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Night of the Kukari | 2015 | Fears Like White Elephants


It is often thought that the Buddha's doctrine teaches us that suffering will disappear if one has meditated long enough, or if one sees everything differently. It is not that at all. Suffering isn't going to go away; the one who suffers is going to go away.  

-Ayya Khema

Sufferer and Observer

The yoga teacher-Faith, according to the mat she lent me, though it may be an affirmation instead of a name-tells us to scrunch up our faces. I begin to weep as silently as I can imagine before I can relax it again. This is far from my best moment-crying to myself on a borrowed mat in a gym I have belonged to for less than a month-and I have no urge to share this further than I have to. Amber, four feet away, knows because she saw my face twist in pain and then start its ungainly leaking. This is the cool down and I hope I can exhaust my tear ducts before the lights flick on again and reveal my shame.

I am divided: sufferer and observer, neither role willing to concede to the other. Even as I am having this breakdown, I am aware how unreasonable and embarrassing I am being. The observer wants the sufferer to keep it together to do this somewhere private. The sufferer knows only that he hurts from deep within and the purging of tears feels better than he has in days. The sufferer will get up only to run, sobbing, to the private bathroom down the hallway. This would be mortifying. I would never be able to attend this class again, maybe not this gym. The observer lets the sufferer remain as the least harm possible.

As we stretch on the floor, Amber's fingertips grasp my own. I don't want to ruin this experience for her. I don't want to make her ostensible accomplice to my emotional dysregulation.

I don't have a great reason for this breakdown but I have limited success arguing with neurochemicals. Before entering the class, Amber had let slip that she was teaching herself Spanish so that any future child we have would be bilingual.

"Learn it for yourself, because you want to travel or improve yourself. Don't do it for a presumptive baby," I said. "I don't want a baby." This is far from the first time we have had conversations of this sort, but I am getting to reduce them to quick statements of my needs so I don't lose my mind to worry. This topic was one of the reasons I went into therapy-though my therapist is little more than a drug dealer to me; her interest is in the efficacy of her preferred pill, not my issues. The thought of disappointing Amber fills me with dread, only and far exceeded by the thought of having a child. I have never had a genuine interest in reproduction and will not have a child out of (and because of) selfishness.

Also, Amber is having us sign an offer for a house I do not really want, though it is pretty enough. I have no confidence the offer would be accepted. It is around fifty thousand less than the owner asks. Added to this, my birthday was yesterday and I was dealing with issues of age and mortality when Amber made her comment about babies.

As I tried to clear my mind and focus on downward dogs and shavasana, these thoughts race with increasing pitch, swirling with my depressed chemistry, until they are all I can hear and they sound like doors closing.

I whisper through the final trio of oms and escape the room. Amber gives me space. I can't imagine what she must be thinking, though I suppose it must be composed of fear. I tell her I would like to do some cardio before going home, though I leave out that I am doing this in part to distract myself from the haunting of my neuroses and give my face a better excuse to be red and damp.

When we get home, Amber asks if I would like to roll her around on the bed, which is less sexy than it may sound. It is a combination of hugging to the point of squeezing, wrestling, and pouting to get out my emotions.

I don't know how I reach this point in my catharsis-possibly it is in acknowledgement that my sunny Amber cannot fully understand the dark of my chemical malaise-but I decide to play her role for her, giving the substitute Thomm the tough love that I, substitute Amber, can best give him. "You just don't see how happy you should be in this life. You drive yourself crazy with all these racing thoughts that are too fast for your medication. You have this amazing brain and, instead of harnessing it, you are letting it kill you. You will get through this because that is what you do. You don't fixate on a number or the list of accomplishments you don't want to achieve, you dope."

"I wouldn't call you a dope," Amber intones.

"Maybe you should," I tell her. "Keep to your role."

"But I am saaad," she says in her best parody of my voice. "You can't understand."

"No, I can't," I say, resuming her persona, "but you don't make it any easier by not actually telling me what is going on inside your head. You tell me you wanted to call the crisis hotline? That you contemplate not existing? How is that supposed to make me feel? You have given me honest-to-goddess panic attacks at the thought of losing you." I am crying now, so mad at myself, but there is a clarity to the emotions. I let it flow.

"I'm sorry," she says. "I don't mean to."

"I'm sure that you don't, but it has happened all the same. You've got a great life-a better life than you have ever had-with someone who loves you more than anyone has even tried to. Your depression isn't going to get in the way of that. You can't abdicate what it is to be a human being."

She holds me tight. "I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize, Thomm. We'll figure this out. And you'll stop being a dope."

"I'll try."

Soon in Xenology: Reporters.

last watched: Ernest Saves Christmas
reading: A Creature Was Stirring
listening: Regina Spektor

Night of the Kukari | 2015 | Fears Like White Elephants

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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