On Doubt, and Warmth

by Matters of Inquiry

When I was fifteen, I began to write my first novel, “The Unusual Misadventure of Sarah Audley.”

90,000 words and nine years later, it remains unfinished; and it is still, regardless of its literary failings and mind-wrenching madness, the most important piece I’ve written.

I did not start this story at the beginning. Even more strangely, the first chapter I wrote was not at the beginning, or even about the main character; it was about a man named “The Golden Prince,” who was the personification of life itself – mercurial and steady, calm and hysterical, somehow compassionate, somehow cruel. As unpredictable and uncontrollable as life is, so was this prince; he was the keeper of every memory anyone had ever had. He had access to everything that every human being had ever experienced, and he could use this knowledge for any end he saw fit.

We can see how this could go very, very wrong.

This chapter is one to which I still return. It is the moment when Sarah, a woman who must find the man she loves in a deranged pandemonium, must recognize that no matter how determined she feels, she must contend with a force from which no person may be freed.

How roughly his hand wrapped about her hair. How tightly he held her there, breasts smashed against the glass, their impression swelling and relenting with every breath, flattened by a world of quicksilver.

“Look in it.” He commanded. She did not, and the words were repeated like a lash across the back, hand jerking her head to see her reflection. “Look at it!”

To look at it. That was the thing. To look deep into one’s own eyes when forced, held there, captive to one’s own expression, left to endure what shameful countenance might arise from the land of the looking glass without a shudder; to forbear every instance of doubt and anger, what swirls beneath and refuses to be called, what echoes in a place deeper than words and thoughts. To look at it, to stare deeply, recounting, recalling, considering all of it, everything, every false blossom of skin and clasp and motion; so reluctantly do the eyes retrace false steps; whom might they find there, beyond recognition? Must one search at all?

Her eyes found themselves, glaring and frostbitten with conviction.

“You search because of love – “His words were sliced by the pain of knowledge, “That wonderful thrill, that smile in the dark, its sensation. Setting aside anything, everything, even safety and certainty, to prolong the life of another – Don’t look away! – and does it frighten you, this audacity?” He jolted his hand, as if to knock loose any distraction before it could take hold, no flowers to protect her, no songs to sing; her lips parted hesitantly, but his own were too quick. “No. No, I don’t imagine that it could. Lend yourself to the obsession that makes you untouchable. Bewail even logic of her triumph. Overturn everything! Overturn the world! And know, Sarah, my Sarah, sweet, inexorable Sarah, that while you discard protection, criticism, force, there is a poison from which no lover may hide, not even you.”

His grip was shaking and her lips twitching, so young and full of passionate tales; the shape of a kiss through the condensation on the glass, white over silver, a daguerreotype of winter.

“So go on…” He continued. “Find me a love free of uncertainty, free of worry and jealousy and confusion. Find me a love, Sarah – Oh, pluck it from the sky if you must! Is that where romance begins? – That is free of all things, even its own tortuous wends, a love that is free of that poison, free of that venomous doubt!”

What words could he slide free from her now? What vestige of warmth, what trace of humility? Who might dare to rattle her ribcage the way he had, shaking that sparrow within to twitter, even if just for a moment (can you hear it?) of its own uncertainty? – You won’t escape, you can’t – to tell the bird of it won’t crumple its song; but to show it, to hold it before the looking glass and force its observance, the observatory of fears, that – yes – is what glitters beyond the landscape. And it will be its end.

After I finish typing this, I will begin placing my belongings into boxes. My house has been foreclosed upon, and my family and I have to be out by April. My father is dead. Both of my grandfathers are in the hospital, dying. We put Wayne’s dog down a few weeks ago. I stand in conversation with the sun, followed by the shadow of myself.

People turn toward religiosity for the promise of certainty, because even Hell is certain. Eternal punishment is certain. Wayne wanted certainty in his last moments – a certainty that Life, with its strange and beautiful smile, gave him with a soaring eagle circling over his bedroom. We go from room to room in this world with the expectation that there is something worth looking for, something worth finding, an endless quest for something endless before everything ends.

Certainty is reassuring.

But Doubt is beautiful.

Keep your offers of certainty, your promises of what will be. I don’t want them. I want only to admire this interplay of light and dark, this fuck-all psychomachy that turns and spins like a jewel in the rising sun. I want to feel these colors and shadows of beauties and pains that I did not know existed rush over me, to know everything for what it is, and not what I want it to be. I want to live every day of my life knowing that this, all of this, whatever this is, will be taken from me; but that’s alright, because change is constant; the jewel turns. The sun sets, the light goes away. It will come back.

If I were to give you my hand, you could see the callouses formed from my swords and violin bows, but as soon as I left, you would have only what you can remember of me. I have left your sight. My image is no more.

Yet somehow, the warmth of my hand remains.

Happiness requires the courage to take risks; I don’t want certainty. I don’t fear loss. I only fear not loving as deeply as I possibly can. I want to remember every trace of warmth, every vestige of sun, no matter how much it pains me when they go away.

I want to look deeply into the eyes of the people I love, not thinking that “One day, you will be gone,” but rather “Right now, you are here.”

Right now, dear Reader, you are here.

That means you are one of the few people who knows this blog exists, meaning that, whoever you are, I love you. Don’t live your life looking for any certainty, because you won’t find any; and if you must have certainty, find it in the knowledge that there is one person who has felt the warmth of your hand, and of you.

You have crossed the life of a woman who knows, beyond the shadow of any Doubt, that she loves you. You, no matter what loss, change, turning jewel or setting sun, will always be loved.