Monday, July 26, 2004

Clarity Comes Slowly

An Open Letter to J.K., an Obsession both Despised and Beloved to Which I Finally Say Goodbye:

Dear J:

Actually, it was brilliant, what you did. It was a startlingly insightful thing -- but I don't know why it surprises me to realize that your self-preservation instinct was that honed. I even loved that about you. It was the force in the grip of your charisma. I craved it, in craving you, while craving you, because of craving you. Self-preservation at the price of another: you were always the master.

It has helped so much, looking back at you with some effort at true compassion. I know I withheld all that I could have summoned. I was still so angry. Even now, as I write this letter, I feel the waves of hurt and betrayal, anger, licking at the shores of my better self, like a tide that must roll in and roll out on some schedule both mysterious and irregular. But I think even you would be able to see that I tried, truly, to see you as you saw yourself. To be kind to you as you see yourself. It's just that until now I missed the crux of the issue.

You were unable to love and lose me. Nothing about the idea you have of yourself -- that idea that gets you through the days when some inkling of how far you fail it threatens to overtake you -- nothing about that idea could have withstood that loss. We all have an idea of ourselves, J. And live with the fear of being wrong. It comes calling at the back door of everyone's psyches, late, late on stormy nights, rousing us from restless sleep, when all natural instinct says, "Bar the door! It can come of no Good!" We are all scared to stare into the face of the Thing on the other side, that Thing Which Knows. That Thing which says we are not quite the people we tell ourselves we are in order to place ourselves in the world, above some, below others --- that Thing that knows that we are all but small, defenseless, errant and alone, with no where to run, no one to protect us, and no escape from the searing accuracy of its insight.

We are saved when dawn breaks, the storm has passed, and the world is as before. Come the morning we are assured we were only dreaming. If we are shaken, it is to be expected, but we wake up and we see that who we tell ourselves we are still works today. We hopefully adjust somewhat, matured and humbled -- for that's its gift. But we go on.

If you had loved me, then come that morning, you would not have been able to go on. Come that morning, your life would have been laid bare in a way you could not have borne. Because to let yourself really love me you would have had to embrace a vulnerability that would have opened too many of the doors to your past, the pain you have swallowed, the pain you have inflicted. Staring into the face of That Which Really Knows Us, you would have lost the gift of deniability, with no way to avert your eyes from the parts of your life to which you can otherwise remain blind. The next morning you would have been more than shaken. You would have been destroyed. And I wouldn't have been there to love you through it.

I wouldn't have been there because, as we both know, now, I am not yours. I wanted to be. Perhaps, for a long savored moment, you also wanted me to be. In fact, I know you did. The very thing that ultimately repelled you, originally drew you to me: the fact that my love might have redeemed you -- if I had been yours. If I had been for you, my love would have redeemed your life. You could have owned it all. That was the sweetness in our kisses, the ecstacy of our conversation, the electricity between our bodies, the pulse of what felt like possibility: the promise of redemption.

But you knew the truth of it before me, and you did not tell me. Instead, you withdrew, coldly and suddenly, tucking me behind one of the barred doors in the hidden landscape of your soul: that which you refuse to see. You let me bang on that door, crying out, begging -- pathetically, it's true -- to be let out and into your life. To stand beside you. To hold your hand. To try it. To TRY. You were wiser than I knew, until now. Loving me would have destroyed you as you know you.

And I would not have stayed with you. It's true -- I see that now. I would have woken up one morning and known it was all only wishful thinking. I would have heard the call of my real life, waiting. The man who is for me, to whom I belong and who belongs to me. And he is not you. Ultimately, I would have left you, open to all your demons and ill-equipped for the battle. You, the man I craved, the man you have created, the man we both loved, would not have survived that. I see it, suddenly, clearly.

Nonetheless, J., old flame, I must tell you that I have hated you for cutting short all of the joy we might have taken in each other's company for the time we could have had. Especially because you did it so cruelly, denying something true, asking me to believe you'd been a liar, telling me that my heart had lied. Insisting it was only me, naively and foolishly, who had entered the dance -- even after your rashly released marriage proposal, which though stuffed under the rug afterwards remained conspicuous evidence that the place in your heart you said I'd never been had only been quick-cleaned of anything that might remind you of my residency. Your rejection and denial cut me so much more incredibly deeply than if we had just played it through and parted with wise but equally aching hearts. You could have spared me pain that you chose to inflict instead.

I see now that if we had played it through, you would have had to pay the cost. And instead, you let me. I am the one who had to open the door to the Thing That Knows and see how I debased myself for you. How I refused life and light and love to hold onto the pain of your rejection, turning it over and over in my hand, like a promissory note for justice, believing I needed something from you for my own redemption, denying the simpler fact that it was always mine to have without you. I've had to face shame that you have escaped and that humiliation has haunted me as much anything else about you. I do not know when I will stop hating you for that. But for the first time, I understand it, and some part of me relents. Perhaps I will even forgive you.

In the meantime, here, at last, my long ago lover, is my final kiss good-bye: May you forever be haunted by me, especially at your weakest moments, but never destroyed. Your idea of yourself is magnificent. May you have great happiness most of your life, but God make it to sometimes have the undeniable bitter aftertaste of sadness for all the joy you did not drink with me, and all the peace you stole from me. I wish for you a precarious, sometimes uneasy peace to match mine. May it take you through all your days -- and be peace, nonetheless. And ultimately, may you know the truth, and be ready for it when it comes.

I remain, as ever,