Here’s Your Answer
Last summer, the me of 2015 wrote this, on the topic of romantic feelings and love and whatnot.
Having never had that, caught as I am in the midst of this weird existential crisis, I find myself wondering what it’s like; that thing of knowing someone you like likes you back. It’s a thing which drives so much art, with the entire world chasing that feeling of reciprocation; of a magnetic pull instead of push, even on the small, simple level where you’re aware that someone of whom you think “she’s nice” thinks “he’s nice” in return. I wonder if there’s a specific feeling tied to that; a unique emotion that can later be called upon with sense-memory whiffs of a familiar aftershave or the opening bar to a song you once listened to together in the dark?
Part of me is curious to feel that before I die, just once, as a vague emotional bucket listing, seeing as it’s clearly such a central and driving part of the human experience. But I think it’s better not to know. You never hear anybody say “Took a big puff of crack, but I decided it wasn’t for me.” They’re always toothless and sunset-eyed; a decade more haggard then their forgotten school chums, after years of the obsessive, elusive hunt to recapture the sensations of that first high. Who wants to spend the rest of their life weighed down by that?
You feel so strong, don’t you, summer 2015 Millard? So cocky and untouchable? You’ve spent your time on Earth alone, but it doesn’t matter, because feelings and reciprocation and peace and happiness and safety; these are just abstract concepts, no more tangible than other things you’ve only seen in movies, like time machines or Robocop. You don’t have to worry about them, because they don’t exist. They’re the monsters lurking beneath the empty bed.
So what happens if somebody suddenly makes them all real?
The moment you see her, you’ll know you’re fucked. It’s like being hit in the forehead with a hammer. Your whole adult life, you’ve lived by the Buddhist Tenet “All Suffering is Born of Desire,” and worked a strict system, where you stayed away from anybody you found attractive, or removed yourself from a person altogether if you felt the distant, oncoming stirring of a tiny feeling. “Nothing can grow unless you let it,” you always said, “It’s easy. Just don’t be around someone. It’s not school. We’re not trapped together anymore. We can do what we like. Run.” But this time, it’s like having trained all your life as a master swordsman only to step on a landmine. Your defences are gone.
It’s not like you become a couple, or anything remotely close, but you do find that connection people talk about; sing about; write poetry and compose symphonies about; after a lifetime of being dead and empty. That impossibly rare connection. It’s overwhelming, and it’s intense, and it’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever felt, and strangest of all, it’s actually happening. You weren’t laughed at or shouted at or told to go fuck yourself, or shown that expression that says “I’m embarrassed for the both of us,” like all past experience would suggest.
It’s happening, and after always being alone – though you didn’t truly appreciate that until now – being an alien who fell to Earth; the ghost at the feast; suddenly you feel connected. You feel part of something. You feel at home. You’ll never have felt such kinship or understanding, nor such a bond made so quickly; nor such overpowering desire. You’ll want to protect and devour in equal measure. To drink her in with your eyes. It’ll be like looking at the sun, knowing if you stare too long, you’ll go blind; you’ll turn to ash. But you can’t look away, so eventually, that’s what happens. Enjoy the rest of the summer, as soon you’ll be brittle ash, blowing apart in the breeze.
Even in the moment, you’re aware that it’s a billion times bigger to you than it is to her. You’re a 14-year-old boy in an adult’s body, with emotional arrested development rendering small things and little moments enormous, where words and glances and touches become sensory nukes. But even so, there’s a day where you learn, for the first time in your 36 years, what it is to be genuinely, honestly happy. This caused a permanent seismic shift in the way you saw the world. The scales fell from your eyes. Roddy Piper beat you up for half an hour, then put the sunglasses on your face.
Of course, you’ll let your mind run away with things. You’ll break another self-imposed rule; the rule against false hope, by imagining this might go somewhere, and what would that be like? What if it’s not just some momentary aberration? What if you got to explore this bond, and hold and make happy and even kiss this amazing, amazing, most beautiful girl? You know you shouldn’t think that way. Those things don’t happen, not to you, and if you picture them, when the truth comes, you land from a far greater height. But you can’t help yourself. It’s intoxicating. You’d slipped, and were falling so, so fast. But you weren’t afraid, because you felt safe with her. You felt at home. So you let it all go, all of it. All the fear, all the instincts to run because you did not belong in this world; the knowledge that this couldn’t happen, and it would break you. You let go.
But you don’t belong in that world. You were not made for that. Your fear when you wrote that quote at the top was that the only way you’d get to know was some cruel joke by the Universe, to show you once and whip it away, just long enough to appreciate the weight of what you’d have to carry with you for the rest of your days. And now it’s all free. Everything you’ve kept safely locked away behind infinity-feet-thick lead walls for the last fifteen years has been let loose. The bottle is broken, and the coloured and acrid smokes are lost to the winds.
So now, those fleeting days of your life which were your best; your happiest; will become a poison, eating you alive from the inside. Memories which briefly elated you and made you feel warm and full will flash into your mind like a sudden fist to the throat. The scent of somebody on your clothes will choke you. The empty space they left will drown you. What fractured sleep you can grab is done beneath the blaring television, in a weak attempt to shout down the echo of things that were said; to hide from the shapes that smother you in the silence. Her eyes will look at you from the dark spots of your brain, the way she looked at you, once, and never will again. Her flesh and her bones and her scent is elsewhere – not with you – but the ghost of her presence, of her eyes, her laugh, her warmth, will haunt you.
Keep that pain close, slightly-younger me, so that you never chase those things again. They are not for you.
At least you have your answer, me of 2015. It would be better not to know. Because it will leave you with an enormous black hole, sitting over your shoulder. A black hole of everything you now know exists, and will never have again. You can’t unsee. You can’t unfeel. Everything is different, and you can never go back.
But you knew that already. And you’ll still do all of this anyway. Everyone does.