As a child

Pictures. I have very few pictures of myself from when I was younger. I always hated having my picture taken.

Sometimes I wonder, if there are no witnesses, if there is no record, how many of the strange and unusual things I experienced are nothing more than my own flights of fancy? Why didn’t I document these things and why do I neglect to do so now? Do I have something deep inside of me that urges me to leave no footprint, to remain someone undocumented? Or is this a sort of hubris instead; expecting to be so memorable that such trifling mementos are worthless and a shadow of my true impact? No, I suspect it’s none of these. It is the result of disliking my own appearance and never living up in the flat image to my mind’s eye of my personality.

When I die, will that mean there will be fewer memories for people to draw from or share? My tensor’s mother sent me some photos from ten years ago. He would have been 15, 16. He was young, obviously; gangling, not yet grown into himself. Not yet quite so self-assured and independent. Happy, though. It was a he I never met, but caught glimpses of in the man he became. I treasure these images shared with me. These memories that are not mine, but that augment mine. I miss him.

If I die, what memories will there be left to share?

Little Things

All the little things I miss about you. It isn’t the large or overwhelming, though they still creep up to surprise me in their absence like a childish game to see how high you can make me jump in the startling — no, it is the little things I miss. The day to day joys and yes, even frustrations, that you were so skilled at causing were so much more beloved than I ever let on. We only know what is truly best once it is gone.

I miss your logical testing and playful silliness. I am bereft of the clever quips and the terrible fake Scottish accent or descent into archaic speech – this day greco-roman conventions, then High Elizabethan on the next. There is nobody to make jokes of absolute absurdity that still contain an element of background education and delight in mythology, theatrics, and inventive philosophy. I miss your aid and your talk of beards and your love of food. Your laugh, your smile, your raised eyebrows or nonsense declarations, such small parts to the great you.

It isn’t the important,  the life-altering, or even the romance. It is the little things that define a person. Every little thing helps to compound that vast aggregate grief, the loss and the anguish, but in every day, what I miss are just those many, ever present, little things.

Killing Time

“But what has it ever done to you?”

I try to reason, try to rationalize, but still it descended upon me last night that I’m going through the paces. I throw myself into work; I pour my emotions into practicing the piano; I program upon a game; I try to focus upon reading, but I still feel this massive hole. I am doing little more than trying unsuccessfully to distract myself. Certainly, I make new friends; I am productive, but it all feels empty and disassociated from me.

The one thing I find myself eagerly — passionately — awaiting are the email responses from his brother. Somehow, that bothers me on multiple levels. It is his brother. A man with his own life, his own interests,  his own very distinct personality. I don’t imagine for a moment that he views me as my tensor did. The soul-touching closeness is not there, though understood. So why do I wait? Why do I refresh my email again and again throughout the day? Where does this giddiness at a new message in the appropriate address stem from? Or similarly the dejection when it isn’t his response?

There was no actual attraction when we met, nor can I even say it is an attraction now, not in the conventional sense. It is an attraction of mind and concept; a hunger for connection,  even if different from the one that was lost. But is this an attempt to recreate and replace? To fuel something desired but not there? It is amazing he has been willing to engage in our conversations,  but really, as much as I seem to need and want this, I have begun to question what benefit he might find in conversing with me. My need does not mean one of his own, particularly when what we lost was so profoundly different.

Is this a case of pity? But if that is not what my reason is, it seems unlikely that might be his. Is it a case of curiosity? There is little doubt that in adult life we separate from our siblings and develop our own world of which only glimpses are caught. To him, I might be a window into that? But still, a part of me cries out that I am a person. The only reason should be enjoyment of me, not my relationship with his dead brother! Yet it was I who urged him to engage conversation with me in the first place. And for what purpose? Because I feel disconnected and alone since his brother’s death.

Does that mean I wish to view him as a surrogate? That slot to fill? I don’t think so. He will never view me as his brother did. Nobody will. But I do enjoy him. And I want him to enjoy me for me, not just for his brother. And whether it is echoes of my tensor gone, the shadows of emotions that once flooded my soul, I kill time; waiting, waiting for that response which may ultimately mean absolutely nothing.

The Waiting Room

When I was younger, (more foolish, idealisic, smarter?) I did a vast amount of writing. Poetry and plays were the lifeblood of my muse. Always a little off-kilter and irrelevant, my sardonic humor was always present. Reflecting further upon Nabokov,  I was nearly tempted to pull out the very first three act play I had written when I was seventeen.

Inspired by the classics, The Waiting Room was my teenage surrealist view on gods and the quandary of insanity and the afterlife. How childish it must be! Every role aside from two was designed to be played by the same person – every person in the Artist’s life (the Artist being the main focus and character) related to some mythological god in the great boardroom of the beyond known as The Waiting Room. The place where the gods play with lives. Cassandra, ill-fated oracle is the only other role not duplicated and, true to form, in the alternate setting of “The Real World” she looks the same, still speaks in rhyme, and is a homeless vagabond in the Artist’s alley.

The concept is clever, Greek chorus aside and stage practicality discounted. The gods of countless stories, Greek, Indian, Norse and Chinese all staking their claim on a man of troubled genius has a reasonable entertainment to it. The woes of the Artist in the Real World, however, must be a childish attempt at understanding the pains that drive us.

A work worthy of a rewrite perhaps, but a little too close to my heart at the moment. How dare I contemplate the final destination of any person’s spark or spirit, when I continue to imagine and converse with the one I have lost? I know he is not there. I know it is a method of coping. There are no knocks upon the wall or moving objects, nor would I want to imagine him fettered to this world by my need.

I remain skeptical, religiously private, and willfully uncertain what is out there. But who would wish upon anyone they loved an enforced lingering? What horror that would be to deny anyone the ability to go to whatever might be! I know that my remembering and imagining is the fuel for my dreams and the inspiration for my conversations with nothing. Even to imagine he watches or hears elsewhere is disturbing in a way I never thought it might be.

Enveloped in grief, the absolute certainty of my youth is visible as the fragile dreaming it was. Ephemeral, hopeful, but aspiring to posit upon that far beyond my ken. And now that I am faced with such, I review the concept but am overwhelmed at the audacity of taking on such a scope.

Before I reread, let alone rewrite, I return my play to the folder of old writing and put it back on the bookshelf. Maybe someday.

To know my sorrow

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Weiß, was ich leide!
Allein und abgetrennt
Von aller Freude,
Seh ich ans Firmament
Nach jener Seite.
Ach! der mich liebt und kennt,
Ist in der Weite.
Es schwindelt mir, es brennt
Mein Eingeweide.
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt

Weiß, was ich leide!

 – Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Sorrow is sorrow, but it is not the same for all. I was reminded of this yesterday, when the one friend who I reached out to who seemed more apt to understand, two months after my tensor’s death, has moved on. He made the comment, “Who knows if all the good things that have come would have come, had he lived.” In itself, that caused perhaps the greatest pain to stab into my heart since learning of the death.

I don’t expect our lives to draw to a halt. I’m no Miss Havisham to freeze my life and take revenge for my own pain and sorrow. But it has only been two months. It seems too brief a time for the closest people to be comfortable, to no longer mourn, to no longer miss him, to not grieve. Or perhaps it is only those of us who were truly closest to that private individual? No matter what his friends say, perhaps they weren’t as close as they wished to seem? And that causes a different sort of sorrow – because how few people did this amazing, wonderful man truly manage to touch if the loss is that easy to handle? I take my grief with a strong helping of gratitude – because if it didn’t impact me so, I never would have known the wonder, the beauty and the treasure that was this man’s brilliance and wit upon the world. His potential may have been cut short and lost before final culmination of great works, but to have known him, to have been inspired and touched by him is a gift I cannot overlook.

Sorrow comes in many forms, but there are many times that I view it and realize that not to embrace it and accept it would be to deny a precious connection I was fortunate to have shared. One that can continue to live on within me, through the memory. I shall never be the same, but with sorrow still comes some joys, some gratitude. Some people may never understand fully, but Goethe put it well.

Atrophy

at·ro·phy
ˈatrəfē/
verb
 
  1. (of body tissue or an organ) waste away, typically due to the degeneration of cells, or become vestigial during evolution.
    “without exercise, the muscles will atrophy”
     
     
  2. gradually decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.
    “her artistic skills atrophied from lack of use”

I have experienced atrophy. I have felt the weariness, the slow disuse wearing away and destroying the muscles of years. All my life I had what we would often term “dancer’s calves” where the muscles had hardened and distinguished a sort of slab of muscle upon my lower legs. I could flex and my calves were so distinctly visible on my legs. They helped to provide the proper line when I lifted my leg and pointed my toe. Or flexed. It is gone now.

Illness and paralysis stole that muscle away. From the time I began dancing when I was three, until I was in my twenties, I had honed, developed, worked those muscles, without being conscious of it. My white blood cells decided to attack my nervous system and ate away the myelin coating between the nerves. Illness destroyed my body’s ability to communicate within. Betrayal of the cruelest nature, I could blame nobody but myself, for here, it was my body. My blood. My brain. It stole my ability to walk and in doing so, ripped away years and years of nurturing and development.

Time has passed and I can walk again. I had to learn all over with my dysfunctional nerves, holding a grudge and giving one another the silent treatment. It was worse than learning as a child to walk. The falls hurt far more, even when I couldn’t feel them. When my nerves began to speak again, they spoke in a single voice. Pain! Anger! Agony! The first things they could say, were not pleasure, were not the feeling of light caresses. I still cannot feel the warmth or the coolness properly. I cannot feel the gentle touch, but I can feel.

I learned to walk again with a walker. Then a cane. Now of my own free will. I stand on my feet and rise upon my toes. I try to balance. It is hard, since balancing is a much more delicate touch than my angry nerves can feel properly. I balance. I have regained some muscle, but I cannot repair what was lost. It would take years to manage and even then, it would not be the same.

Metaphor? I balance. I no longer balance well, but even with the atrophy, I balance. Time does not restore – it is incapable of it. No matter what you seek, what you hope, time presses on. Always it moves forward. It can do nothing else. It has no mind, no heart, no love nor hate. But even if it does not restore, it still gives you something: a chance, an opportunity, the ability to change – not change what is past, but more importantly, change what is. I balance.

Saudade

Who knew that heartbreak could bring pleasure alongside the pain?

It can and it does. In conversations with the brother of my tensor, he questioned if there might not have been some latent intent – not that he believed it up front, but that his brother had played recklessly with his health in the past. I countered that I was certain his death was not intentional. To explain this, I offered up a morsel of what it was I truly had lost – not because I wished him to feel my pain, but because I wanted him to understand my absolute conviction that there was no intent.

I told him about the conversation we had where in a spontaneous instant of whimsy, I asked the one I have lost if he could have one wish, just one – no cheating the fairytale with asking for unlimited wishes or stuffing five requests into a single wish – and in return, he would get it without cynical negative requirement of another wish needed to take back the original one – what is it that he would ask for?

He responded after a little thought with, “I wish you would never leave me.”

Needless to say, his death meant that conversation was replayed again and again in my mind while the wordless, agonizing plea of, “I never did, so how could you leave -me-?!” wracked through me as I sobbed.

But that is just it – he wouldn’t have. He wouldn’t do that to himself, nor would he do that to me. Not intentionally. If his condition crept up on him, in disorientation, in confusion he might not have sought the help he needed – but that isn’t the same as intentionally avoiding it.

Upon reading this, the brother could not help but agree with me. And apologized for speaking so thoughtlessly. He truly had nothing to apologize for. Perspective is a form of truth – so long as it is not something to cling to as the sole and pristine truth – it is no less true. It is only through many perspectives that we can see the whole (a truth to suit Leibniz, perhaps?) and to that extent, no perspective ought be denied.

If my tensor had not died, it might have been years before I really got to know his brother and certainly I would never have allowed such an intimate view into my world to him, but it is good to know there are people out there who do understand. The brother shares memories which are profoundly different, as a brother’s would be, but in this we have created a little community of compassion and understanding. It is not as good as had my tensor remained, but there is a good that I would not have known otherwise.