The other night, as I listened to a friend recount One Love Affair and its heady intensities, it occurred to me how vaguely I remembered mine, despite spending at least two years writing about little else but that, and brooding about him for four. I remember: how we met and when and where, what the weather was like, and what our first conversation was about; the first books we gave each other as birthday presents (Milton’s Paradise Lost; Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers); the bottle of wine I brought with my first of three confessions, the street where we lived, the events leading up to the day I got the word for a Greek virtue tattooed in red around my left wrist. Everything else, the small particularities, the comfortable banal activities that build up to adoration, now form sedimented knowledge: I loved him because he is a good man, because he is interesting and intelligent, responsible and driven, because we walked together and had many fine conversations, and it didn’t tire me to spend time with him. My mind, as I’ve observed, is a funny thing: I can well remember the things I’ve read (which helps with intertextual thinking and other nerdy operations), but my autobiographical memory is sketchy — what I don’t put down, I don’t remember, which is why I record all the time, and forget. What a luxury it is, to forget, knowing I have volumes of personal history archived, if I wanted to remember a time and a place and a feeling, but, well, when it comes to him, I don’t; I am quite happy now with my blurry recollections of a past in pastel hues, all pain excised from the picture — even if this misted impression prompts no interesting story.
Several weeks ago, my friend J. asked me, What’s the most wonderful thing that’s happened to you? I thought for a while and answered, One morning, I woke up after eight days of diarrhea, and found that I no longer felt like crying for hours every day after nine straight months of going through just that.
Do you think your depression had to do with him? another friend asked the other night.
Who knows? I grew up depressive, but I seem to be better now — I’m generally careful to get enough sleep, to eat clean, to exercise every day, to walk among trees and soak in sunlight, to mind my thoughts, to never again let any one person take up so much heart- and mind-space as to threaten my precious sanity.
John Berger, in And our faces, my heart, brief as photos (1984): “Human happiness is rare. There are no happy periods, only happy moments. But happiness is precisely a generalized pleasure. And the state of happiness can be defined by an equation whereby, at that moment, the gift of one’s well-being equals the gift of the existent.”
I used to dread the future, the sense that I’m barreling into a space of essential uncertainty. Alternatively: I used to dread the future, the sense of certainty that I would never be bereft of my existential sadness (or of my tendency toward solipsism). But there’s no way around it — life is contingency. Now I am simply thankful for the passage of time, how it reaves the attachments I latch onto, how it teaches me what I can do without. I am learning to trust time and its processes of accumulation and loss, to be open to what comes, to cherish the good that stays (while it stays), to let go of what leaves me, to keep a space of quietness where I can gently breathe.
On this day three years ago, I created a Tinyletter account and “sent letters” to my friends (though they were all really written for myself), every day for maybe half a year. I never reread what I wrote there.