Let’s never think about or mention my visiting you or moving there again. I’m convinced that’s best for both of us and likely will be more a relief than a regret, I wrote and hit Send.
Was I out of my mind? Why had I written that? For one second, yes, I must have thought it best to write and send this message that meant nothing, that had no truth value beyond the micro-second it existed in the labyrinth of my brain. What devils of inconsistency lurked there! You dream monsters who make me scream incessantly for your removal. I wandered for decades within and without her, tracing her future from her past, linking it with mine, linking it to phantasms. I didn’t write that, I thought, thank god I didn’t lift the lid totally off my head. Ha, I said out loud. I did that often, said ha for no known reason. Even I could surprise myself sometimes, which I found uncanny.
For years we had been corresponding, teasing and deluding ourselves. Forty to fifty thousand emails, many over a thousand words, we’d sent one another, each missive a mosaic of our madness; hundreds of hours on the phone, some night calls lasting until dawn. If her night: descriptions of the New Orleans skyline, of the clouds piling up off the Gulf, a petrochemical stench injected into the ocean wind. If my night: the bells of the Pauluskirche at eye-level outside my window ringing from eight in the morning to eight at night on the quarter hour. We lived on different continents, the only kind of relationship I had had for decades, and not a one of them had worked out, not a one. To let the world breathe within and without you, to inhabit the other with the intensity the skin of an apple takes the sun. I knew well what was worth striving for, or thought I did. A still higher play destroys the higher seriousness (Jean Paul). For a day or two I thought she understood this, for months longer I thought I did.
That winter I commuted to Nuremberg twice a week, departing my apartment at seven in the morning and returning on a regional after midnight. For this reason alone, I said over and over to myself, sometimes for the entirety of the three-hour late-night pummel home. When she contacted me again (You asked her to write? Yes, I asked her to write), I had already begun to unravel into a wretchedness I’d never imagined possible.
The same demons that fed on me fed on her. Why had I not fled aghast from her nightmares? Because they were as mad or madder than mine? The rushing gust of them, the beatings, wrist slashes, months with a stepfather in an abandoned school bus on a knoll overlooking two ponds in the woods between Cooter Neck and Bunn. With what an aversion the days for her began! Time under the bus staring at nothing, at a bug on a blade, at the sun eating the shadow that cooled her, at threads of light spiraling off the ponds. Once she dreamed of field mice ravishing her comic books, and in the morning they had. Nobody came, no humorous protagonist or clerical animal lugging a copy of Plato’s Symposium behind it. Was that it? To spend the day like any other and in the evening go home to bed? To be instantly restored to discretion with no harm done?
Down this hole I could travel for days, years, and have, I reasoned, checking again my email in hope she had replied to whatever madness, no matter how absurd, how heart-rending, I had sent her without hardly even trying, so easily did the words fly from my fingers. I’m fast asleep, she said, like a train endlessly passing into the night.
It was simply that I was convinced it was best for both of us to remove ourselves from the chamber of the madness we had formed and furnished and dressed in ungovernable robes of suspicion and hideousness, or for her to remove herself from mine, or I to extricate myself from hers, for indeed, now that I thought about it, hers was indeed more terrifying, thus more pitiful and abject than mine, as were memories of her stepfather and stepsisters more like an axe burying into her brain than the beatings my father inflicted on my mother and me were to mine. Not that I couldn’t imagine the initial rupture from reality when the skull splits, having undergone this more times as a child than possible.
Ha, I said again into my room’s late-afternoon emptiness, my head bobbing a bit as I did a little dance step, instigating patella femoral pain. These extremities of terror we experience and read about, these extremities of awe before the other’s insanity, I said over and over as I paced up and down the room, until I wanted to scream.
Why are you so strange? she asked in her last email.
Abruptly I was still. The room itself is what breathed—the three orchid plants on the warped round table between two windows, the two faded blue Ikea chairs, the rich dark browns of the parquet.
Of course you’re welcome to visit me here and stay as long as you like or can, I typed, then deleted it and never wrote to her again.