get, the more I notice the irrevocable spaces between people.”
She is silent.
And then she grins widely. “That sounds philosophical. You’re starting to sound like me again.”
We laugh and I want to say—
Even between us. Even between us. The spaces.
I want to tell her about the CPR class this morning, where we beat onto a blue plastic heart and breathed into a tiny tube and watched the chest inflate. That’s it, I want to say, that is what I feel like my life is like, breathing life into empty places with sheer force.
“It can’t be that bad.” She grins. “That’s what is life about,” she says, “living in that struggle, in that moment of despair, embracing it, and in doing so allowing others to confront those places in themselves.”
Her eyes are bright and burning and alive and I remember when she used to exist, when she used to exist in every moment of every day, within me, everywhere.
“You don’t understand,” I tried to say, “all those words start to sound familiar, I mean similar after a while, start to blend into each other, start to fade away.” I shake my head and lean back into the bed.
“I tried to confront the world, to stare reality in the face. And it beat me, the world beat me, with its monotone, with its mundane, with its heaviness.”
“You didn’t lose,” she whispers.
I continue. “Most people think life is one person against the other, all wars, all love, all hate. But it’s never a competition. It’s just us trying to survive against the world. Constantly losing our momentum, losing our passion, losing, losing, swept into the entropy.”
I feel her hand against my back tighten. Her jaw, clenched, faces out into the clouded night.
Two words. “Fight it.” She says.
I laugh, a sad, tired laugh.
“It’s not that simple,” I say.
She looks at me and strokes my back. “Nobody talks about it.” She whispers. “The important things.” And she does not know what these important things are, or if she does, she does not know how to describe them.
“You’re just afraid of change.” I mutter. “You’re scared that this new version of yourself isn’t as good.”
She looks away. And I want to tell her that theoretical words mean nothing in the face of the void, that one must do something, always to do something, that this was what I was trying to do, over and over again, if only she would let me. But I am quiet, and swallow, and offer no semi-wise, semi-preachy words, and I watch her expand in the quiet.
“It’s not that.” She says, and I am surprised. “I mean yes I am afraid of change. But the reason is because what I am really afraid of…” Her eyes are still shimmering moving back and forth in feeling and thought. “…is not giving the moment I’m in enough attention. Like I am constantly not living up to the moments presented to me.” And here her chest begins to heave. “And I’m not ready for you to move forward because you didn’t finish, you didn’t do it fully enough, this questioning, this confrontation with reality, this….”
And I rise up and I hold her, she begins to cry and we rock together on the bed.
“I don’t have answers.” I shake my head and wipe the tears off her cheeks. “It’s not what I expected either.”
She shakes her head, and her eyes are dark, unsure and confident.
“You’re right,” she whispers. “I wasn’t really thinking on my own. Only copying things that tasted true, that spoke to the large shifting forces inside me…”
“No,” I say, “in some ways you were more full than I was, so excited about the search, and so hopeful in the mask of the world stripping away. Because you’re right, it is true, it can strip away, it can, I just got to keep on believing…”
She shakes her head quickly. “But you’re right though, there comes a point where you have to accept the world for what is, not for what you want it to be, and…”
“No, no, no,” I shake my head. “Don’t let me corrupt you.” I beg. “Please keep trying, please…”
“What’s the point?” She says. “If one day I’ll arrive at all the same conclusions as you.”
I grab her shoulders and speak without thinking, so quickly the words rush out of my body. “It’s still worth it! Please believe it’s still worth it!”
And she smiles and I swallow and I know I will change my mind, that some days I will give up completely, and cry, with her, or alone, and that always at the end of these conversations, I would return to this—I had to protect her hope. As if sheltering her was a way of saving the perspective of the future generations. Burden me, I wanted to shout at life, just let me keep up the illusion that everything is possible. Because somewhere, deep down, I still believed it was.