I don’t have a tendency to live for someone else so much as I have a tendency to live through someone else. To be a witness to their actions and decisions in order to save myself from having to make so many. Or any. To be by a particular person’s side, as opposed to someone else’s side, or no one’s side, required one decision on my part, and that’s enough. Now that I’ve chosen them, I get to enjoy what this person chooses to do with their life while I stand idly by, giving overbearing advice and judging their actions while I myself make few.
The world is interesting enough on its own without me having to take part in it.
I am a lost glove looking for its mate, limp and immobile until somebody puts me on. My ghostly presence in most lovers’ lives means that I’ve been able to easily lift up into a current and float into another person’s world without thinking much of it. In other words, I can fit on many different hands, but have preferred not to stay on any one hand for too long.
But our design flaws are harder to ignore as time goes on. The older I get, the more annoyed my vices make me, and the more power I have to shut them up. They persist, because well-worn grooves in the brain take a long time to fill in with new mental material, better material, healthier material, more sensible material. If we don’t consciously try to repave these roads, to repair years-old cracks, then they will remain cracks, and they will hinder our progress. They will stunt us. I don’t want this. Do I?
My big design flaw is that I long thought that the meaning of life was contained, more or less, in you. In my head, it seemed so easy for me to just jump out of my life and into yours. But the distance between us is vast. The distance between thought and action is vast. And the distance between who you really are, and who you are in my head, is vast. So much so that the concept of distance doesn’t even do justice to my delusion. Rather: my mind’s idea of you is a smudged and faded pencil sketch on a piece of tracing paper, a preliminary drawing of a work that was never finished. Every time I see you I try to hold up the drawing to the real thing, but they never match up; my rendering obscures you. Perhaps I prefer it that way. The real person so often disappoints me — not because you don’t live up to my image of you, but because you live at all. Because you are real.
I know this, at least, now. I am no longer so naive that I just hear the echoes of other people scolding me over this in my head. I hear my own voice scolding me. I loved a souvenir, a symbol of the past. I did not let you grow up. I did not let you become a complete person because that would not be as fun — nor, of course, as manageable — as what goes on in my head.
I think I have a good imagination, but to this day, I am unable to imagine you. How you live your life; what a conversation with you sounds like; what you care about; what you don’t. My mind runs over the same few impressions of you that I have, like a mouse in a maze. This is proof, sad proof, of something: we are not really a part of each other’s lives anymore. We are not really friends. I cannot reach out a hand to you, when given the opportunity. I can only imagine myself doing so a thousand times in slow motion, and never as a friend.
I went to some cousin to our place, the place where we shared many summers, recently: a frozen lake blanketed with snow, so thick you could skate or ski over it. Far away on the other side of the lake, blue glacial ice hung suspended over gray rock. A white sun, lightly shrouded in whispy mountain clouds, hung just over the rock. This was where I got the last of you out of me, or so I hope. You have never been here; I had never been here before, but I was in the right country, at least: the right trees, the right landscape, the right combination of elements. I took pictures that I will probably never show anyone, least of all you. Because this was all just for the continuity of the inner narrative. I was here, exploring, charting new territory in my life. I expected you to psychically know that I was. I expected you to be impressed, telekinetically.
For years I have been trying to impress you from afar. An unintended consequence of this is that I have, now and then, been able to impress myself, since our passions in life are similar. Or perhaps it’s just because my image of you is really just a token of my own ego, a deity to it. Despite your complete indifference to my efforts to be my “best self,” I am still gradually becoming my “best self.” Distance, perhaps, has saved me. In your presence I still become the limp glove, inanimate and powerless, but away from you, my heart hardens in pride and I march on, scheming over what to accomplish next, what to reach for next.
But in these magical places I’ve traveled to, I’ve still whispered under my breath to you: non sequiturs, desperate pleasantries: I love you; I wish you were here; look at how I’m moving on (or at least — moving). I thought that in these places, there was a current that would carry my voice to your ears. But there wasn’t. Which is to say: you could never love me back, you never hear me, you are not listening. My hopes only served to defer reality.
My hopes for us have been advertisements: glossing over the reality, trying to sell something. Fast-paced and colorful, a blur, insubstantial. No real person could live up to them. And yet there is always the catch: I have known love — great love, real love — and my brain long insisted that you would be the greatest.
The lake was the last place I saw you, as it were. The the last time I allowed you to circle around my head like a hungry wolf. I didn’t say goodbye, I just caught a glimpse of a better kind of happiness and I reached for it. This new thing is hard to grasp, but the act of trying to grasp it is more enjoyable than the act of trying to grasp you, or past-you, the me-and-you that was destined to occur until it wasn’t. This happiness is of my own making, which is an idea antithetical to my personality: I love others, I prefer others to myself. Is it possible to enjoy the mere challenge of happiness? Of finding it and maintaining it?
Love is the great anchor of life. But goals — personal, spiritual, athletic, professional — are the only sure path to self-love. Lust, or unrequited love, or infatuation, is not love, nor is it a goal. It’s a detour, a side trip, a distraction from the main event. I admit that it’s a necessary part of life. I will always call you a friend, and I will probably still try to impress you, but I am realizing that my feats are for me to admire, and me alone.
I had to voice the absurdity of my situation, like an addict admitting she has a problem, in order to finally recognize it as absurd. As a friend told me: You wanted to get caught. Not caught in an act of infidelity, but caught in a lie, or rather, in a farce. My brain is so good at concocting farces, at creating fake worlds, and it took me too long to realize they are not a substitute for the real thing. The real thing will never be fully known, or known at all, or even recognized, as long as there is fakery still visible at the edges of my sightline, trying to distract me with its pointless antics.