The Oldest Narrative


It feels like a labyrinth. The winding hallways to uncountable rooms, each furnished tastefully with books (acclaimed works, for the most part, Yeats especially prominent) and brass bedspreads, each with a slightly different floral wallpaper. It’s beautiful, definitely— it feels like the finest Alpine hotel, or a day spa somewhere pleasantly, but not direly remote.

I’ve lost my way several times, each time finding, it seems, a new bedroom or bathroom or hallway table. It feels unlived-in—my scattered personal effects, which consist of a few cotton t-shirts, a pair of jeans, and more reading and writing implements than strictly necessary for a two-day jaunt to a Friend’s house—lie on the floor in a heap, looking prominently out of place. I wonder vaguely if my Friend’s mother—a brilliant and formidable though fundamentally kind lady—thinks I’m a slob. I am here at a Friend’s family reunion, and although everyone is kind and engaging, I feel a deep isolation. This isn’t my world, and though the comfortable luxury and impeccable aesthetic’s inarguably lovely, I earnestly wish I was home, drinking some sort of potent beverage in that termite-ridden cottage in Eastern Europe surrounded by mountains almost identical, and equally beautiful. To be feeling like am right now in a place of this brand of expansive, stately, in some ways inhuman beauty brings a stark contrast—my frenetic hair ripping and metaphorical wall bashing doesn’t disturb anything. It’s eerily quiet.

Two days ago, it wasn’t quiet. We were in the middle of Boston Common, flying kites and crashing them into onlookers, laughing and fully enjoying the glory of an August morning, when suddenly, the paradigm shifted. I made the simplest of gestures. I took my Friend’s hand. He turned around and said clearly, “I don’t want to be lovers anymore”. The physical kick, the wall coming down. I sat down. To say I crumpled would be accurate, though that phrase has been evoked so many times as to become hackneyed [see below].

The proverbial lightning bolt on a cloudless day in the Turks and Caicos would have felt more natural, and considerably more statistically probable, based of course, as these things are, on an algorithm which considers past trend lines, current adiabatic and atmospheric conditions, and perceived future ones. The BBC News and Weather report for today…

I cried, of course. There is a time for pretense, for saving face, for ego, and for pride, and this was not it. I was thoroughly tired of pretending to not care, when on a base level I cared, so much—this is what teenagers do, and I am not a teenager. I was thoroughly tired of facades of cool. This was the worst case scenario and there was nowhere to go and nothing to lose—my Friend was in love with a girl whose beauty and femininity outshone my own. This was not a competition, yet I found myself brandishing a bent measuring stick among the pigeons and cigarette butts that find their way onto the lawns of even the most colonial of New England cities.

Patently stupid and cruel and irrational words were uttered in various versions, repeated until he lost patience and returned the cruelty, exacerbating my mental state. There was a brick wall that I had always instinctively felt out of the corner of my eye, but now it was front and center and I, with my extensively rational mind honed by hours of solitary math, I with the scorn for pathos and the overemotional, I who fundamentally fucking Knew Better, could find no other recourse than to bash my head against it until my scalp bled.

This is the oldest narrative. One loves one while he or she loves the other. I’ve always felt that it’s clichéd to write about love, be it unrequited love or contented love. The topic has seemingly been exhausted. It’s been written countless times in countless iterations. But isn’t that the point? This is universal. The pain I feel right now, the way I’ve heard it relayed countless times, has been felt by millions of people—a few of my close friends counted among them—throughout history. Yeats himself, the man on the bookshelf of this prim New England country home, felt it, rather more spectacularly than I. An ex-boyfriend of mine wrote a seven page essay about this same feeling, about an otherwise mediocre girl who broke his heart in prep school. This is a part of what binds us together as humanity. There is a power in clichés, and it is inherent in their nature. The power of clichés is precisely what makes them clichéd —this universality.

Mine is a realization that has been made before, has been written before, has been felt before. Poems have been written, songs have been sung, very stupid and very poorly thought out but thoroughly human action has been taken. And, collectively, albeit privately, in unique narratives that share this common underlying thread, the world has moved on. My narrative was one of the strangest I’d ever experienced, involving long hitch hikes by semi-truck, a thoroughly dangerous 100 km bike ride in a snow storm in the middle of the night, an inordinate amount of cooked octopus, and several thousand miles of phonebooth phonecalls, of telecom cable, of otherwise abandoned gas stations, but it still fits this larger underlying framework.

It was incredibly worthwhile. I feel terrible right now, and it’s likely that I will continue feeling terrible for some time. I don’t know when or if (but I would prefer to ask when) I will be able to resume one of the most beautiful friendships I’ve ever had I with one of the Best People I Know. I am not sure how to go forward while maintaining my sanity, dignity and sense of self. But I do know what everyone else knows—that being miserable means that I am alive, that no man is an island and that, to quote that one guy in that movie everyone saw in the nineties, “I am an archipelago”, and every other stupid Halmarkesque saying I’ve ever come across. Cheap truths are still both true and valuable.

This is going to be just fine. 

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image – Kevinzim