I woke up to the sound of hard rain angrily beating on the exposed end of the air conditioner that hangs precariously over a row of trashcans two stories down outside of my bedroom window. I groggily looked at the clock and saw it was still early morning. The dull echo of my dog snoring in the corner synchronized with the hard pelting of angry rain droplets to create a rhythmic melody that failed to do anything but keep me up. I stared at the white ceiling which had been turned charcoal by the purgatory between deep night and morning, and I tried counting the specks, but when I got to 10 I would lose track and be forced to start over.
I could faintly make out a stack of books in the far corner of the room on top of my bureau that I had bought to read, but had failed to do any more than make a weak focal point for overnight guests who happened to be unlucky enough to be turned around while I debased myself at their expense. That sentiment always made me angry. Not so much that they were unlucky to be with me but that I felt the need to see myself as both the conqueror and the defender of my victims. Were there even victims? Was it really my fault they were in that situation? I never asked them to fuck me or to get entangled in my business. They chose to feel sorry for me, and worse, to feel like they were significant enough to fix me. Wasn’t everyone winning in this situation? They could feel powerful and fulfilled in their quest for pseudo maternal domination and I was able to get out of my head long enough to get off. Maybe they didn’t see then end and I never saw a beginning. Poor them. Poor me! I was defending myself against fictional accusations I personally made up.
After a while my legs grew restless. No matter what position I was in I couldn’t get comfortable and I kept kicking the covers off because they felt too warm just to pull them back on because I became too cold. I got up and walked through my apartment, hoping the need to sleep would ambush me and I could return to bed. I walked past a large antique mirror I had bought at a thrift store for a few dollars. It was only one of a few things I had furnished my new place with and it stuck out against a wall of white nothingness.
My reflection was surprising to me. I often tried to avoid it. I was gaunt and thin. It felt good but compared to the fat cheeked me of months prior it was different and foreign. I was heavy before I moved out. Now I wasn’t. Was this what women saw when they looked at me? A handsome hollow shell? Some beautiful mess? A mess no doubt, although despite my change in appearance I can still hotly debate my own looks with myself. I’m not sure why I even looked-for companionship when I was so adept at keeping myself company. I had companionship and I lost it. Maybe I was outsourcing the job and filling the role until I met the right fit for the position.
I returned to my bedroom and grabbed one of the books from the corner in a feeble attempt to both make good on my promise that I would read them, and trick my brain into leaving itself alone for a minute. The book at the top of the pile was A Farewell to Arms by Hemmingway. I grabbed it and returned to my place beneath the sheets. I thought of Hemmingway and how he was an awful man but how brilliant his writing was. I found that comforting. I wanted that duality because I believed it embodied me. I was a good man who got lost and became a reflection of his environment. This pain would be useful to me someday.
I fell into a nice rhythm and before I knew it I was well into the novel. The rain kept falling and the sun still hadn’t risen. My dog paid no attention to me and continued her dreaming while snoring quietly. Time seemed to change its fluidity as I read. Moments became hours, and before long the sun had begun to peek over the dilapidated house my bedroom window looked towards; something bright dawning over something dark.
I always read with a pen in my ear in case I find something quotable. Hemmingway was often too quotable that most of his words were underlined or circled, leaving a small swath of conjunctions untouched like a field between two forests. I had already read this copy so the need to highlight was null. I could just immerse myself without the need to obsess over gulping down every last quote.
It struck me that A Farewell to Arms is less a story of war and more a story of the pursuit of happiness, even if the happiness you conjure up isn’t real. Catherine and Henry’s love in the book is flawed and more aspirational than anything. Catherine is trying to distance herself from the heartbreak of her love. Henry seems to be subconsciously looking for a distraction from war and for someone to obsess over. I could relate to Henry. Despite true love forming, it was born out of the ashes of tragedy and the idea of happiness as a whole seems to be obtained by accident. Despite the constant search for happy moments, once you have them they are already fleeting.
I pondered on what it would be like if those two were living in modern day and had smartphones. They would be one of a thousand couples posting weekly about being soulmates and how their love is deeper than anyone could ever know. It would be all for show in the hopes that if they showcase a lie they might someday believe it themselves. It dawned on me I was jealous of a fictional relationship, a deeply flawed one at that. I wanted badly to pretend to love someone and have others believe it. I wanted to lie and to believe my own lies just as badly. Is crippling co-dependence better than loneliness?
Daylight had come and I was halfway through the book before my eye lids began to wilt and crumble into themselves. The rain had slowed down and turned into mist that sort of hovered outside making it seem like a wet veil. I considered love and lust once more before sleep pulled me in. Lust is mysterious and makes you thin. Love is comforting and makes you fat. All the while I was in love I craved lust, and now that all I have is lust I crave love. Why do we chase what we can’t have only to miss the thing we left behind? I whispered out loud “Nostalgia is a bitch” and fell asleep.