Out of Loneliness
“To be lonely is a state of mind, something completely other than physical solitude; when modern authors rant about the soul’s intolerable loneliness, it is only proof of their own intolerable emptiness.”
"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea."
"When in the end, the day came on which I was going away, I learned the strange learning that things can happen which we ourselves cannot possibly imagine, either beforehand, or at the time when they are taking place, or afterwards when we look back on them." – Out of Africa, 1937
Next to Hemingway, in the early Sixties for awhile my favorite writer was Isak Dinesen (aka Karen von Blixen.) Hemingway mentioned in an interview that Dinesen (or Bernard Baruch) should have won the Nobel Prize before him. So I started reading her work. (I didn't get to Baruch for 50 years.)
I started with Seven Gothic Tales, which entranced me. They were complex, beautifully-crafted and intriguing stories by a master story-teller. Then I read Out of Africa, and Shadows on the Grass. I think that was all I read of her before going on to other writers. I read Seven Gothic Tales several more times over three decades.
Yes, loneliness is a state of the mind, but I don't agree that it always is "proof of their own intolerable emptiness."
I don't feel empty, yet I'm lonely. It is more than a physical alone-ness. It's not intolerable now but it was a while ago, not long ago, in fact. It comes and goes...comes and goes. But what am I lonely for? And why?
Lonely for love, I suppose. First, someone to love, and then for someone to love me back. Feeling love is nearly unbearable to a person of deep feeling who has resisted it, and getting it back is like winning the big lottery. I never expect to win. But either way, I'm ruined. Relationships are either too little or too much. When they fail, and they always do, I am forever to blame; always, I am the one at fault; always the one who said something or did something to bring on the split and rejection; always the one searching the lawn all night in vain for car keys that I lost on her couch.
It made me love-shy, to lose every time. One of my first therapists suggested that I was "afraid of intimacy." I denied it of course.
I told her it was more likely that I was "afraid of the loss of intimacy." She nodded sagely. Was I wrong? Was I right? I still don't know.
I kept picking women therapists, when I had a choice, because I knew deep down that my problem was with women. I thought I would be able to get to the bottom of it with a woman therapist. At the bottom of it all seemed to be my feelings about them, and my suspicion of women, and ultimately my fear of them, which led to failure with them. But I never did get it entirely discussed or even examined in nearly two decades of therapy. My fault. I lied to my therapists.(I didn't trust them!)
My fear of women burst forth from me once as a child, but I didn't remember it as that until recently:
Eleven years old in Lake Charles, La., I leaned against an oak and a black widow spider bit the side of my palm. Within a minute my arm was swollen to the size of my thigh. Blood poisoning hurts like hell.
I ran home screaming, and my mother called Dr. Garber, back when doctors routinely made house calls. He arrived, examined, and gave me a shot of sulfa, and then he went away.
Within a quarter-hour I was hallucinating. Everything looked mighty strange, as if an intense light shone upon all, and my arm was killing me. When my mother entered the room, I was certain that she was there to kill me. I pleaded with her again and again not to kill me. I was crying and pleading as if she were standing there with a long bloody butcher knife in her hand.
Mickey was shocked of course. She tried everything to persuade me that it wasn't so. But she never came closer than the door of my room. I guess she was afraid of the crazy boy. Dr. Garber shot me up with a sedative, and pronounced that I was allergic to sulfa. I believed it for years. In fact, it is engraved on this 51-year-old marine dogtag on my keychain. I'm not, it turned out, allergic to sulfa; but to the venom of a black widow.
The fact was that without my knowing it--I didn't know until I was 35--my mother had not wanted me, because I was literally the child of a date rape. It is rape all the same. Rape is an aggressive, often-violent, sexual intrusion into a woman's body, in this case the body of a drunk woman, who was on a blind double-date with her best friend, thinking it made her safe from the man who became my father.
To make a short story shorter, having his address, she followed him to New York City, and embarrassed him into taking her in. She went thru the New York thing of 1940 with him, and he was a reckless character. She confided to me once that he had tried to turn her into a prostitute. I think my mother would rather have died. He registered her at Polyclinic Hospital under a false name that gave me birth certificate problems for years.
My uncle informed me that this man took us to Chicago when I was about two, and abandoned us. Then Mickey abandoned me to a neighbor, saying she would return, and didn't. She went home to her mom in Westlake, La., where Mam-ma was caring for her four-year-old daughter, Pat.
So my mother had left me to my fate, and it doubled-back on her, and we became each other's fate; as perhaps it was meant to be; or perhaps not. When my grandmother learned of my existence, she sent my mother and uncle to Chicago to retrieve me from the neighbor, who had simply given me to the City of Chicago, when Mickey Lee failed to return.
Despite the crime of rape against her, my mother was not innocent of the crime of abandonment; and perhaps I sensed it when I hallucinated her as my assassin. (She gave stand-offish hugs.) I'm sad to think guilt may have impeded her for most of her life--she drank alcohol until the end at 60. Of course, I like to think that she felt a bit guilty, but how can I know? Perhaps she didn't. Perhaps she regretted that she went back for me. Or regretted that she had been born into a southern Baptist family that condemned her for having an illegal child, then bullied her into caring for it as "the moral thing to do."
On the other hand, perhaps she really had wanted to kill me, and my super-sensitized awareness had detected it...If she had, I could understand, for I have often wanted to kill whoever was in my way. I have wanted to be God, so I could simply erase an existence. Of course there is no place to apply for this position.
And I would be a terrible god, because I am not a good boss. Don't put me in charge; I might develop a Superman Complex. I want everything done immediately and done right, I want as near-to-perfection as can be achieved. I want economy of movement, maximum energy, and focused-attention. No radios or other devices. No cell phones. Work. Be quiet. Just get it done. Socialize at lunch and after work. And bring your own lunch. See? I am impossible. Employees hate me, and I don't blame them. I am relieved to be relieved of leadership. I am a lousy boss. On the other hand, I would be a great dictator.
I suppose that the spider-bite of hallucinatory insight made me aware that she didn't want me. Later, at age 15, a few months after my stepfather Sidney was killed under mysterious circumstances, she proved it by putting me in jail for a week, for talking back to her, when she was nearly-falling down drunk.
This made me a suspicious of women-in-general, because, if your own mother will throw you in the slammer, where they inspect your anus for drugs and
weapons, what will other displeased women do to you, who are not your kin? I have never believed in the myth of the moral superiority of females. They can be just as cowardly and as bad as the men, and often are. Like men, they bully, cheat, lie, steal, conspire, betray, torture, murder, and fart. It smells all the same.
Perhaps women are gentler by nature due to child-raising, but men can be so gentle too, and often are. Are women gentler because they're smaller; or smaller because they are more gentle? And if this gentle-ness is a result of Nature, then the only way to explain the ferocity of Golda Meir or Margaret Thatcher is to say it is unnatural. But it is not. Ferocity is as natural as sleep, to animals like us. We want what we need and what we want. Some humans would kill us for anything they wanted. We must be prepared to kill them back, or die. Our whole family, race, tribe or nation can be obliterated by ferocity backed with weapons.
Girl friends in school? Hardly any at all and nothing beyond some dances and a few backseat gropes. I rented prostitutes from age 16 to my early 20's, during and after the Marine Corps, as I've mentioned in another piece in this long, convoluted, and probably-pointless autobiography. No emotional involvement naturally. And then every girlfriend after the Marine Corps entered with a waltz and departed like a tango, scattering bits of my ego and strewing my love-feelings like blasted body parts with bomblets of accusations and humiliations, and pent-up feelings acted-out on me at times, sometimes leaving me at a complete loss for words--if you can imagine it--my breath stolen by an emotional storm; leaving me aghast, dumbfounded, bewildered, stammering, and angry; and just wanting to get the hell out of Dodge. To go some place else to forget it.
When I was 28 in 1969, My older sister jailed me for 18 months on lsd and marijuana possession, and the flimsy excuse and ridiculous notion that she feared I would "poison her children." What can I say about that? Since I never had poisoned anyone's children, I was baffled to understand how she arrived at the idea. Where do women come up with this stuff?
I scoff at most of the fears of women. I don't know why, exactly, except perhaps it is that I have taken many risks, and have lost much; yet gained now and then in ways ineffable and indescribable. I know that there would have been no gain at all without risk, or without loss, which, above all, has been my most-effective teacher. My failures are my only victories.
The point without further proof is that I failed with women every time I tried to make a relationship, and somewhere back around the age of 46, after an especially painful and discouraging relationship with a Swedish communist, I quit looking for one. I decided to live as alone as I felt, and I moved into a succession of vans--I didn't pay rent, could leave when I had money, there was a lot of world to see, and I slept alone now as a matter of habit, resignation, and necessity. It wasn't much fun though.
There was always the problem of showers and bathrooms and eating-in or eating-out, and the finding and keeping of jobs, of course, but I dealt with these when encountered, and eventually worked out a routine that would be boring to recount. And though I became accustomed to it, I never was happy with it, and always longed for my very own home; at least for a place I could board up and return to when I was tired of traveling.
Somebody with a lot of presumption and more than enough patronizing told me recently, "Mike if you think about it, you haven't had such a bad life."
Sigh. It's true. I haven't had such a bad life. Actually, I've had a good life compared to many of these poor cramped and narrow wretches, who never read and never go anywhere, and despite the crap I've had to endure from many of them. The fact is that I've survived it so far, not because I'm tough but because I'm lucky, or blessed if you want, and because I never wanted all that much in the first place. If I had had an overweening ambition to "be somebody," or to own half of Louisiana, I might have had a worse time. I feel good that I've made it this far in a burning ammunition dump, but don't presume that it has been a lot of fun.
I have nearly always felt lonely. Seldom was there anyone around that I felt compatible with, hardly anyone to share the beauty with, or describe the pain to. Alone and transfixed on a calm rolling ocean under the wonder of a starry night on a darkened ship, or alone in a brokendown van near a lake of miserable discontent, there still was no company. Even now, if I die here in this room, the stench of my corpse will lead them to me. Every number on my cellphone would need to be called to assign the body to a logical grave. Alone by design, or alone by choice; what difference does it make? I live alone and sleep alone and feel alone.
I am not complaining, in case you thought so. I am describing, not the "loneliness of a soul," but the loneliness of a person. I know nothing of any "soul."
And I'm not looking for your sympathy. I have things under control, except when they are not.
My lonely life does not prove emptiness. I am not empty. I have a treasury of knowledge and feelings here in my head and my heart. I appreciate the world, and even love it despite its indifference to me. My treasury of feeling and knowledge, of ideas and probabilities, the history I've seen and made, and the hopes and wonders, and my feelings of love and understanding for so much of the tragic and comic, and my intimacy with the world-as-it-is--plus my inextinguishable rage at that--is bursting, and has been straining my life-systems to get out, to be told, to be expressed, to be given, to be shared, to be free.
I can't answer why. Is it an urge to be a part of the impossibly-twisted community of humanity, to join, to be accepted, to feel secure, wanted, appreciated, even if it is a madhouse? Certainly I long for community just as for a companion; so that is the other part of it. I have never found that community where I fit and felt comfortable. For a brief period in 1968 I glimpsed what I wanted in a certain San Francisco commune, that vanished, and I never saw again.
Please don't tell me that a lonely life "wasn't so bad." I've heard of men killing themselves over less than what I have endured at times: physical beatings, imprisonment, cheated labor, homelessness, bankruptcy, oceanic discouragements, humiliations, loss of family, loss of property, loss of love, false accusations, misunderstandings, discovered lies...betrayals...many men and not a few women surrender their lives in anguish for these, and for less.
I can't save the world, and I can't blow it up. I'm undecided which is worse. I don't think I can even save myself, in case there is anything I need to save myself from. All I can do really is observe and try to help old ladies up staircases, shout insults at war criminals, give myself and things away for free, or write something to help someone else see think and feel.
I could probably be a leader, if everyone would shut up and listen to me, but there is no hope for that. They never have, and they never will. And I of course have no idea where I would lead them; I prefer that they lead me to a world less-lonely. Go ahead, tell me, lead me; I might follow.
Next: I'm told that I "never listen," and I explore the things I apparently didn't hear. I don't know what they were, since I didn't hear them, and am wondering when it was that I didn't listen, and how I can possibly explore them without knowing.