When I was 8 I learned about Stendhal syndrome and I’ve been chasing it ever since. To be able to give yourself over to beauty in a way that doesn’t feel like a choice, to feel that damn much, was all I wanted. Some artistic higher plane I have heard of but feared I’d never hold. Just this beautiful idea of escape fascinated me, in the way escape always does. In museums I’d stare at paintings, willing myself to see the piece the artist hid, the piece that would break me. And while I saw so many things there, so many amazing and challenging and beautiful things, there is nothing, to me, more beautiful than words. Even haphazard ones, assembled in a rush. I have always read to feel, to understand the parts of me that felt impossible. To find solidarity in a way that kept me safe as it allowed me to break.
There is a space in in the center of my chest that hurts when I know something is good, when someone’s words form a dagger that cuts away the things I thought I knew. It’s not the overcoming that I had hoped it would be, but it’s truer somehow. In some combination of my heart and my throat, this pulling pain that throws off my equilibrium and sometimes makes me live in it for days. I don’t have a choice when that feeling hits. I have to go where it’s brought me, it’s a pull I am physically unable to refuse. It used to scare me, but now when it’s absent too long is when I feel that fear. It’s the realest and most mystical thing and I seek them now, words that hurt. They don’t double me over anymore now that I’ve learned to sit with them, but they teach me how to feel.
Lately I have been worried, that the piece of me I dug so deep to save, the part that makes things, is gone. That I’d killed her somehow, the millionth way I wasn’t careful enough with something I loved. Careless. And I’d tried to claw it, this piece, back but she is so much damn smarter than me, a Peter Pan shadow I couldn’t catch the second I wanted to sew it to my skin. Writing, it turns out, as much as I want it to be, is not precious. Sometimes it is magic and sometimes it is mud. I have noticed I haven’t been writing and looking at why lately. And truly, there hasn’t been any space to. I have not been giving myself the room to feel alone, room for quiet. I have been filling the corners with sound these past few months and facing why that is means facing all the ways I’m still scared of myself. All the ways I know that I can still cause pain.
I’m writing this at 5 o’clock in the morning and it’s silent and still except for a clock I never set, ticking somewhere in the house, counting its idea of time. And the feeling in my chest has come up, in the way it doesn’t come up for things I’ve done, and I don’t think it has anything to do with what I’m writing but just the fact that I am writing. That my fingers are tapping out what I can’t say. It’s that part of me saying she’s still here but that shit isn’t going to be easy. The part of me that still looks at the words someone ripped from their chest and threw on a table, and knows they’re asking to be seen, understood. The part that knows we’re all looking for the same thing in the end.
There’s no resolution here, no neat way to tie up the things that have been tearing me apart, except maybe to say that I’m clearing some space so that I can hear my own thoughts, even though it feels like inviting a monster in, I’m doing it anyway. Sometimes, you have to let things hurt.
I stare at ceilings in the dark lately and think about everything and nothing all at once. Sometimes life is like that, it comes out of nowhere and in those anonymous hours where you’re nothing and no one, but somehow more yourself than you’ve ever been. When you let yourself want because the wanting is a part of you. The part that sometimes doesn’t let you breathe.
I haven’t been sleeping much, but I feel wired. I can hear my heart in my ears when I close my eyes, and sometimes, I count the beats, another unset clock trying finding a rhythmic touchstone, some idea of control. I feel shaky, a repository of nervous energy, in a way I haven’t since very early sobriety, when I never could quite get my legs underneath me. I jump at every small sound, not of fear, it’s just that I forget for a second that I’m still walking around attached to this earth. I don’t know if it will pass, whatever it is, but it feels important.