Thursday, February 05, 2004

Where I Come From, Part 3: Empty Boxes

This is the bit that Susan's poem reminded me of... it was written elsewhere, in the context of tragic, "unhappily ever after" stories, some time ago. It's about the summer in between my two years at the New School.


When I was fifteen I got tangled up with K, a tall thin pale girl, two years older than I. She had TB -- missed a lot of school, coughed up blood occasionally. Had attempted suicide a couple of times. Claimed that relatives of hers claimed that she was of the Stuart royal house, in right line to the throne of Scotland.

Anyway, we spent the summer mostly in bed together, "friends with privileges," as I'm told kids say these days. In the fall just before I was leaving for school, two hundred miles away, she became, or believed she became, pregnant. Believed also that I wouldn't come back, and that she was deeply in love with me.

She attempted to abort this possibly existent fetus with a knitting needle. Horrified herself, because, among other things, she had recently become Catholic, and she had murdered an innocent. There was blood, not lots of it. God knows what she had done to herself.

Why do I bring up this unhappy old story from 30 years ago? Because for many many years I told this tragic story to myself, how I screwed up this person's life, which was doubtless short and desperately unhappy after I left. Then some fifteen years later I met her again. Married, kids, going to school, doing interesting things. She remembered our relations very vaguely. "That was a pretty crazy summer," she said. It became clear as we talked that she was under the impression that at the end of the summer she had dumped me, leaving me in a state of dangerous despair.

So... I bring it up because the tragic unhappily-ever-after endings are every bit as fairy-tale unrealistic as the rosy happily-ever-after endings. We tell ourselves these stories, but they're just stories. If we really opened up these boxes we've stored people away in, we'd find that every one of the boxes was empty. The people have all slipped away; all we keep is the boxes, which we made ourselves.

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