Heartbroken, Dreaming the Impossible Dream
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For scientists who work on the subject, this is no longer the popular model for thinking about grief, but it is so close to the familiar cycle we go through when suffering heartbreak that it is hard to imagine Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross did not have the loss of love as squarely in mind, when she proposed her five stages, as the loss through death of a loved one.
The difference, of course, is that in love lost, the lost beloved goes on living: you imagine how she looks at him, twisting her hair around her finger at her ear; how his eyes change when he sees her; how she supposes she knows him so well, while you know that, in Tori Amos’s words, you “knew him, better, better, better.” And while you might feel like tearing out your own eyes with grief at your inability to ever again speak to a loved one who has died, at least you will never have to suffer through the conversation which is the very low point of heartbreak: when the person with whom you were once more intimate than any other in the world pretends that she doesn’t understand what you are talking about, or acts as though she simply can’t hear what you are saying anymore. “It’s me,” you want to scream — or do scream — but it doesn’t work. In fact, it has the opposite of the desired effect; everything you do or imagine trying only makes matters worse, only further sinks the lead weight of your hopes. She’s gone, and you can’t have her back. But then again, maybe you could! Meanwhile, somebody else has her.
Sartre says the lover “wants to be loved by a freedom but demands that this freedom as freedom should no longer be free.” Funny how, in heartbreak, the first clause that sets up the paradox goes out the window. I don’t give a damn anymore whether she comes back freely or in chains; I’d use any kind of potion or threat to estrange her from her new lover. Sartre insists that “if the beloved is transformed into an automaton, the lover finds himself alone,” but the hell with that, at least the robot wouldn’t have her cold legs wrapped around his furious, eager, doubtless nimble hips. This first blind moment of irrational despair and infantile demand is a heartbroken person’s moment of denial.
I have been reading a poet named Honor Moore: her work is new to me, and I am still letting it settle in. (I owe my happy discovery of Moore to the poet Chad McCracken.) A poem of hers about denial, called “Disparu,” is beautiful enough and short enough to offer in its entirety. Anyway we should all read a poem a day.
I spent the day with invisible you, your arms
Invisible around me, holding me blue in your
Open invisible eyes. We walked invisible,
Invisible and happy, daydreaming sight as if
Light were a piano it played on. Invisible
My hand at your well-cut trouser, invisible
Speeding night, the invisible taxi, bare
The invisible legs, kissing the vanishing
Mouths, breasts invisible, your, my invisible
Entwining, the sheets white as geese, blue as sky.
And darling, how your invisible prick rose,
Rosy, invisible, invisible as all night
Galloping, swinging, we tilted and sang.
Let’s look at two lines: “Invisible and happy, daydreaming sight as if/galloping, swinging, we tilted and sang.” The first we might call the transparency feature of heartbreak; the second the quixotic feature. Both transparency and quixotism are crucial aspects of the creative project of love generally, and we should not be surprised to encounter the same steps on the ladder both on our happy climb up and on our desperate slide down. But there is no acceptance here, nor depression; no bargaining or begging; not even yet anger. This poem is about early heartbreak, so it is overflowing with impossible hope.
Because the lovers are invisible, they have nothing to hide from one another. They are completely transparent — light passes through them as if they were not even there — even seeing has become daydreaming, substance is as light as music. We are out of the realm of cold truth and colder falsehood, in the happy fictional land of “as if,” where anything might be. It’s a sort of denial, but denial that depends upon one of the first myths of love: that we will know one another completely, that we will see through one another, that we will blend in such a way that we could hold one another in our eyes, and become truly one.
A grown up love, I think, will always believe that we can become more transparent to one another, while accepting that complete visibility (which is really an invisibility — to see completely through someone is to see them like glass) is impossible, probably undesirable, and maybe even threatening.
Which leads us to the the quixotic feature of this denial: “galloping, swinging, we tilted and sang,” like Don Quixote on poor old Rosinante, swinging wildly in the saddle and tilting after his famous sail-armed giants in the name of the beautiful pig-tender Dulcinea. This love must believe the romantic dream in order to continue its love; it will deny all empirical evidence and love for romance’s sake alone; it will sing where it cannot be satisfied. We cannot love without the imagination, without projecting ourselves and our lover into a realm of value that stands far beyond the pedantry of ordinary, everyday fact — this is the great lesson of Don Quixote, and why Miguel de Unamuno claims that, for the Spanish, he is a greater religious figure even than Christ. But the price of sacrificing the ordinary world is that, when love is lost, what was an imaginative transformation of reality now becomes a blindness to fact. For Sartre, this the extreme end of one of his two poles of bad faith: Honor Moore’s narrator has moved entirely into transcendence, into the world of possibility, and is denying every fact (her “facticity,” in his jargon) that might free her to love someone new.
Honor Moore’s poem “Disparu” can be found in her collection “Red Shoes” (W.W. Norton, 2005).
Photo by usuallylaura
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