Waiting at a long light, his eyes defocused and his mind followed. How strange, he thought idly -as though lifting the idea from a table to examine it- that one’s eyes led one’s mind. Was it a curious isomorphism, an atavistic relapse into perceptual cognition, a visceral way of experiencing focus?
He thought of breathing and sex and every other corporeal force that, he felt, led his mind around as though it were a proud little dog on a leash. He had, it was clear, never been in command of himself.
His life seemed to him to have been a progressive encirclement. He -his true and indivisible self, his natural, haphazard, un-redacted assortment of impulses and memories and fantasies and fears- occupied a central zone on a topographical map whose features, though dramatically varied, were described by a uniform system of green, shaded hills and enumerated heights.
On this map, he imagined his true self surrounded by the concentric lines of various opposing, invasive forces: his career, his family, the politics of his time, prevailing tastes in film, the temporary demands of any given conversation. The map was fluid: his fondness for drinking might be completely overrun by the sudden emergence of an army -led no doubt by his wife- enforcing temperance at the end of a bayonet. Or his persistent longing for the heavyset Honduran who worked for his doctor would be at one moment perfectly reasonable to discuss with a friend, but could suddenly become -when the birth of his child pushed in decisively on his position- a dark secret he could share with none.
His sense was that he had behaved throughout his life as though his besieged, soon-to-be-subsumed self was shortly to be able to breakout and march on to some triumphant, dominant expression, or at least a pleasing freedom of movement. At seven, he hoped for a real friend, to whom he could unburden himself of his little dreams, the pains inflected by his parents, his curiosity about the hair adults had in places where he had none. Finding such friends, he was surprised at the retreat of that secret self into spaces darker and deeper than he could have imagined. Late into the night, they’d talk of pretty teachers with long legs, thrilling at the camaraderie of mutual confession, and for a moment just before his heavy eyelids would close he would feel fully illuminable. But by dawn, he was alone again: all their talk just stale, discursive prattle, all their camaraderie photophobic, evaporated.
At fourteen, he was humiliated by his erections and desperate for the girl with whom he might finally be free to explore the frenzied, lush, odious world of sex. The solitude of sexuality was, for him, expressed in a state of perpetual shame: he was certain of his clumsiness, stench, flaccidity. But by his third girlfriend, he was already stunned to find his mind wandering, his thoughts turning from her orgasm, from his orgasm, from even the borrowed bedroom in which they awkwardly fumbled, to things distant, trivial, unrelated, and this meandering stream of thought seemed to carry him away from congress completely: there was no connection. There could not be. He was by himself even inside of others.
Married at 27, he was not surprised that despite loving his wife he wanted to be somewhere far away from his marriage to allow the expansion of that dark, constricted part of his mind that thought of sitting in shallow waters, drunk and sunburned, fucking someone who didn’t speak English. He needed something like a confessor, but he wasn’t religious; instead, he thought of disposable vectors for his aggressive sexuality and resentment. A marriage was a fragile and precious thing; he dreamed of behaving recklessly, callously, of not caring about what was fragile and precious. He wanted not to feel as though he were restraining himself; he saw no reason to combat his avarice or lust except that he was, as it were, surrounded.
At 35, he fantasized that a great climatic catastrophe would save him: break apart all the inertial, undirected cultural forces which kept him behaving as he did, which is to say: as he wasn’t. Perhaps if his city flooded, his family were broken apart, his country dissolved, he might at last have some freedom, but then, he thought: men of his sort always found a way to be isolated and alone, always found a stronger force to constrain them. If he would ever be free, he would be free now.
All these things he couldn’t say but felt he must; he must say them or he would never have lived truthfully, as though their utterance were the decisive act, as though speaking them aloud would catalyze some vast change, would square him with the world, as though these were magic thoughts. He could feel them pushing his eyes outward, he thought, or perhaps he’d simply stopped blinking for a moment. He resumed, focused his eyes; the light changed; he drove on. He concluded, since these reveries needed conclusion, that it was simple: he would always be alone, just like everyone else.