E. is an only child. Tall and skinnier than you can truly believe, he stoops sometimes as though he must pull his head from a light cloud-cover to hear you speak. It is not his slight and lithe body that makes him seem wispy: it is that there is something otherworldly about him, although he can burn camp coffee in the rocky North and sleep in the deep cold and hike and climb. He’s not soft; he’s simply a bit ethereal.
I have known him since college. For years, I would sometimes take the slight smile often on his face as proof that he knew, as I did, that he was vastly smarter, subtler, kinder, better than I and felt contempt for me. That paranoia seemed to amuse him; he’d very gently assure me that this wasn’t so, and I often felt silly for noting it: aware that one of us was afflicted with neurotic insecurity and the other was dotingly consoling his friend.
It mustn’t have been easy, as his mind is incontrovertibly superior. He is a better thinker and has a better temperament, although I think I am a better extemporaneous bullshitter: the largest component of intellectualism by far. Perhaps he is too honest, but there is also that E. is like many only-children: he has acquired in his life the deed to an entire private world, and he curates it with the care of an old professor, caring too little about the messy public world to lie for someone. I imagine his world like one of the tiny planets in The Little Prince, but covered with E.’s particular interests, which span a startling range.
So whereas I -like most- wander about hoping to wrench from my innocent conversational victims some approval, some laughter, some smile or nod, some balm for the open wound that is my character, while I stagger through friends and strangers looking to feel better about myself, E. merely visits and chats. At the first touch of boredom or discomfort E. flies home and sketches in the gardens.
The insecure and paranoid are afraid of those who don’t share their afflictions, like drunks who cannot stand the sober; this is why we attract one another and dislike our healthier fellows. It was only E.’s persistent and extraordinary generosity and forgiveness that finally convinced me, some years ago, that it is not contempt that inspires him to occasionally return to his planet but a solitary fascination with the world he makes. I can even endure, with some struggle, his terrifying honesty, although some of his assertions have haunted me for almost ten years now, including one that comes to mind as I write this:
“Praising people, praising things, complimenting things can all be ways of praising ourselves,” he noted after I’d flattered something for too long. As real truth about myself, it stung so well and dearly that I’ve never forgotten it.
This is one of his sketches. He is an architect; he has managed construction sites; he has made music; he has written a great deal. He builds larger and larger worlds. Someday I want him to build me a house.