Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Things like the pores in her skin.

A few months ago, a strange thing happened. I was idling through my bookshelves when I noticed a book my brother had once given me for my birthday. A collection of short stories. Well, I started to re-read one of those stories.
It was about a man who one morning wakes up and cannot bring himself to get out of bed: he shuts his eyes in self defense. He re-examines his life, he is seized with a restlessness. He packs his bags, cuts all ties - he cannot live among the people he knows, they paralyse him. He is moneyed, he goes to Rome, he wants to burrow under the Earth like a bulb, like a root, but even in Rome he cannot escape people from his former life. So he decides to return to the city where he was born and educated but which he cant quite bring himself to call home.
Well, the move doesn’t help, he feels he has no more right to return than a dead man. What can he do?
He desires an extreme solution to his conundrum; he aches for nothing less than a new world, a new language - nothing changes.
Out of indifference and because he cant think of anything better to do, he decides once more to leave his hometown, to do some hitching. A man picks him up, they ride off into the night when bang! the car smacks into a wall. The driver dies. Our man is hospitalised, broken up. Months pass, his wounds heal, but now he wishes for life. He has a confidence in himself, in things he doesn’t have to explain, things like the pores in his skin. All things corporeal. He can’t wait to get out of the hospital, away from the infirmed and the moribund. ‘I say unto thee, rise up and walk - none of your bones are broken.’ The end.
When I re-read those words ‘Rise up and walk - none of your bones are broken’ I felt a tremendous sadness. Do you know what the opening line of the story is? ‘When a man enters his thirtieth year, people will not stop calling him young.’ Thirty! I’d been given the book for my thirtieth birthday. ‘The thirtieth year’ by Ingeborg Bachmann. I had heard, I had been told, I knew all along, even if I didn’t really know, that the great true things are unsurprising. But what did I do back then? I carried on. I carried on; dutifully. We were the happy couple, Elizabeth and I, that’s how people saw us. But in truth, I did not cherish my wife. And I did not cherish my friend. Or even my children. I just, carried on.
I was a success, I made my way, but with each step I cringed. I was on the backfoot - the defensive. And now, tonight, for the first time I say, my bones are broken. Broken. One day, I will need your help. All of my bones are broken.

From Sleeping beauty.

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