Heartbreak, Hair and Philosophy

My last year of college shared a rhythm with the earlier years. On weekends, my friends and I sat on Melissa’s carpet, watching TLC reality TV or Hallmark movies on her television’s tiny screen.

Though she studied economics, Melissa’s passion was hair. So as we watched agitated housewives or people with addictions, she would massage our scalps and brush our hair.

It calmed me.  As I listened to the sounds from the monitor I let myself regress to first or second grade when my mother shaped my hair into curls, bound them up with ribbon, and soothed me into beautiful emotional order.

That year I decided to write a philosophy thesis. I was not prepared. As an English major, I’d read Shakespeare but not Kant, I’d read Milton but not Hegel. But nearing the end of my educational journey, I kept asking myself for meaning.

In all the poems and plays and stories I had read, descriptions evaded definitions. I did not understand love after War and Peace or after Romeo and Juliet. I wanted to strip ‘love,’ and ‘faith,’ and ‘certainty,’ down to sounds and forms and elements. To know when I carried them in me; to know when they were real.

In those days, I awoke and carried my wide eyes across the faces of loved ones, looking for clues. I tried to isolate the love behind their expressions. And with the same intensity, I stared at the sky, at the school athletic fields and the little, dense patches of New England forest.

I wrote and I read and talked through my work with my thesis mentor, until the day that a letter came from the school. Curtly the administration informed me that my mother had not paid my tuition for the semester, and that if they did not receive payment soon, I would be evicted from the dorms, unenrolled from my classes.

With help from my advisor, I worked out a way to graduate early. She told me it was a shame that I would miss so and so’s seminar, and I saw her concern. She knew too how senseless it was to abandon what I had just begun, how senseless it was to pretend my way into adulthood.

In those days I still awoke with wide eyes so that I would not miss meaning if it chose to appear. I continued going to class, and working, and watching TV with my friends on the weekend, feeling childlike and comforted when my friend ran her hands through my hair, adding pins and hairspray.

It is always comforting to be around people with a sense of vocation. “Have you been called?” asked the posters at my church, and they showed self-assured faces, people of all ages who dropped their lives as construction workers or engineers or grandparents to be folded into religious order, into certainty.

My friend was no different. As she twisting my hair knowingly around curling irons, I asked her how she knew she liked hair. What it was about styling that drew her back. She hmmed. She said she didn’t know, but that it was nice to see people respond to themselves with wonder.

I read that semester about Lacan’s idea of meconnaissance, or misrecognition. The idea that a child recognizing himself in a mirror realizes he has been mistaken; that he is the small and vulnerable creature in the mirror, whom the outside world has always known. As my school kicked me out, my mother stopped paying, my work ground to a halt, I felt vulnerable. I realized that the world could place itself between me and my search for meaning.

My heart was breaking.

I loved philosophy. Studying and writing felt like standing before an ocean, like I drew closer to the water every moment, closer to the clean sure words of people who would tell me why love was not reflected in movies, or why rote memorization could not fill or satisfy my mind. But I could not continue.

I packed away my things, I applied for jobs in a state of pure confusion. I found myself on the floor in Melissa’s room. I remember the sound of the brush she moved through my hair. The pressure of the brush on my scalp.

Melissa reassured me. Because she knew what she wanted. Because she carried it with her in a number of cosmetic cases, making moments of sense from disobedient circumstances.

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Off edges

She did not pause – ever. She kept going to the brink, even after I left. And when he left her, she no longer paused before agreeing to fall.

Celine became my roommate when I decided to leave my life and my job in New York. It was an incautious decision of mine, to throw away my life and restart it. But this urge ate away at me, burrowing in with each subway trip, each uninspired grind. And so I called her (Celine) and asked her to take over my job, my apartment. She became my roommate.

When she moved in, her presence interrogated my life. The city made me reclusive, and I saw it when she went out. And when she came back crying around three am, I knew I was calm. I made her tea. And then I moved out, and she took over my lease because she’d taken my job, and then a bigger job, in the city.

I left and started graduate school. I became competitive and voracious. And it ate into my relationships again, but ambition allowed it.

I knew Celine was in love. She would invite me to parties while I was a thousand miles away. I saw her smiling with her partner and I smiled for the both of them. We agreed we felt fond of one another, and of our oppositeness. And then I saw her relationship fall apart through her sudden silence. Through the photos of her alone, of her at home instead of New York.

She told me that she had bottomed out. And my heart broke for her, my dear friend. But I don’t know how to calm her down from a thousand miles away. She knows the dimensions of my life, the dirt in the corners. But I can’t see through the smallness of my life.

I am, alternately, in a rage at her, for being irresponsible. I am like a parent, yelling at a child who wandered into the road. Raging at my lack of control.

Or, I convince myself that I am not necessary. While I celebrate her ability to heal herself, I conspire with the hard world by failing to respond.

What can I say to an experience I don’t know?

Decisions in Rain

Since I moved to the desert, I fantasize about rain. I imagine the coolness on my face, the way the water runs with abandon down any exposed limb, how it feels like gravity flexed as a muscle.

A neat child, I hated the rain. It damped my fashion, it interrupted play. Days incubated in the rain. But it left a peculiar New England scent of pine and damp dirt, and the pine rose again above our heads – an intoxicating crown.

When you stare up into the falling rain the drops that are closest are magnified and you know you are always underwater. In adolescence in America they ask you to choose your life and you are sorted into a college by a few words and a test score. On the cusp of this, in fear of it, I stayed out in the rain. I imagined the military and myself in martial order, and in academia taxonomized. But my vision was poor in the rain. I felt myself undivided from it. I stayed out, and all around me it fell.

Clean Sadness

Since I left my last partner, who loved me, I have been traveling a long corridor.

I did this as a child. The bones of my feet fell unevenly on the smooth wood. And I remember its shine.

When my parents divorced it was my chore to bathe the floors in lemon. And when it frothed, I felt sad in the bones of our house.

Michael was so gentle. And when I was depressed I could feel him tinkering around me, trying to alter some misfit piece of reality. He fixed my bike and my car. And when he did, I took his face between my palms and kissed him with my eyes wide open.

There are no hallways in the place I live now. Unless the whole place is a hallway and I live in the room at the end of it. Regardless, there is this running feeling of grief.