The essay was near completion. But having read the first draft, Caleb felt that his meditation was incomplete. Perhaps he was not meant to write on the topic of love. He had not really had the type of love found in literature and cinema. Maybe he was saved a lot of heartache, yet a part of him wished he could think about a time in which he loved and was loved in return, as romantic lovers do. Caleb was twenty-five, living in an apartment downtown he could barely afford, studying a master’s degree in English Literature in a university a quarter of an hour away on foot.
At this point of the day, say around six in the afternoon, a half hour after class, he felt the most lonesome. He did not have plans with his peers, for he was too much of an introspective person to bother. Somewhere between his eighteen and twenty years of age, he promised himself that he would stop feeling guilty for not being able to function in human relationships, and that he would live his life as he saw fit. Yes, he had made friends over the years but he did not keep contact with them, for the single fact that he cared little for relationships in which he felt no connection whatsoever. His way of thinking about the subject was that one can function perfectly alone and save up a lot of trouble, and instead work on things that sum up to be of value in one’s heart. In Caleb’s case, his reading and writing, and his routine at home. Perhaps this is why he had little to say about love: he felt little to no attachment to others. Today, during the walk home, for example, he day-dreamed of flying to some remote location on Earth, in the northern or southern hemisphere, where only kindred spirits dare. He had never been to the snow, and something about the prospect of being in the snow felt attractive to him. Maybe Caleb had accepted he was bound for a lonely life, but that did not stop him from dreaming about listening to the sound of a howling wolf or a growling bear in the distant cold.
At home, Caleb would change into comfortable clothes to do his chores, which came down to keeping up with his reading, house-keeping, and cooking dinner, things he found great pleasure in. He had stacks of paper with his handwriting on his desk and a bookcase with titles of all sorts, fiction and non-fiction. His mother, Julia, gave them to him before he left to college. She was diagnosed with breast cancer during his sophomore year and, after a year or so of battling the disease with chemotherapy, she passed away. Her books were her gift to him, which he read with great care after her death; he promised her he would keep adding to the collection, in hopes that one day his personal library would be as magnificent as his mother would have wanted. Not surprisingly, he decided on doing graduate work in English literature. His mother had been a writer and, having been raised by her in a house full of letters, all Caleb was descent at was reading and writing. (His mother had been a relatively successful writer, having a pair of titles under her name, including a drama set in a dystopian future, and a thriller detailing the life of a kidnapped child in the sixties, both of which were published by somewhat important editorials.) The fact that he had no other relative with which to relate (he never met his father, and his mother’s family had become estranged), made sure that his way of dealing with the world was through the connection he had to characters in his books.
By eleven or twelve into the night, Caleb would be ready for bed. This is when he felt most at home with himself. He would write for an hour or so on anything he pleased. Today, he was writing about love, because he had felt on his walk home what could be described as love at first sight, something which frighten yet enraptured him, for its inner workings were strange and mysterious to him. Maybe if he worked out what love meant in the broad sense, he could face the fact that he had felt something similar to romantic love, in the form of a girl sitting on a bench, under the twilight of a fading sun.
The first and second pages of his essay dealt with versions of what authors thought about love. Plato suggested love was a form of affective repetition between men. Milan Kundera posited that love is an experience of heaviness or lightness and, depending on the person’s identity and circumstance, love can be fulfilment or destruction. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the paradigm of tragic love, a person’s fate is sealed by his experience of finitude as tied to the recipient of his adoration. Love abounds in visual spectacle, too, for example, in movies like Annie Hall and Blue Valentine, both which depict different versions of human love, the former, the intellectual love between two persons that cannot think of life as otherwise ironic, the latter the type that emerges from the burning intensity experienced by two people, inexplicably intwined by the magnetic pull of erotic desire. This type of love was the one that Caleb most desired, for he yearned to feel at home in another person’s arms.
In the third and fourth pages, he wrote on his own experience with love. His love was narrowed down to his mother’s. But his mother’s love was the type of love that exists in the implicit (words and gestures), but never realized in physical forms of affection. He felt beloved by his mother, but rarely did she hug or kiss him as mothers ought. She would tell him she loved him, and that he was her humbug (early into the night); things he remembered happening up until his early adolescence. Afterward, she had proceeded to live a cold relationship with Caleb, not so much because she wanted it to be so, but because she was ill-prepared to give love to her son, due to her own traumatic relationship with love. Although Julia gave Caleb a home and a ways forward, her intrinsic apathy had touched Caleb in good and bad ways. But now that she was presumably elsewhere in the universe, and him on Earth, he valued her love for him in a newfound way, namely, as that of a person with a difficult relationship to love, albeit the thing closest to feeling cared for in the unconditional.
The fifth page was the hardest to write. In conclusions, writers try to summarise their ideas in order to come up with with a new way to understand what they put on paper. But Caleb could not figure out what his conclusion was. One conclusion, he thought, might run along the lines of the redemptive quality of love. He reasoned that another conclusion could bear upon the loss incurred by love in trial and circumstance. For Caleb, however, both conclusions seemed inevitable: love can give meaning to a person’s life, but at the same time, love can break a person’s spirit. Maybe if his mother had not been that cold a person, he would not need be so alone; yet, without his mother’s love, he would not be so aware of his own existence.
The young man concluded that he would have liked his mother to live longer, and for him to have had the opportunity to tell her these things. Perhaps she could have explained to him why she loved him the way she did.
Soon afterward, Caleb’s eyes shut tight as a room does when locked by a key. Inside his mind palace, he dreamt of the girl on the bench.
[Photograph by Eric Kim @ http://erickimphotography.com/blog/street-photography-101/]