The Empty Earth came about as a reaction to my failing marriage. It was born out of the original fires of doubt, loneliness and misery that accompanied the realization that perhaps this institution I signed up for would not pan out the way I had intended. It was an attempt to subtly and silently fill the gaping void that was left when love was no longer available to me, and this attempt at self came when what was left was no longer strong enough to hold my psyche together. I created this site from pain, and what is here is essentially a map of my struggle to find some sort of clarity in the midst of chaos.
The words and pictures in this site all act as a diary across 9 months of the increasing ache of botched talks and interventions on behalf of what can only be described as an emotional sinking ship. I used it to silently reach out to everyone around me including my wife, a sort of faint cry for help. It both informed the agony I was feeling and acted as a smokescreen to hide it at the very same time. As you skim through the pages, you can see my many stages of grief, making this group of work a very visible and tangible form of my mourning process as it was happening. The teetering marriage that started this site has now found its resting place, and in the same spirit I had passively nodded to its end while it was happening, comes a direct and honest evaluation of how my life got to this point, and hopefully if possible, where the hell it is going to go now that the cards are finally down.
My wife and I met when we were kids. I was freshly 18 and she was 20. I had just started college in a new city that was nothing like the small farm town I grew up in and I had very few friends in my new environment. My wife was this gorgeous spirit, and the embodiment of everything I wanted in a woman. She was fashionable, she was smart, and being two years older than me she had this air about her that made her seem so worldly. Three weeks into our relationship my mom died, and somehow it brought us closer together when in every other situation when a trauma happens that early on people would have split up.
Over 9 years we tumbled back and forth over each other, somehow managing to grow together like spiraling Blackthorn trees, our trunks literally conjoining instead of growing apart (or at least growing side by side as normal trees do.) As we chased sunlight, instead of racing upward we spun around one another, fighting for the same illumination and warmth, but somehow managing to maintain a tight visceral grip upon one another, forever continuing the entanglement and subsequently hindering our ability to individually gain the sustenance we needed as separate beings. We found our sunlight and broke through the canopy when we got married, but after the initial elation of reaching what was essentially a finish line in our heads, we did not know how much oxygen it took to sustain us in our new state, and two trees cannot live off of such limited rations. Our trunks began to unwind, and we began to grow apart; two trees having become one tree began the slow process of returning back into two. Love was lost, and our roots were beginning to grow brittle.
In the face of losing everything I had once had, and everything I had ever hoped I would have, I knew nothing but to dig my nails deep into the slowly decaying flesh of my relationship. With every death rattle, I would choke tighter, trying to gain any affection or passion from its guttural wheeze. Nothing could satiate me, and with every desperate attempt at forcibly excavating any meaning or reassurance out of our union, I further desecrated the body of our relationship. My desire to hold everything together subsequently tore us further apart.
The desperation slowly turned into an uneasy paralysis. I was in a state of suspended animation, a still frame of panic and despair with a stony facade. The cool and collected still images seen in deep black and white littered across the home page of this site were attempts to take a rapidly moving and unclear situation and slow it down so that it seemed less frenzied. The deep blacks and striking whites seemed to balance out the otherwise extreme grayness of my life. I focused on things I loved, moments in which there was some sort of calm while the beast of heartsickness and anger slept. I tried to bottle them and keep them for later when I thought I could somehow find meaning in their stillness. Photos can tell lies in the same way they can tell truth.
Stories and poems of broken people, broken situations and lofty existential ramblings helped to slowly release the tension that inspired those writings. They helped to place markers on significant events or days that came and went; a sort of high water mark or low water mark at any given time so that I could try and have something to look at and assess my grief. As in any process, towards the end there came despondence. I gave up documenting because I simply didn’t have the energy. My mental fatigue peaked and my emotions, although very much present and at an all-time high, mixed in a way that caused a mental block. I would call it denial that really caused my absence creatively rather than indifference. I was in denial that this thing that had shaped so much of me was coming to an end, and I didn’t feel the point in documenting the decline of something I had convinced myself was no longer declining.
We both fought tooth and nail to keep it alive, but that effort was futile. We destroyed ourselves in an effort to save our relationship. When you grow with someone over nearly a decade, whether it’s romantic or platonic, or in my situation a healthy dose of both, you weave a connection. Speaking every day and sleeping mere inches from one another creates this unexplained connection. Your brains sync and you become one. In our final moments, that connection was still there, although no longer insulated with the protective coating of passion or lust. Looking into the eyes of someone and watching your own heart break in their iris’ can be a disturbing feeling. There is a comfort in their gaze, a familiarity that soothes you despite the knowledge that the focus of those eyes are no longer meant for you.
But, despite the immense weight of the whole first chapter of my adult life coming to an end, and the frustration and fear that accompanied that realization, there came a calming clarity. I no longer needed to fight, the outcome was no longer negotiable, and I was free of the burden that came from trying desperately to resuscitate the cold, dead body of my relationship. There is no fault to be placed, matters in the changes in one’s heart and mind cannot be dictated in terms of guilt or innocence, right or wrong. They simply ebb and flow, as does time, and when the conditions are right, love is created or love is destroyed. That's life.
What is surprising in the aftermath of this is my ability to think rationally and compassionately. Who would have thought that in the end all there could be was grace? What other option is there? In this moment, looking into the murkiness of the past and the absence of a foreseeable future, all there is left from the erosion we allowed is the high road; A road not yet traveled that would hopefully carry me to a safer place, somewhere far away from the wreckage of this bitter ending.
True friendship is a rare thing in the affairs of romance. I have seen many couples who were romantic but who were not friends, and in their final days, all they could do was settle on pride and hate, because love and friendship were not their default. That cannot be said for my relationship. After the fog lifts and the hurt fades, despite the romantic aspect of our relationship having left, the foundation of mutual respect and friendship will still be there, because something that strong does not get destroyed. My wife watched me torture myself for years, and I did the same. We were each others home, literally and figuratively. We weathered storm after storm and found new ways to cope with anything that was thrown our way. I am forever grateful for her love, and her for constant devotion to giving me happiness, even if at times it came at great personal expense to her own. I want there to be a way we can both travel out of this together, but everyone moves at their own pace, and for now that dusty high road littered with what ifs is mine to take alone until perhaps our paths converge later in life.
The title The Empty Earth has now become literal, at least metaphorically. My world has become singular, and I am left to repopulate my own sphere. It achieved what I created it to achieve and has allowed me some semblance of stability. As I move on from this, I hope to use this site to document this new chapter and to try to bring something new and fresh to its pages. Even though the main reason for beginning this site has seen its conclusion, I believe that there are better things to come out of this endeavor. If anything, there is a whole new genre of stories to tell, of poems to write, and of pictures to take, all of which will be new for me. It's come time to rebuild, in more ways than one.