The Heart is Raw: Empire by the Sea
I don’t mean to be opaque; take that as an apology. When I first wrote this essay, I opted for plain speaking and clear understanding1, and what I saw was a dry truth. Laid bare, easily understood and comprehended, it was forgettable. Obvious. This is the kind if thing that breathes the muddiness of metaphor, whose truth us only comprehended when the reader has to peak their head into the thrush, straining to hear.
I do not have the energy to argue directly. I am a hairy husk in minutes, emptied of ammunition and covered in tears. But because there is an argument, there is the threat of losing, and this is unacceptable because I am a male and she isn’t. I do not grasp that this isn’t against me, a with-us-or-against us. I do not see that she argues for us, because I understand only dichotomies. So I argue against us, even though that’s not what I want. A desperate man with nothing fair to wield will fling the dirty earth. I’ll use my strength, and my guilt, and my silence, and all three hurt her. I will get drunk and accuse. I will feel sorry for himself at her.
I’ve been in enough arguments to know when I’m building walls. My opponent argues with logic and reason, and so I find myself in a barracks full of dynamite, gunpowder, and gasoline.2 I kick sand in her face and run away. I tell her she has hurt me when she hasn’t. I grab her arm, which is strong but not like my arm, and tell her to come along. I have had enough with her argument and I am putting my foot down, as if that’s a thing I can do, as if I’m not a weak and feeble abuser with no spine or scruples. As if every single little thing is about me. I use the dynamite. It wipes out a year in our life.
The walls are built with institutions. Have you ever thought, for a single solitary moment about my responsibilities to my employers?3 I grab for history. I hold onto what I can. It’s movies, sometimes. A clip with an example. It’s how a man acts. It’s how we are supposed to be. I am better than the last guy. I am an improvement. I am nicer and more understanding and when times are good she finally feels like she’s with someone who gets her. But then I exhaust myself trying to keep up. I stay awake too long. I don’t sleep. There are not enough hours in the day to remain my best self and continue to be the man that once impressed her, might continue to impress her.
She was once a girl behind a counter. Then she was a girl sitting one seat ahead of me on a streetcar, looking back, asking me where I’ve travelled. We have both been to California and so we keep talking, and then one day she’s a girl sitting on my bed, leafing through the books on my nightstand. Then, she is a girl in my photographs, and on my couch, and in my bed, but now her fingers are in my hair. She is a girl in my life, increasingly, overwhelmingly, completely. I am in her life too. I am a boy she wants more of. I am a boy she wants to make plans around.
Except now I’m a boy who sometimes makes her afraid. I have a temper and I am not as imaginative or alive as I used to be. My jeans are marked with the things I pocket. I am not new to her, but also myself. I used to surprise myself with what I could do with an evening and fifty lousy bucks. She has to try more and more to see through my walls. She is the wave crashing. She wants to get through.
I am describing a decaying. With every argument I lose, I feel less like myself and more the man she has to settle for. One day she will see me and know it is time to go. I will not have it in me to see the sun. And then she will leave.
I want meditation and medication and Mary Shelley to help temper the monster in me. It is wound tight from a mixture of perceived and real failures from the past, and how I fear the perceived and real failures of my future. It winds tighter because I have no belief system. I have a lot of trouble accepting the meaningless of the universe, and I’m exhausted by hope. I fear the next liar to come into my life might get the better of me. You’re right, I will say. You were always right.4
I fight with my love for ground that doesn’t exist. I don’t know what I hope to gain by being so obstructive. A win is a win. It shouldn’t matter who was in the right. But it does, in the moment anyway. All I can hope is I’m in the right place at the right time, and I am mindful that she wants what is best for us, and that is essentially what most relationship arguments are about. But this is not a summation that comes easy, or at all. It is an unrealized truth that has to emerge slowly, after more mistakes, more hurt feelings, more leaps from high places. I hope this realization doesn’t come after one too many.
Because as of today, my walls are too high. I have built my empire next to the sea, so I can laugh from my throne as my enemy drowns.5 I come into arguments with a battle plan now, and I see her as an invading army. She’s coming to tear me down. She’s coming to tame me and fix me and make me better. She’s coming to improve and change and alter, to pick away. To simplify and remove. To curate. To organize my life until it works. But she’s not winning. I am getting worse.
This is a thing that befalls men. It is not that there is a monster in us waiting to get out, but rather a cloying for a past that never existed. With every argument for our future, we step further from our own expectations, and feel the tug of loss. It isn’t rational, and it isn’t fair, and it isn’t easy to explain. This isn’t even about men and women, and my struggle here isn’t real but imagined and exaggerated. Half of these things were lies, but they helped. I’m sorry if this was difficult, but it let me get to a crystalizing moment that wouldn’t have occurred without writing it out the way it is. I had to pull together a raft of lies in order to arrive at something outstandingly true about myself. But it’s something I can’t tell you. I’ll need a whole other raft for that.