September 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
M wishes to correspond with me. She does because her life is empty — there is nothing enjoyable to fill her days — and she can’t think of any way to fill them. Poor soul, she’s not autotelic.
Consequently, like nearly everyone else on the planet (also not autotelic), she feels lonely. And though it is probably true that having experienced the superior companionship I can offer — the wit, the challenge, the fascination1 — (thank you, thank you) — of course she can think of no one else with whom she could get the same quality experience; yet, realistically speaking, it can’t be all about me: unless she is willing to do for others what she used to do for me, there probably isn’t a long line of people eager to provide correspondence: out of bed, M simply isn’t an interesting person.
(And she’s getting old. Though age does not affect a woman’s performance in bed, generally people don’t know this, and the number of those willing to take a punt on her skills must be even smaller now than it was twenty years ago).
Husband as absent as ever, kids gone off to their various schools, her life’s been deprived of all those little nuisances (meals, errands) which for most of us in her position provide the semblance of meaning: her mind is free to contemplate the emptiness of her life.
In a bid to revive our correspondence, M has written me two long emails discussing herself, her life, our love, what it has meant for her, her analysis of why it has died, and her hopes for the future. The overwhelming impression from the careful reading of both is her lack of grasp of the facts. She makes numerous references to events in the past which either did not happen, or did not happen the way she says she did.
“I could never love you more than my children”, she says at one point, “can you not understand it”, utterly convinced that I had repeatedly asked her to leave them and be with me; which, of course, I never did, having always understood clearly that I can never spend in her company more than the two weeks we were usually given at a stretch. I could only suffer the boredom of her conversation and her emotional volatility for so long — essentially, until the initial passion cooled off; which, being about two weeks, put a limit on our meetings; a limit which conveniently coincided with about the amount of time she could ever have off from her family duties.
So, I never asked.
In fact, there was one clear instance of the opposite: once, when at the security control of an airport in Asia, heading back, she turned around to say that she suddenly felt she could do it — by which she meant: ditch them all and stay: right now, by not going through that gate. Gently but decisively, I pushed her through the security gate.
I was doing the right thing, she said next day on the telephone, the right thing for her husband, for her children. What was there for me to do but not to deny it? Tell her that two weeks having been up, I was sick of her and eager for her to go back and stay away for the next three months?
It is easy to accept that M might be deluded as to her condition in life, or as to why things have happened to her, these being a matter of interpretation — merely faulty cerebration; but it always surprises me to see her not remembering facts; or misremembering them.
Yet, it should not surprise: misremembering seems a pretty common phenomenon: one I observed with all kids of people, including the closest: my mother and my wife.
Those who cannot remember the past, etc., says the philosopher. Surely, as a species, we’re doomed to repetition (birth, reproduction, death) — perhaps misremembering is the nature’s way to ensure that we do? Perhaps I have been able to break the mold, to live a different life because I have… a better memory?
So, what should I do now?
Past experience teaches that to engage her in honest correspondence makes little sense: to point out where she’s going wrong in her memories, her analysis, and her myth-making would, as always, fail to achieve a thing: it would only hurt her while she firmly held onto her misconception of things.
But to take up the correspondence while avoiding the truth (pretending to agree, or merely sidestepping the whole discussion) would be a waste of my time: what would I stand to gain from a correspondence which does not address the truth, and from which, as a result, I can never hope to learn a thing?
And, indeed, what would she gain from such correspondence? I’d be giving her comfort, no doubt, but comfort isn’t an absolute good and sometimes can be harmful: here, it would merely be anaesthesizing — it would help her continue to ignore the emptiness of her life; and thus allow her to do what she’s (unawares) resigned to: perpetuate the unhappy situation she’s in; whereas what M needs — if she is ever to be better — is a good, hard, honest look at her life, its hopelessness, and the urgent need to change everything. Now.
By far the best decision, therefore, would seem not to correspond at all — in the hope that her frustration should grow as a result and eventually precipitate a confrontation with truth. Not much of a chance of that in someone her age — if she has not figured it out by 45, what chance she suddenly will at 46? — but better some chance than none at all?
Or else to tell her to shut up and come for two weeks?
1 I do not mean fascination with me, God forbid, humble me, no, but with my own ability to become fascinated with things — chased silver, maki-e, Armenian red. Though, of course, it is also fascination with me: dull, un-autotelic people, unable to develop their own fascinations, see mine and catch them — but, all too often catch them wrong, not as fascination with whatever it is that I find fascinating at the moment — Bartolo di Fredi, say — but as a fascination with me — because I am capable of being fascinated. There is something to the theory that humans, by and large, are merely a semblance of individuals, but in fact empty machines; mere machines for replicating memes.