It’s a matter of closing or opening a circuit. Or maybe a box. Knowing a thing, closing the loop and moving on, or not knowing it, and feeling the way the leaking mental energy continues to dripfeed you the question from its uncauterised bleeding edges.
It’s why I fail, constantly, to remember my to-do list (and I don’t mean remember what’s on it, I mean just remember it at all), my appointments, the things I have to take with me to complete my day. I feel the nagging unfinishedness of each point, and it holds me in a defocused state of divided attention, so I close it down. Tie the ends together. Maybe I put a reminder in some kind of system, maybe I just make a choice and tell myself it’s an answer. Maybe I just forget. One way or another I close it down. Why would I allow my attention to be sapped, dragged down by a thousand Lilliputian concerns? I need all of my energy to notice how his smile draws his top lip flat against his teeth, and how the azure of his eyes is cobalt at the spot where a windowful of blue sky is reflected. How could I hold onto payment plan details and fuel price comparisons in the face of such fleeting detail? I can’t ever check up the acid sweetness of wild autumn fruit in any file or website, and no amount of knowing the best route and keeping all my appointments could ever compensate me for one intense second of my small, seven-year-old’s fingers on the deliciously prickly stubble of my stepdad’s face as he carried me on his shoulders. How the wind tried to knock us over, pulling my hair in all directions and robbing the breath from my mouth as I laughed. I know I felt it, completely. I probably didn’t think to practice my handwriting that day though, and my teacher probably continued to be unhappy with my writing. She definitely continued to report that I needed to focus more.
So I don’t know the registration number of my own car. I’ve closed the loop, with good reason or none, I’ve shut the box. I still know, though, how my first lover used to rock us to sleep, how weird was the greyish taste of fear in my mouth when I fell out of a tree far enough from home to know no-one would come if I was hurt, and how surprised I was to find that in my solitude I had forgotten to cry out my fear and hurt to the dusk-lit trees. These boxes are open, leaking sense and feeling all over my mental landscape.
I know others choose differently. I see them, and on some days I envy their retention of the useful and applicable facts and data that smooth their paths in life. Some of them seem to have all the right boxes open. One friend knows the tram times, the conjugations and the exchange rates, but also the right tartness for a lemon curd and the smell of his daughter’s hair. I admire him. I love to visit him and wonder at his capabilities, and the wonder adds to my collection of moments I’ve lived. If everyone were like that then I could settle contentedly into my role of happy loser, cosy at the foot of the pile, but there are those far unluckier than me. Those who can’t handle the constant tugging any more than I can, but who started big, closing boxes starting not with “Where are my pencils?” but with “How should I live?” They talk about their certainties, their convictions and how they know the way things really are: they tell me who made the world, they tell me about men and women, rich and poor, and about The Way Things Are, and I ask them “Isn’t it a matter of perspective?”, and they tell me that no, I just need to open my eyes, that my wishy-washy bleeding-heart is not for The Real World.
I wonder if they’ve noticed how they close the distance between us as they say these things, how they throw their standing shadow tall and long over my seated form. If they will remember how my smile surrendered and reluctantly evacuated, leaving a face protectively expressionless. If they have seen how the low autumn sun has silhouetted my downturned head as I gave up on eye contact and shielded myself with disconnection. Probably not.