Mirror-Image

“Is it truly possible for such un-feeling, to exist?” 

That is the question she asks me. And everything in her eyes begs me to respond in the negative.  But how can I when all I have to offer points to the exact opposite?  I look away from the plea in her eyes.  It makes me sick to see such weakness, such transparency laid out open for anyone to see.

How can people do that? I wonder to myself.  How can they allow others to affect them so much? To mean so much, to influence them, to have control over them?  There is a reason your feelings are hidden inside a lump of muscle called a heart and that heart is then enclosed in a cage of ribs.  It’s a message from Nature: keep your feelings to yourself.  Letting them out only leads to chaos.  And the proof of that is before me.

*sniff*

Oh God…she’s going to start crying now.  I want to get away, leave her to her own devices, but I can’t just walk away, can I?  Not when that’s exactly what she’s going to be shedding those pathetic tears for in just a bit.

“Look,” I say to her, finally looking at her again.  I can’t be all sympathetic with her, she needs a good shaking so she can get some sense back into that muddled brain.  “People…they hurt each other all the time,” I reason. “It’s almost human instinct to do that.  No one ever really cares as much as they say they do.”

“I did. I cared even more than I thought I did.”

“No, you only think that because you’re confused by emotion,” I correct her.

She doesn’t respond immediately to what I think is quite sensible logic.  For the first time I notice what a weary face it is that she has.  Her eyes are brimming over with pain and yet strangely empty.  Tears she refuses to shed – yet – shimmer, but add no sparkle.  When did she become so…old?  There’s new strands of silver in her hair that weren’t there just a few months ago and her skin isn’t pale, it’s faded  like someone drained all the healthy blood of out of her and replaced it with something stale instead.  There’s lines as well – and not laughter ones. 

She used to laugh a lot – starting and ending each day with a smile – but now I can’t recall the last time I heard her laugh.  Even the recent smiles I can remember seem forced, to-stop-people-asking-questions ones rather than genuine, happy ones.

And suddenly I am angry.  How can someone allow themselves to become like…this?  I want to hit her, shake her out of her delusion, yell at her and say, “I told you so! A hundred times over, I warned you!”  I want to tell her in clear terms that this place she’s in is entirely her fault.  That she is to blame for her own pain and her own sadness.  I want to hurt her with my words so that the pain I inflict on her will wash out that look in her eyes – it’s making me queasy. 

I’d rather she hurt over something I said than what she’s hurting over now.  Because then at least I will have the power to apologize and take away the pain I’m responsible for as well.  I can’t seem to do anything to relieve what she’s carrying now.  It makes me feel helpless.  And I don’t like that.

I sensibly push back my own feelings into their calcified cage and look sternly at her.  I feel like a parent readying myself to reveal certain not-so-nice facts about Life to a child.

“What did you honestly expect?” I ask her.

She looks surprised at the question for a moment.  And then she responds hesitantly, reluctantly.  “I dunno.”

“Remorse?” I ask, lining my tone with steel.  “An apology?”

She sniffs again, eyes widening “Don’t be like that…”

“A retraction?  Regret? Realization?  Some kind of happy ending?”

“No…”

“Fairy-tales.” I say bluntly.  “And fairy tales belong in books, when you can shut the cover and forget about them after the last word.  Real life doesn’t have the time nor human beings the capacity for fairy-tales.”

“I just thought…” 

“Thought WHAT?”  I demand.  Seriously, her vulnerability and naïveté is getting on my nerves now.

“I thought maybe…” she pauses.  “Maybe…”  she falters.

I glare at her, daring her to say the sorry words that will make her even more pitiable.  For some odd reason, the hardness in my eyes makes hers gleam with a flash of defiance.  Her voice when she speaks is still soft and low, but firmer.  She seems not quite as pathetic as I expected when she speaks.

“I thought that if warmth and joy could shared so selflessly with someone, that maybe grief and sadness could also be the same?  That if someone’s presence could fill you up and their absence could empty you so completely, that maybe you did the same for them?  That if there is a hollow place inside you where that person used to be that maybe it’s echoed in them where you used to be?

“I thought that human nature did not allow people to completely forsake something or someone they sincerely cared about.  I thought that once you truly gave of yourself, you never took back what you had been generous with.  That once you had promised to remember, you never forgot.  That if you had given of your attention, you would not willfully abandon.”  She pauses, and then her shoulders droop again.  “I thought people realised that there was enough pain and lies in the world, without us adding to it by hurting those who care about us.”

I look at her incredulously.  How can anyone be this…gullible?

“Dear God!” I exclaim.  “Can you honestly mean all that?  After all the years you’ve lived, you still have the capacity to believe that someone will think of you before they think of themselves?  No one wants to be hurt for another person.  Everyone keeps themselves safe.”  I say as harshly as I can.  “Except idiots like you.”

Silence.  Then: “It hurts. A lot. All the time.”

“What does?”

“Missing.  Not being missed in return.  Trusting.  Not being trusted in return.”

“Aaah.”  Finally.  I can see the core of the problem, and thankfully it’s solvable with a little simple logic.  “Of course you hurt, but it’s not as noble as you’d like to make it out to be.”  I say with scorn.  “This is an ego issue.  It’s about you.  What is really hurting you is that you weren’t unique enough or important enough to be different from everyone else. That you were leave-able, walk-away-able, forgettable, un-missable.  That you lacked the quality of being irresistable or the value that would have made you indispensable.  That you left behind no imprint, no hole, no gap, no emptiness-that-wouldn’t-close behind you.”  I take a deep breath, and finish off triumphantly.  “That YOU – just like a gadzillion other people on this earth – are a perfectly ordinary and replaceable human.”

“No.”  It’s a firm denial and it throws me.

My words were supposed to crush her silly self-obsessed fantastical view of life, not prompt a negative.  Right now, tears would have been easier to deal with than this defiance.

“No.” She repeats it again.  “You’re wrong.  About so many things.

“I know we’re all the same. But I also know every person is unique and different.  Every person is special.  I don’t deny either my ordinariness nor my uniqueness, it is the balance of humanity that we should all possess these polar qualities.  It is our similarities that make us relate and empathize with each other and our uniqueness that make us admire and respect certain people.

“We are capable of caring because we understand each other’s humanity and capable of hurting because we fear each other’s differences.  Our singularity gives us identity and while we are able to trust when we meet someone we feel understands us, that also is what makes us abandon them when we are scared they may understand us too well and thus dilute our uniqueness.

“When two people begin to understand how the other thinks or when they begin to finish each other’s sentences and dream each other’s dreams, there’s one of two reactions.  They either embrace the luck of having met each other and become two parts of a whole, or one of them feels threatened, runs away and you have two incomplete halves wandering the earth.”

She pauses and I jump in, trying to take back the upper hand of the conversation.  I don’t like that we’ve distracted from my logic to her emotion.  “So then this is about how you feel that you got left unfairly with a half!  You forget, everyone has the right to make their own choices, not the choices you want them to make. Still an ego issue.  Hah!”

She shakes her head.  The limp strands toss about a little, and I am again reminded of how it seems she has lived years in the past few months.

“I know about choices. I’ve made them as well and I know I can’t control anyone else’s,” she tells me.  “What hurts is not being hurt…it’s the capacity of one half to hurt the other half without feeling…enough?”  She struggles to explain something it seems she is only realizing as she speaks.  “I mean…in a whole, shouldn’t the pain of one half be at least felt by the other half?  Shouldn’t it hurt both equally?”

I see where she is headed and I am helpless to stop her.  I can feel a strange sensation within my chest as I hear the words she is saying even before they reach her lips, and we both understand at the same time.

“If it doesn’t hurt equally, was there ever a whole?”  She asks.  “If only one person hurts, then rather than a symbiotic relationship, wasn’t it a parasitic one?”

I wince at her description.

“Illusion,” she says.  “Or delusion, perhaps?  That there is no confirmation of a truth I once believed in and would have defended against all and any opposition. That someone I thought I knew as well as myself is suddenly a stranger – out of choice.  That everything I believed could have been false, because there is no one except me that is willing to prove it true – that is what hurts. For without proof…how long can a person hold on to a belief?”

“How long?” I reflect. “But does it matter?  If you believe and are sincere, why let yourself be hurt so much by the absence of it in others?  Why suffer for the lack of others when you don’t even know if they are suffering for the lack of you?”

She looks at me and smiles that sad smile of hers.  And I wish again that she would cry instead.

“But it’s the Law of Creation,” she says.  “Even God doesn’t ask us to Love Him without first assuring us completely of His Love, does He?”

I look at her and for once, I have no response.  I’m sure I can come up with one given a bit of time, but for now all I can do is reach out and place my palm on the thin sliver of a barrier than separates us.  She does the same, and while I have seen the move countless times in moves, this is the first time I feel it.  The barrier is just that: impenetrable, unfeeling, cold.

The strange sensation inside me flows outwards and I can feel it permeate my entire body.  I shiver once. Twice.  And the icy surface suddenly reminds me of a once-familiar warmth that is now perhaps forever lost.  I can see the reflection of a similar memory in her eyes and the tears finally spill, leaving damp trails on that dull skin.

And as she sheds them silently, calmly, inexhaustibly, I taste warm salt on my lips and weep with her – just as I have every single night for the past year.

S’laams,
bint Ali

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