Character Study

They were lying in bed, spent. It wasn’t late and it wasn’t early. They were in between awake and asleep, with aspirations for each.

They were spent because of a string of too many moments that seemed to link together to form a chain around them. This chain was easy to escape, but neither moved because they both felt responsible for it; not to be martyrs, but to be selfless. They were flawed in their selflessness, but selfless nonetheless.

Sometimes a human is just anxious and anxiety cannot be traced back to one moment, or really any moment at all. Sometimes, the soul is absent and the brain has to step in and pretend everything is okay. This works — until you find another soul that speaks to yours. Then, you can’t get away with pretending anything. You’re stuck being yourself, and when that happens, it’s just too exhausting to hate yourself anymore.

We hate the heat in the summer and loathe the cold in the winter. We sweat and we shiver. We’re always offended by what is happening to us now, while planning and projecting idyllic futures when our winsome glances will feel effortless. But an effortless winsome glance is never caught on camera, and real inspiration is unintended. Otherwise, it’s just too exhausting.

There was just breathing now, because there is no such thing as silence.

“Sadness is a wonderful thing,” he said. “Don’t you think?”

“I think you’re obsessed with sadness.”

“Obviously,” he said matter-of-factly. “It just has so many more…effects. And it’s recognizable. I have no idea what happiness is. No one does. I need something I can touch and feel.”

“I have a lot of friends who know exactly what happiness is, and I–”

“And you hate them all,” he interrupted.

“Would you please stop speaking for me–finishing my sentences. You always do that.”

“Fuck you,” he blurted out, but somehow affectionately. “Sadness brought us together. It brings people together all the time.”

“Exactly. And then it stops. Something great happens, and then it stops.” There was a long enough pause for her to know he wasn’t going to reply. “That’s when it stops,” she said with the intimation of a request.

Several more seconds passed and eye contact was lost. “It never stops, and you know that,” he nearly mumbled.

“You’re making me feel like I’ve betrayed you because I want to be happy.”

“You really have.” There wasn’t a shred of levity in his voice. She was breathing more heavily now. In a span of 15 seconds, she was angry, then confused, and then angry again.

“Look, I’m exhausted. So if you–”

“Fuck this.” He got up and started getting dressed. “I’m fucking tired too. But if happiness is something you want, then I no longer want you.” He put on his coat. “I will not strive for happiness, and I will not walk to the ends of the earth with your hand in mine to find it. That is exhaustion, not love.”

“You’re insane.”

“You used to be.” He shut the door gently behind him.

The next morning, his tailbone ached. He wasn’t sitting right because he wasn’t really working at work. He was nervous and overwhelmed because nothing felt real. And when nothing feels real, has no drive and he aches. He thinks of things like fake orgasms and giant misunderstandings.

He had only dreamed the conversation before he left that morning. Now he was changing bits and pieces of it, like a writer torturing himself over dialogue. In reality, today was the same as yesterday.

She was across town, thinking about very specific ways that she could have been wrong about very specific things. She was arguing with herself about the importance of those things. Like so many graceful but maltreated souls, she wanted to be carefree but thought it might kill her. She didn’t want to abuse the privilege.

Her hands were once again over her eyes and taking on the full weight of her skull. In front of this window, the sun always peeked out between her fingers like fjords of light. She thought of her life as a character study. There was no plot of consequence. And in this way, she toiled over small things and was distracted by everything. When she was distracted, she thought of things like widespread panic and food poisoning.

She thought herself to be evil in some ways, and she thought him evil in some ways too. She thought:

“Women are, of course, better at being evil because they have nuance and sensitivity. Both men and women are deranged and mean and everything terrible. But women know how to destroy the evidence.”

They were afraid of the same things. And they both thought they could predict the future. They exhausted each other, every day. There was volatility in their thoughts and emotions that could never be cured. But despite all of the pain they used to feel, and the pain that they now felt, they had never hurt each other. Independently, they were scarred and broken. But they came together unscathed.

Their life together was a character study — no plot of consequence; because plots are just left-to-right, and they were a cloud of consciousness. They were traits and qualities and portrayals. Together, they had one individual nature, borne by complexities and difficulties and stardust. There was a fallen empire to abandon, and fertile fields ahead. There were old things to forget and new things to remember.

Another unrelenting storm in this cloud of consciousness flowed into his skull and would not leave:

“There are too many people. Too many attractive people. Too many smart people. With nice clothes and nice jobs and nice children and nice houses and nice pets. Everyone walking watches each other and wants one another. Everyone driving sizes up other cars and the people inside them. People taking selfies in the driver’s seat. I have to be confident and spontaneous because the guy in the Mustang will be. It seems to always work out for him. Here comes a BMW. I lose, no matter how easily I can read emotions and how well I can buy gifts.”

They both had the ability to put thoughts into words, but this was not always something to celebrate. Because those who too carefully study material leave pieces of themselves in the material. And they process the material for others instead of themselves.

What others easily learn is that plot is a myth. Others, can you explain the idea to this man and this woman? Can you, for once, process the material for them and allow it to destroy you for just one day? No?

They were lying in bed, spent. It wasn’t late and it wasn’t early. They were in between awake and asleep, with aspirations for each. Destroyed for another day, but together still unscathed.

Originally published at

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