by LINDA EDDINGS
Since attention is inclined to direct itself upwards and remain fixed, special provisions are necessary to ensure the effective compatibility of equality and hierarchy.
– Simone Weil
At the top there is a lancing. Of the spring’s ghastly storehouse of agendas, all my feelings about what I tell you float down to the bottom of the glass. I am empty with this.
Q: Give an example of a time when you sacrificed your needs for his.
A: It would be easier to say the times I did not.
Christmas, 2014. He is the brother of my friend’s boyfriend Tom. He wears these incredibly soft sweaters, and draws his curly hair straight back. Of his little brother, Tom says, “Imagine a bird with something in its mouth. You can see what it has captured in flight, but the bird can only taste it.”
The week before Christmas I threw out all the bad evidence of my last love affair, Chris. He moved to Barcelona. You should see the woman he is with now; she might have come out of a pinata. She is so surprising she comforts you in how much she rubs against him. I miss Chris, but it was time to remove the pictures of us together. I burned it all. That’s the kind of gesture I don’t generally find therapeutic, but seemed required for me to move on.
I vaporize my diary too, but not with fire. I drown the ideas in it.
Q: You say he is brilliant. That is a value judgment.
A: It is wonderful to be with someone truly intelligent, I think, better and more satisfying on every level than treating with the kind.
What should I call Tom’s brother? This is not the only account of him – there might be one on Vox – but even though I have little faith in my descriptive abilities, I am already sure it is the finest account of him.
Tom tells us that his brother was engaged to a woman from Kentucky. He had bought a ring for the girl, even, but her family did not approve of the speed of the romance and forced her an end to it. “Did you meet her?” I asked Tom. He said no, but he showed me a picture of her with no pants on.
Tom breaks up with the woman, Ellen, he has been seeing that precluded my meeting Tom’s brother. I ask what happened, realizing that Tom is probably more of my friend than Ellen ever was. Ellen looked in the mirror too much, Tom says. He can’t stand that; it makes him want to claw his eyes out. “There was nothing different,” he squeaks, “to be staring at yourself again and again!”
Q: Did you feel some sort of attraction for Tom?
A: I think I feel some sort of attraction for most people.
February 2014. Tom’s brother and I stay on an isolated island on a great lake. His best friend lived there since he was a kid. The man is a garbageman now, with angry eyes. Tom’s brother tells me not to worry about him, or anything. When I go to the grocery store locals are fascinated by me the entire time. It is freezing, which is fine, since we are forced to warm each other.
It is a smell surrounding me for years. Fresh soap, and a natural musk which feels like it is radiating inside, precipating the act. Shell game. Tulips touching the glass, bending the function of the abbatoir. What I gave to Tom’s brother was in its own way never ending, slightly spiteful. At times I sense that if I ever received exactly what I wanted that I would die of shock.
Q: What kind of man are you typically attracted to?
A: The kind that uses the expression “riddle me this,” before an explanation. A lot of men do that, even ones you think won’t.
Tom’s brother convinces me, one night when my resistance to his animal intensity is at its very lowest, not to use a condom. If you are reading this you maybe cringed, or you want to know if I got pregnant. I didn’t, but I was scared as hell along the way.
Chris e-mails pictures of a boxer pup he has adopted. In one of the snaps a woman’s hand rests on a pillow. Chris’ fat paw offers a bone. Tom says, “He sends you that shit because he knows it makes you scream. The question is, do you like the sound?” Tom is always kind enough to pretend he doesn’t know me or my type, but I fear that he probably does.
Q: What is your type? Not your type of guy, but what kind of person do you classify yourself as?
Tom’s brother actually wrote a personality test, for one of his degrees. It featured a variety of ethical decisions, all centered around the concept of altruism. He believes that when we do something for other people, a part of ourselves remains. It is another way of instructing servants to choose their masters. In order to believe in such transference, you must put your faith entirely in the idea that enslavement is only possible with permission.
Tom’s brother left academia, but he still talks about it a whole lot. I did not mind listening to his stories about it – isn’t it so revealing what people tell you no matter the subject? “I wanted to work with my hands,” Tom’s brother often says, with his mouth. Use the tools you are given, I guess.
Q: Picture me. 1994. I was having the same problem with a boy. You break out of it. You lose the recipe.
A: Which of them are you talking about?
A friend of mine has a lavish country home outside the city. There is always work to do on it, improvements to make. Small things, like a lamppost or a division of a larger garden. These projects never become all-consuming for them. I was never much for hobbies.
May 2014. Chris is in Vienna, then at a conference in Leipzig. They sent the dog to stay with Chris’ mother until they get back to the U.S. I picture it flying all alone, at the whim of its owner. He tells me the dog cost 550€. “I thought he was a rescue,” I write back. It is the first thing I have said to him since we broke up. You can erase something from your mind, but that is all you did. Don’t ask me where it lives now.
European cities are ancient compared to us now, but when you have lost your sense of history, does it matter just how much has vanished? “The Egyptians had working plumbing centuries before it was rediscovered. A great civilization.” I don’t admire the people of the past, I told him. I don’t admire anyone who cannot receive my admiration.
It is wonderful that these people take such a gainful pleasure in visiting the places of the world. I don’t deny them their accomplishments, I only wish that the opposite of wanderlust was given a similar affectation. “That is all my brother is,” Tom’s brother tries to convince me. “A series of affectations.”
Q: I say this with no pleasure, but you need to talk things over before you destroy them. Not everything is so final.
A: I know.
Chris catches an eye infection and stays in a German hospital. Eventually they fly him back like his dog. He only has partial vision in the eye now. When he views it in the mirror it does not look lazy, but it never focuses. His new girlfriend is on writer’s retreat in California for the next six months. He is miserable.
Back on the island, I had someone to be around, which was itself a relief. It is all right to use people, Tom says, if you use them for the right reasons. He has gone for coffee.
Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.
Paintings by Peter Sculthorpe.