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February 03, 2005

Surprise

I found this morning a letter from someone I haven't talked to in five years, someone who came into my life like a glacier into a valley, an image that fits the scouring effect she had on me as well. I was digging through some old files looking for the article Carla had written for me, and I found a sheaf of paper covered in 12 point Arial.

I looked at it for the longest time before I realized it was from her.

Curious, I read it through, and was surprised at how remote she seemed in those pages. What is it that has changed in me to make her groping for feeling seem so inauthentic, so forced? There was no semblance of intimacy in the letter: it described a trip to the Trinity Alps and some hiking, an emotional crisis brought on by overlaying the scenery with expectation of psychic healing. That was acceptable enough: I do the same little destructive trick to myself. So why did her letter ring so hollow?

I read it, growing impatient with the self-absorption and the whining. Anger at herself, wounded shock at some imagined shabby treatment by her housemate, resentment of some town somewhere for being uninteresting, layered over with an undirected self-loathing. Self-criticism is a wondrous thing, and second-guessing a high art form. But destructive flailing for its own sake? I remembered the sodden sameness of how it was with her, and wondered what I had ever seen there to derail my marriage so.

I am still occasionally beset by the odd fond memory, but they have been played back too many times, and I suspect they bear little resemblance to the events that begat them. The outpouring of need on those pages was, by the letter's end, repellently familiar.

So this is what "over" feels like.

Five years ago, I took the three thousand pieces of email she had sent me and deleted each one, wiping their sectors of my hard drive so that they could not be recovered. It was an excruciating, blessed relief, and I played her lost words in my head for days without meaning to. How odd to feel nothing at all this morning when I fed the letter into the shredder.

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Comments

"overlaying the scenery with expectation of psychic healing"

Yes, that is a lot to lay on scenery, isn't it? For me, scenery is revelation -- sudden seeing -- and like any revelation it draws me out of myself. This sense of outward movement from the self is what happiness is, just as pain is an inward movement into the self.* Scenery doesn't so much heal the old self as it gives me time away from it. And it away from me.

* This endlessly useful idea is from Elaine Scarry's book, "The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World." There's a review by me on its Amazon listing.

Posted by: Jarrett at February 3, 2005 08:19 PM
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hey. you should have seen the email file from the guy I wrote my recent series about. It took me years to let go and delete those files, I don't know, I guess I thought somehow I'd want to go back and remember who I was in those exchanges. I did feel physically lighter when I finally punched the button and dumped them into oblivion. I didn't even go back and reread, because I remember exactly what was missing.

Posted by: susurra at February 3, 2005 10:17 PM
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Damn, Chris. This is bleak. I shivvered just reading it.

Posted by: Richard at February 4, 2005 07:55 AM
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Sometimes it's good to do that, just surgically remove any remnants of an experience you'd just as soon forget. A friend of mine used to, after breaking up with someone, use their left-behind toothbrush to clean her toilet!

I still have old email from ex-lovers. I've told myself I'll delete them but then I don't do it. On the other hand, I have a long history of re-dating ex-boyfriends! But they weren't exactly destructive influences. And sometimes people change with time. More often not, or not enough. :-)

Posted by: leslee at February 4, 2005 11:38 AM
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I've had a similar experience with myself. I've never been inclined to keep a journal of "how I really felt," because I always end up looking back at it and thinking, "Damn, girl, you were stupid." Much better to allow the dimming of memory to fade away my own past shortcomings.

Posted by: Becca at February 4, 2005 02:03 PM
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must have hurt like hell...

Posted by: Anne at February 4, 2005 03:51 PM
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