When I was 13 years old I predicted, and held for some time, that I would die by the age of 35. That deadline is just 8 months away.
I am 34 years old.
I was 31 years old before I had my first relationship.
31 years old before the first, and so far only woman, to say "I love you" to me.
32 before my first proper kiss.
32 before I first made love.
And now I am alone again.
"Some people, they are raised with a lot of love," she explains, "but some people are not. And these people who didn’t get love in their childhood, when they meet a partner, they try to hold onto him like they own him. They think that this one person, they can only love him and he is the only one who will ever love them. And when they break up, the person feels like their life is over." Atsa thinks for a moment. "Maybe I am giving them a little love."
It is a standard piece of advice you will hear many times when you are single, and especially after a break-up or a divorce, that you must somehow become accustomed to being alone before you can proceed to find love. "You need to get comfortable just being yourself for a while."
With all due respect to all those well-meaning souls, I recommend you try it for a couple decades sometime before you consider passing on that advice a second time.
We human beings need love. We need it like we need air, or water, or food.
We love to cling to pride and declare our independence, to declare that we stand alone, but no one truly does.
And when that need is deprived, or warped, or broken, and we stop believing that we can or should be loved, that is when we begin to walk a dark path. We cut ourselves off, from our emotions, from our humanity, from our fellow humans. We hurt ourselves. We hurt others. Sometimes, we can’t even go on living.
The first assignment was to get into groups to brainstorm reasons that a person might commit suicide. The other boys in Paul-Ib’s group messed around with a paper football. Paul-Ib bent over the paper and, in haphazard pencil, scribbled out 10 reasons. The first one said Loneliness. Being lonely for long time. Being lonely in whole life.
Number three read simply Love.
I have found it difficult to describe to someone what it is even like to be so long without love. People do not believe it.
Those same people who will tell you with great air of wisdom and authority of the importance of coming to terms with being alone will look in abject disbelief and respond with blank platitudes when I tell them that, for instance, every single romantic pursuit in my 34 years on this planet has ended in heartbreak.
The very notion of what that might feel like seems to so terrify them that they flee into cliche rather than confront the thought.
I do not judge them for it. I fled myself, in a way. I knew from a very early age that what I wanted more than anything in this world was love, and when more than a decade of my life came and went with only one disappointment and loss after another, I simply gave up for another decade.
I sank into nothingness. 10 years or more of my life simply vanished with no consequence, as I simply grew accustomed only to surviving and finding ways to keep myself entertained as I waited out existence. I had few friends that were not digital, I achieved nothing of any note, my career slowly spiraled towards the drain.
I was simply waiting to die, and prepared for however long that would take.
Then one day I nearly did. I stared death in the face, screaming and afraid, and to my surprise, I fought it.
For four days and five nights I fought it, and somehow, I won.
When I came out the other side, I found what had been keeping me alive: I still wanted love. And I was damned if I was going to die before I found it.
Now, here on the other side of one of the greatest chances I have ever taken in my life, a chance I took ultimately in hopes I had found it, I once again found myself facing that same realization. I came all this way to find love and, ultimately, found only fantasy. Time to keep looking.
“Son. Everyone dies alone. That’s what it is. It’s a door. It’s one person wide. When you go through it, you do it alone. But it doesn’t mean you’ve got to be alone before you go through the door. And believe me, you aren’t alone on the other side.”
I’m afraid to die.
As the hour of my youthful prophecy looms I have found myself often gripped with actual terror at the thought, at the idea of empty void where I simply cease. It is a notion too horrible to even fathom, and I find myself mystified by confident atheists who can march forth with such blasé calm about the notion of literal oblivion.
I’m afraid of heartbreak.
In 34 years a person can accumulate an awful lot of heartbreak. Every woman I have ever loved has broken my heart. The only woman who ever said she loved me spent nearly two years breaking my heart over and over again until I feared nothing was left. My reckless crusade to not let that be the final chapter on love in the book of my life has put me through so much concentrated heartbreak that my body and mind have both felt on the point of breaking.
Yet most of all, in the end, I am afraid of being alone.
I remember those lost years. That seemingly endless vacuum where I simply existed, for lack of any better option. It was not life, that existence, only a waking death.
So I keep trying. Keep accumulating more heartbreak, even though every one hurts just a little more than the last, every one leaves one more scar that never quite heals. Sometimes it feels as if it is a race, a desperate sprint against my very own heart, wondering whether I will reach the finish line before it finally gives out and kills me.
Yet I cannot give up. Cannot stop running. Cannot give in to waking nothingness. To simply existing.
Even now, after a lifetime of breaking my heart down into so many barely glued together pieces, there are fading slivers of hope. At times I feel I have more to give now than I ever have. Like a kintsugi pot, this heart still holds as much or more than it ever did, and has grown facets and aspects in the breaking that I never even knew were there. Where once was only youthful fantasy and puppy love has now found passion, song, and tenderness I have never felt before.
But does anyone see it? When they see those cracks, do they see gold, or do they see only rotten plaster? Hope seems almost mad in the face of a life with not one success to show, not one moment of real and true love to point to. What do others see when they look at me that drives them away, that I cannot see myself? Is forcing myself to go on in spite of so much pain just another venue for self-destruction?
I do not know. Perhaps I will never know. I can only keep filling and repairing the cracks as best I can and hope that someone among them will see the value in those imperfections.
We are all just broken pottery. A heart once mended is never the same again, but in the mending, can become something wonderful or terrible.
I can only pray, and strive, for wonderful.
Quotes from The Arctic Suicides by Rebecca Hersher, except where otherwise indicated