He had given up trying to buy her presents. Although they were always graciously received, they went unworn into her cavernous wardrobe. He had always tried to choose things he thought she might like: a turquoise silk sari, a heavy Bishnoi skirt, purple jackboots, and she did admit to liking them very much, yet in practice it seemed she did not like them enough to wear them. It was as if his choices were just sufficiently off-target to make them impossible for her. He tried to imagine her wearing them, and failed. It felt like he could never get it exactly right, never make that perfect choice. The very fact that it was him who had chosen automatically made it wrong. He yearned for a lost perfection.
He felt like this in many other aspects of his life, these days. Where once they fitted together perfectly, now he felt he was obscurely the wrong shape. She patiently observed his wrongness without comment. He had evidently failed in some way and he could not identify it. Months of living with this sensation had changed his face, or so it seemed to him. He appeared permanently disappointed, a vague expression of confusion around the eyes. He felt old and wrong and discarded by life.
Before, when things were good, when they were both in full flight from circumstance and society, when they dared to come together despite the mounting avalanche of consequences, then they felt alive and perfect. It was the usual temporary madness of course, but it had made them feel immortal, capable of evading every hindrance and snare. In reality they were in freefall, blithely ignoring the ground that was rushing up to meet them, the jagged rocks of divorce, separation, child-custody, grief and regret. The impact when it came broke him to pieces. He had had to rebuild himself bit by bit, and even now he felt he had misplaced some vital parts of himself, whether by accident or design. A thing that has been broken and then mended cannot be as beautiful as when it was whole. He felt the stitching showed all over his character, too tight, constraining easy motion, a stricture on grace. Moreover, he could no longer trust his judgement: he doubted his passions, his hesitancies, the simplest act could be the wrong act. He felt crippled from head to toe.
Some deeds wreak a violence upon the person that is irreparable, and the shattered being remembers what it was like to be whole with nauseating regret. How does a broken soul move on? Some lift up their heads and continue as if nothing untoward has happened, be it through shallowness, selfishness, or exceptional force of character. But what choice do the rest have? To makeshift, repair, cobble a personality together from the fragments. The person that he once was still determined how he felt, acted, reacted, but the catastrophe in him gave him no right to those old determinations. It was as if he was trying to follow an outdated rulebook, operating to obsolete laws in a foreign country. Too fixed to abandon his old self, those fragments jarred and ground against each other, hindering any attempt to walk freely.
He had diminished himself in his own eyes. The workings of guilt are subtle and insidious. Forgive yourself, the smug scribes say. What right did he have to forgive himself? There was no higher power he could seek absolution from. If he discarded his own guilt, then he discarded his own agency, he reduced his actions to nothingness. His ego was too strong for that. To lose his guilt would be to doubly betray the people he had hurt. He would sooner bear the weight of responsibility - I hurt people and I care that I did - than to shrug it off with a so what? His sense of badness had become attached to his sense of self, his punishment was his validation. As for the duration of his punishment, he could not see so far ahead.
He knew what he should try to do. He should try to be more than his own guilt and brokenness, to remake himself alongside himself, to give himself somewhere to feel good, renewed, to diminish that corrupted part of him by growing a new self. But it is so hard. He tried to be generous, kind, patient, responsible, but his doubts nagged him constantly. He felt worthless, and arrogantly refused the good esteem of others, what little was offered to him. Perhaps he was self-indulgent, refusing to move onwards due to fear, comfortable in the familiarity of his torment. Perhaps he should make little of his guilt, even though that would be the final punishment: by diminishing the catastrophe, diminishing his part in it, removing the polluted glory of it from his spirit he could then, rightfully diminished, walk onwards. To move towards nothingness and then pass through it. To force himself to drink bitter humility and accept what he had done. But there is more than accepting the bad - the good has to be accounted for also.
The root of his fault was an overwhelming desire for the feeling of potentiality, that all things were possible, that there were an infinitude of lives he could have had. He made the mistake of allowing that sense to become real when he should have curbed it. The attraction of otherness, variety, plenitude captured his sense of judgement. He was addicted to the sense of new universes unfurling around him.
What led to this feeling? A high mood, grandiosity, delusion. An honest sense of feeling trapped in his life. An irresponsible sense of escapism. A genuine shock of ineluctable desire. In short, he was at high risk of falling in love and he did. The sensation was all-powerful, and he abandoned himself to it: it felt like a moral imperative to his existence to abandon himself to it. Chains snapped, the world turned over, calamity and disaster was symphonic music to a grand passion. The illusion of meaning had seized him.
There are some who would interpret this medically, some morally. His nature tended towards the latter. Both options were demeaning. The first said his nature could not be trusted, the second says his heart could not be trusted. There was an immense positive force propelling him in those days: it felt that he was choosing a good path, that his actions were all for the best, that the explosion that was happening inside him was glorious and illuminating.
At his most honest he wanted to become two people, maybe more. The self strives in two directions and ends up tearing itself. The part where he now resided had left part of himself behind. When he saw his children, he communed imperfectly with that lost part.
We cannot sustain these flights, and eventually reality painfully reasserts itself. If he accepted that he acted at the time under an impulse of good, no matter how it subsequently appeared to him, then maybe he could stand up and get on with life. Glorious stuff happens and shit sticks to the soul. But this world is made of blood and shit. Glory in it, and move onwards.
We are the sum of our actions and experiences. We were always destined to fall one way rather than the other. We may believe we will fall one way, and be surprised by reality. In the end all that can be said is: "I thought I would rather it had been so, but it turned out it could not." With that acceptance, one can allow one's heart to give again, to believe that one's heart has love to give. The choice is not positive acceptance or negative acceptance, but a true accounting of both sides.
And if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'Tis that I may not weep; and if I weep, 'Tis that our nature cannot always bring Itself to apathy, which we must steep First in the icy depths of Lethe's spring Ere what we least wish to behold will sleep; Thetis baptized her mortal son in Styx; A mortal mother would on Lethe fix.
~ George Gordon Noel Byron ~ Don Juan, Canto IV, 4.
It is thus that the few rare lucid well-disposed people who have had to struggle on the earth find themselves at certain hours of the day or night in the depth of certain authentic and waking nightmare states, surrounded by the formidable suction, the formidable tentacular oppression of a kind of civic magic which will soon be seen appearing openly in social behavior. - Antonin Artaud