There was an old Far Side cartoon with a stick-figure woman and a stick-figure doctor bending over a bed anxiously, and the woman says, “I just came in this morning and found him all scribbled like this,” and in the bed is a stick-figure little boy, only, as they say, quite scribbled. Scribbled.
Sitting up on the sofa, wrapped tightly in the blue Mexican blanket to keep the pieces of me held together, upright for the first time since—Friday? The blood is much less and the pain is dull. Tears are down in my throat but not up in my eyes. I am trying to finish drinking this glass of water. Bekkah’s gift of a new immersion blender arrived, I unpacked and assembled it, but can’t quite figure out what to put in it and how to drink that if I did. My stomach hurts. I had half a yogurt yesterday, half the day before. An applesauce. Other than that I can’t remember eating, but that can’t be true. There must have been a quesadilla in there. Leftover Vietnamese curry.
The neighbor maintains he should not have to “beg” i.e. apologize for calling me rude and telling me I had an attitude, and further alleges that he did apologize (even though by his own admission he didn’t mean it) but I walked off anyway, what is wrong with me. For my part I insist that I never wanted him to beg, just to have answered my texts with something, anything at all; and that eye-rolling and sighing exaggeratedly rather undercuts one’s apology, implying as it does that one is being terribly put upon by someone ridiculous. Neither of us will budge from our positions and for the most part, unless I send deranged pain-maddened angry emails, he just ignores me, repeating only that we can’t have a stable relationship as long as I act “like this.” I am not quite sure of the full extent of “like this”—rudely asking for attention? insisting on equal effort when it comes to making up after a fight? withdrawing when completely ignored? miscarrying?—but in any case am forced to agree on the outcome if not the particulars. That it’s impossible to have a relationship with someone who really thinks I’m being rude when I ask meekly for attention. Who thinks that texting back, “I’m sorry we fought, too,” would qualify as begging and is “unreasonable” to ask. Who thinks that informing one’s partner that they “have an attitude” (uppity!) is an acceptable way to communicate between equals.
So we have a gunslinger standoff, unless I make the making-up happen, as I always have before; and this time I will not, no matter how devastated it leaves me. It feels as if, by not rushing forward to apologize and heal the rift, I am somehow cutting off my own body part, and I am sure he would agree with this (as in, to spite your face); and most of the time I am not even sure why I am insisting that he do some of the work of putting it back together (which he won’t, which he isn’t). I can never remember why, when there’s been a disagreement; I always doubt myself. My mother would chastize me as a child and send me to my room “for the Holy Spirit to work on your hard heart” and inevitably after a very short period of time, minutes at most, I would emerge weeping and begging forgiveness. I couldn’t handle separation of any kind. I still can’t. The urge to walk across the pathway and climb in next to his warm sleeping self is acute, I know he would welcome it. But we are both very proud and stubborn. And I am exhausted from my repeated capitulations, whereas he will only ever say he’s sorry when I extort it from him.
And is it really possible to make up with someone who repeatedly tells me I am mean, rude, thoughtless, inconsiderate, wrong? And who doesn’t then apologize and say, “I’m sorry, I only said that because I was angry, I didn’t really mean it”—no, he is quite resolute: he did mean it, I am those things.
And it is not rude to ask for attention. It simply isn’t.
I didn’t go to poetics last night, cancelled my teaching today, won’t go to Chaucer or 20c poetry tonight. Some readers hate it when I describe physical symptoms of loss and longing metaphorically but I promise there’s a red-hot marble burning a hole in my stomach, and my shoulders and neck and body ache with craving. I tell myself grimly this is just the beginning of it, another years-long siege of affectionless sexless painful embodiment, during which I can’t even get off without sobbing. I tell myself, get ready for it, get used to it, it’s here again, get over it, get on with it, get with it, get over yourself. I sit here staring into middle-distance curled up on the sofa thinking with wonder Somehow I have to find a reason to live, and that sounds both so overwrought and so banal I would laugh if I could. Yet I mean it. It has always been writing and it is no longer writing. Or studying, or teaching. Nothing about my life has been pleasurable since I got here except for that one daily connection. A cat is not enough to live for. You will be shocked and revolted, you will disagree, you will be contemptuous and think indignantly about volunteering and taking a dance class and going back to twelve-step and Being Of Use. You are right, I do not argue with any of it. It is morally wrong, patently unethical, to be in despair, especially over the things which have brought me to it (none of which are war, violence, genocide, gynocide, ecocide); and yet I am in despair. In the blackest stupidest acedia, in the navel of the nadir. I look up from the dark bowl of it with a clear understanding that I can move up, can once again cognitively-behaviorally train myself to keep living, and to fulfill basic requirements of same—work, eat, be social—and I am suffused with an utter lack of will to do this. Because none of it sounds like any fun at all. Just like drudgery. Why, again? Why do I have to go to all that effort just to be not miserable? Just so I won’t break my aging parents’ hearts? A good reason, actually. Not one that offers me any pleasure, but a duty to be fulfilled.
The silliest corollary, but one that’s in my head, might be Lady Edith, getting up from bed finally after being left at the altar, her hair all wrecked and her face resigned. “I am a useful spinster, good at helping out. That is my role. And spinsters get up for breakfast.”
She’s right. There isn’t any reason to feel sorry for oneself about that. A great many people are unpublished, unmarried, have no children, aren’t talented artists. A great many people! The majority of them! And I am blessed with a house and car and cat and stipend and health and living parents and friends. This breakdown has to STOP, I have no time for it, I have the most academic work I have had in years and years all happening this semester and it all needs to be done by May 15. I have no time to be hospitalized, I have no time to be suicidal, I cannot cancel class again, I cannot lie in bed bleeding and crying, the show must fucking go on.
Spinsters get up for breakfast, no matter how scribbled they are. I have to stop weeping and drink something. Almond milk and cherries? It sounds revolting, it sounds like life and I would rather sleep and not wake up but if I overdosed, I know it would terrify the cat (remind me sometime to relate how scared she gets when I even have a tiny cut that bleeds); and then unhappy suffering people would have to deal with my carriage house full of stuff, boxes of papers and fabric and disaster; and then my parents would never know another day of happiness in their lives. I have done this. In fact I do this over and over, since approximately 2005. I know how to do it. I go back on venlafaxine and olanzapine, I buy a curtain and cover the window between my house and his so I don’t have to see the pretty girls when they start coming at night again, I finish what work I can and take another set of incompletes over the summer, I start rolling it uphill again, as we all do, why in the world do I think I am special, every divorced childless career-failed person does this, people with spouses and children and books also do it, we all do it, it doesn’t ever end until it ends and then we are angry and hurt about that, and until then we all have to get up for breakfast.