Illness and Truth
Maybe my right eye is my beacon home. Maybe it is a thing of wonder. For certain, the journey home cannot be bought for the price of a plane ticket or bus ride. It does not pass in a few hours or in a night. The ask is everything and the return uncertain. Start here: You can no longer lie. Not even the smallest, most inconsequential lie (it isn’t).
That was the premise of a blockbuster film years ago. The protagonist could not lie. He said crude things to everyone, was an asshole. I thought then, still in high school: That is not what honesty is. But I didn’t know yet either its power to hurt; I didn’t know its cost. That the hardest thing is being honest about other people. The one who said he loved you. The one who felt, briefly, like home. Before he felt like something else.
Fourteen years after spending the night in a hotel room in Zürich — a hotel whose name and contours I cannot remember but whose sounds and alarm clock, glaring into the night, live forever on the surface of my nervous system — my body rebelled. Would no longer live with these things unspoken. Attacked itself, they say. That is a mean thing to say. Forced me to look, more accurately. My eyes adjusted for the task: an ocular autoimmune disease. My entire body recalibrated: another autoimmune disease.
What is the cost of freedom? Did I agree to pay it? Yes. I called myself an honest person. Said I cared about nothing more than the truth. In that case, the universe said, look here. And do not look away.
The road home is a lonely one. There was one other person in that hotel room and I cannot ask him to fill in the holes in my memory. Cannot ask him: Did you feel it? The moment I left my body? Did you capture any of her fragments? I cannot find them all. Cannot tell him: You taught me what it is to hate. And I will never forgive you that lesson.
I left you a long time ago but I still find you everywhere, the marks of you inside me. Was that the point? This is I did not agree to.
Just like all the previous times we had sex — me wanting it, wanting it — did not mean I agreed to that. Did the difference matter to you? Did it make it better for you? No distinction has ever mattered to me so much, and hopefully never will again.
I did not agree to have you live forever in my nervous system and immune system and mind. And so the violation does not end.
I loved you. Though I am not supposed to say that. The correct thing to say is that you tricked me and I thought I loved you. How that is meant to be better I never understood. It would only place the moment my mind betrayed me earlier in this timeline. But my mind was still mine up until the moment I left my body. We have had an uneasy relationship ever since.
I loved you and that matters because it makes your betrayal complete.
But all I really want to say to you — something that will never be safe to do — is that the relationship between men and women is this: you do what you want and we live with the consequences. Inside ourselves, in places we cannot reach. In the darkness where our cells replicate and hormones gestate, within our bone marrow and breast tissue and lymphatic fluid.
This isn’t a hopeful feminist message. I don’t want it to be true. Only now I can say, perhaps for the first time with perfect honesty, that I do not lie.
It is the prerequisite to going home. And I know that will be a new home, if I make it. Altered. I do not know for certain I will arrive, that I can bear the journey. Only that I am trying. And that I feel her there, waiting.