Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Illusion of the Never-Changing

by Annabeth Leong

In times of deep grief, I fear that if I begin crying I will drown in an ocean of tears. I will lie on my couch forever and never get up again to go out to the park or to the mall or to wash my dishes. If I so much as whisper the names of those I have lost, the howling will tear me apart on its way out. I must fight the wall of sorrow that threatens to close me off from the rest of the world forever.

In times of deep joy, I fear that the slightest motion of my pinky finger might destroy the thing that is growing between us. With my head on your shoulder, I want to stop walking or even breathing. In this moment, I have all I want—I'm not even worried about the sweaty acrobatics we could get up to naked. I want to rest here forever.

A person is not an object at rest.

And so a moment comes when I can no longer hold back my grief and the tears begin, rolling in and out of me like a tide. I find I am not in the middle of the ocean. I am on the shore, buffeted but still standing with toes sunk into the sand. I get up and go to the park, sit on a sticky, rickety set of bleachers, and cry while the sun strokes my face dry.

And so I get a crick in my neck and have to lift my head to check the expression on your face. I learn all your names and meet your parents and engage in tortured descriptions of what I actually want from you, only to change my mind six months later and try again. We fuck, sometimes giggling, sometimes sobbing. Sometimes I can't come and other times I can't stop coming. Each time I return to you, I find somewhere to rest my head. Tonight, I turn my cheek to fit it on your thigh. It feels different every time. In the back of my mouth, I taste the way it used to feel.

I don't think a person can stay at rest.

Sometimes, I think I have the answer. I've got my work flow figured out. The words will run out of me like water from a carefully calibrated faucet. They aren't flooding me, and they aren't trickling. Now that I know how to do this, I will never have to struggle again. If I stay in motion just like this, I can write perfectly forever.

Sometimes, I think I'm going to get trapped. When you get on the marriage train, it's an express, not a local. A ring is on my finger and people have been invited. I look back toward the depot where I began the journey—in a state of love and naivete, I believed I wanted to take this ride all the way to its conventional end. But now here I am, and I am going to wear white and my stomach will swell and I will have babies and I will be safe and secure except for all the silent hate that people seem to grow. If I stay in motion just like this, I'm going to wind up thwarted and bitter forever.

A person is not an object in motion.


And so I discover that sometimes the words do flood. Sometimes, they come so fast I choke on them. They tell me things I'm not ready to hear and they keep me up all night, drugged and confused by unrelenting revelation. And sometimes, my heart is empty and barren, and I sit and very carefully type the word "the" and then very carefully erase it. Every law I thought I'd learned has been repealed. In both cases, I am eventually reduced to starting over, reinventing who I am and coming up with something new to say.

And so I discover that as relentless as the marriage train seems to be, there are a thousand decisions along the way. I can go to the doctor and have my IUD taken out, and then panic and start researching sterilization. I can discover that I don't want to be hit anymore, not even if it makes me come. I can discover that I want to be touched, even if it makes me cry. I can care for another person in intimate ways that I never thought I would be willing to care for someone. I can be cared for, so much that it becomes okay for me to walk down the street holding another person's hand. Every word is reinvented.

I don't think a person can stay in motion.

The concept of inertia as applied to people contains so much implied helplessness. The reason an object at rest will stay at rest, or that an object in motion will stay in motion, is that the objects in question don't have internal motivation. Inertia is a natural law of resistance to change, a requirement that force must be applied from the outside. But my self is full of struggle. My limbs will not be still. And when the journey becomes long and hard, I must rest my head.

10 comments:

  1. I don't know why I continue to be surprised, not only by your artistic take on various concepts, but also in your flawless and poetic delivery.

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    1. Thank you for the compliment! At the same time, I'm happy it's still surprising. :)

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  2. Oh. Oh. Oh my.

    Annabeth, this is poetry, and revelation.

    And as you say, this post is a wonderful counterpoint to Daddy's. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you! I liked Daddy's post and agreed with a lot of the things he said about inertia. At the same time, I'm frightened by feelings of helplessness and inevitability. I find it deeply comforting to remember that laws of physics as applied to people's psyches are metaphors rather than laws. It's helped me have faith in myself at difficult times, and to live with less fear.

      And I'm so happy you appreciate the poetry.

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  3. I'm torn between my usual awe at your poetic and vibrant prose, and sorrow that you've felt so much pain already in what seems from my vantage point quite a short life. There's plenty of time left for joy, and pain, and much more that doesn't fall into either category.

    Time itself is movement, or at least a measure of movement, and in the sense that nothing remains exactly the same forever. time is the enemy of inertia.

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    1. I'm glad you like the writing, and I definitely agree that time is the enemy of inertia. That's a nice way of putting it.

      I'm bemused that this particular post brings up comments about having been through a lot of pain. Haven't we all had times of deep grief? I was thinking about the death of my father when I wrote that, but even as a child, losing a beloved pet produced deep grief. All that is part of the human experience, and I'm happy to have it.

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  4. Annabeth, this deserves to be published somewhere besides here at the Grip. The expectation that the feelings of a moment will last forever probably helps explain the fascination of imaginary immortal beings (e.g. vampires), eternal bliss in heaven, and the ability of art to preserve a transitory condition forever (as in Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn"). It's so true that everything changes, often in unexpected ways. I really wish the steady flow of your Muse could be counted on to last for the rest of your life!

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    1. I love your idea about vampires. That definitely seems worth thinking about more!

      Maybe someday I'll collect my various Grip essays into some sort of document (I like your book of essays based on your ERWA writing). But I like to trust in the overall generosity of the muse. Even if it's not a faucet the way I want it to be, I like to believe there's always more where that came from…

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  5. Beautifully written Annabeth - I can't wait for the ' words to flood ' in my own life. Barren is how I am feeling right now.

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    1. Thank you, JP, and I'm sorry you're still in the barren period. I'm sure the words will come back to you! And I know how painful it is when they haven't yet…

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