The Awful Truth

Happy Valentine's Day. Now shut up and dig your trench.

By Cintra Wilson

Published February 10, 1996 10:31AM (EST)

I don't remember the exact quote, but Stephen Hawking once said something to the
effect that "At the beginning of the universe" (and at the end, I presume, as well)
"all of the laws of physics break down." Which is to say that the old mathematical
models, our friendly tools on so many planets for as long as we
could think, no longer apply.

I've always likened the end of a relationship to that moment in the Titanic ballroom when the cocktails suddenly leaped out of the glasses and the chandeliers smacked sideways on the ceiling. Everyone's eyes are set in the glazed orange calm of mortal terror as the sea's teeth punch through the warm wood and steel of their world, people grab onto anything, clutching anything to their hearts, going down. Where is the floor? Which way is up? And how will we live through it?

This Valentine's Day I will be thousands of miles away from the wonderful guy
I've been living with for the past year. Sadly, he will not be my
Valentine. We might talk on the phone and reflect on last year's Valentine's
Day, when we were moving in together and full of the strange hysteria one gets
when love is new -- that cowed feeling in the face of the Great Benevolent Dictator Above that makes you want to scream out "Stop! I am drowning in Mercy!
My heart is blasting out of my body in embarrassing peals of light! I am pummeled flat by the ruthless ray of goodness and delight! Kill me quick before it stops!"

This Valentine's Day I might be out
with a dozen friends, drinking heavily and acting brash and vulgar, taking
advantage of the canopy of a huge new city and letting it give me a brave new
persona, Heartless Iron Dominatrix, puncturing the hearts of all men with my
angry towering shoes. I will be half-empty, looking upon my friends who have
intact relationships with cynical envy.

Right now I have a living room full of cardboard boxes, which represent "choice" and "possibility" and "terrifying change." The guy and I are great pals, and here in the home stretch of our time together we're alternately fighting loudly about dumb little things with worlds of writhing subtext beneath them, or having a rapturous impromptu honeymoon, magnified by the deadline of the train pulling away at the end of the week. We're being the pond and Narcissus, and Narcissus and the pond.

All of our mutually agreed-upon relationship math is gone. A seven looks like an inside-out flower; the frame on the abacus snaps and the buttons wheel into orbit like carbonated moons. We fall into the "no" of the no set, and we have no sea-legs for the void. We force doors shut at high velocities, our throats twist and our chests clench, we are whirling into a tight eddy of unrecognizable selves, we are still in love, we are preparing for the terrible Pain with insanity and touching decorum.

Sometimes it's really horrible to be an adult, responsible for yourself. It's
like constantly training a floodlight onto your scalp to look for ticks. Where am I fucking up? What pattern am I re-living, stupidly, again and again?
Where are the bugs? Will it hurt to burn them out?

I don't like to be operatic about these things, but nobody likes that moment when love is removed and your heart rolls up in your body and bloats like a poisoned animal. All of the good reasons in the world aren't anaesthetic
enough for that operation. Healing yourself from the separation from someone who
had such a place in you, such a home in your skin, is almost like trying to
embalm yourself after you're dead. First, regain consciousness. Next, take the
hook and pull your intestines out through your nose, beginning with your lungs.
Drain all of your old blood and replace it with formaldehyde. Make your face
look peaceful. Wrap neatly. Be happy about the afterworld, it's sure to be
great. Relax.

We want to get back together someday. Maybe in six months. Maybe a year. We've
both got things to "work out." We both agree this is true. We always had brilliant communication skills, but now, often, we speak to each other with fat rubber tongues, through walls and walls of hurt and confusion and misunderstanding, and the defensive hostility that comes with all of it. Even
when the love is never in question, even when the love is an avowed constant,
this stuff is, I guess, unavoidable. We oversalt everything so it's inedible in the face of starvation. We beat each other away in the face of goodbye.

The small consolation is the only consolation : we have made it through the flames
again, and here we are, black skeletons with barbequed eyes stumbling towards
the hammer, with hearts like lava rubies that glow and glow and glow and never
stop, that get bigger every time the hammer falls and splinters them asunder,
hearts that eventually recombine like beads of mercury and try again with no
memory of the blow. Our dumb sweet hearts forgive us, and time, and the world,
and will let us walk into the fire again, because we are so drawn by the flames.

Even though we know the icebergs cannot be avoided, we trust the Titanic. This time, our hearts tell us, it won't sink. Math, we believe in the safest part of our mind, always works. Love, we know, conquers all.

Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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