He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved.
Relationships never provide you with everything. They provide you with some things. You take all the things you want from a person -- sexual chemistry, let's say, or good conversation, or financial support, or intellectual compatibility, or niceness, or loyalty -- and you get to pick three of those things. The rest you have to look for elsewhere. It's only in the movies that you find someone who gives you all those things. But this isn't the movies. In the real world, you have to identify which three qualities you want to spend the rest of your life with, and then you look for those qualities in another person. That's real life. Don't you see it's a trap? If you keep trying to find everything, you'll wind up with nothing.
He doesn't know this now, but in the years to come he will, again and again, test Harold's claims of devotion, will throw himself against his promises to see how steadfast they are. He won't even be conscious that he's doing this. But he will do it anyway, because part of him will never believe Harold and Julia; as much as he wants to, as much as he thinks he does, he won't, and he will always be convinced that they will eventually tire of him, that they will one day regret their involvement with him. And so he will challenge them, because when their relationship inevitably ends, he will be able to look back and know for certain that he caused it, and not only that, but the specific incident that caused it, and he will never have to wonder, or worry, about what he did wrong, or what he could have done better. But that is in the future. For now, his happiness is flawless.
When he had promised himself that he wouldn't try to repair Jude, he had forgotten that to solve someone is to want to repair them: to diagnose a problem and then not try to fix that problem seemed not only neglectful but immoral.
But these were days of self-fulfillment, where settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble. Somewhere, surrendering to what seemed to be your fate had changed from being dignified to being a sign of your own cowardice.
But time, I have come to realize, is not for us to fill in such great, blank slabs. We speak of managing time, but it is the opposite. Our lives are filled with businesses because those thin chinks of time are all we can truly master.
You understand that proof of your friendship lay in keeping your distance, in accepting what was told you, in turning and walking away when the door was shut in your face instead of trying to force it open again
To no one, he knew, not even to Willem. But he'd had years to learn how to keep his thoughts to himself; unlike his friends, he had learned not to share evidence of his oddities as a way to distinguish himself from others, although he was happy and proud that they shared theirs with him
[Friendship] It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified. Friendship was witnessing another's slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person's most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.
There had been periods in his twenties when he would look at his friends and feel such a pure, deep contentment that he would wish the world around them would simply cease, that none of them would have to move from that moment, when everything was in equilibrium and his affection for them was perfect. But, of course, that was never to be: a beat later, and everything shifted, and the moment quietly vanished.
Lately, he had been wondering if codependence was such a bad thing. He took pleasure in his friendships, and it didn’t hurt anyone, so who cared if it was codependent or not? And anyway, how was a friendship any more codependent than a relationship? Why was it admirable when you were twenty-seven but creepy when you were thirty-seven? Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified. Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honoured by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.
I know my life's meaningful because- and here he stopped, and looked shy, and was silent for a moment before he continued- because I'm a good friend. i love my friends, and I care about them, and I think I make them happy.
For years afterward, I had dreams in which my mother appeared in strange forms, her features sewn onto other beings in combinations that seemed both grotesque and profound: as a slippery white fish at the end of my hook, with a trout’s gaping, sorrowful mouth and her dark, shuttered eyes; as the elm tree at the edge of our property, its ragged clumps of tarnished gold leaves replaced by knotted skeins of her black hair; as the lame gray dog that lived on the Mueller’s property, whose mouth, her mouth, opened and closed in yearning and who never made a sound. As I grew older, I came to realize that death had been easy for my mother; to fear death, you must first have something to tether you to life. But she had not. It was as if she had been preparing for her death the entire time I knew her. One day she was alive; the next, not.And as Sybil said, she was lucky. For what more could we presume to ask from death — but kindness?
Beautiful people make even those of us who proudly consider ourselves unmoved by another's appearance dumb with admiration and fear and delight, and struck by the profound, enervating awareness of how inadequate we are, how nothing, not intelligence or education or money, can usurp or overpower or deny beauty.
Here, however, you made art because it was the only thing you've ever been good at, the only thing, really, you thought about between shorter bursts of thinking about the things everyone thought about: sex and food and sleep and friends and money and fame. But somewhere inside you, whether you were making out with someone in a bar or having dinner with your friends, was always your canvas, its shapes and possibilities floating embryonically behind your pupils.
These galleries are hung, mostly, with images from 'Frog and Toad,' and he moves from each to each, not really seeing them but rather remembering the experience of viewing them for the first time, in JB's studio, when he and Willem were new to each other, when he felt as if he was growing new body parts—a second heart, a second brain—to accommodate this excess of feeling, the wonder of his life.
There was something scary and anxiety-inducing about being in a space where nothing seemed to be forbidden to him, where everything was offered to him and nothing was asked in return
They have been having sex for eighteen months now (he realizes he has to make himself stop counting, as if his sexual life is a prison term, and he is working toward its completion).
Without them, one’s status as an adult is never secure; a childless adult creates adulthood for himself , and as exhilarating as it often is, it is also a state of perpetual insecurity
We all say we want our kids to be happy, only happy, and healthy, but we don't want that. We want them to be like we are, or better than we are. We as humans are very unimaginative in that sense. We aren't equipped for the possibility that they might be worse. But I guess that would be asking too much. It must be an evolutionary stopgap - if we were all so specifically, vividly aware of what might go horribly wrong, we would none of us have children at all.
I admired how she knew, well before I did, that the point of a child is not what you hope he will accomplish in your name but the pleasure that he will bring you, whatever form it comes in, even if it is a form that is barely recognizable as pleasure at all - and more important, the pleasure you will be privileged to bring him.
I found myself thinking that perhaps there was something inexorable about the way events unfolded, as if my life--which had begun to seem something not my own but rather something into which I found myself blindly toppling--was indeed something living, that existed without my knowledge but that pulled me along in its strong, insistent undertow.
...he lacked the sort of ambition that JB and Jude had, that grim, trudging determination that kept them at the studio or office longer than anyone else, that gave them that slightly faraway look in their eyes that always made him think a fraction of them was already living in some imagined future, the contours of which were crystallized only to them.
But then, once you agree, it is necessary that you, the cajoler, move into the realm of self-deception, because you can see that it is costing them, you can see how much they don't want to be here, you can see that the act of existing is depleting for them, and then you have to tell yourself every day: I am doing the right thing.
He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt the same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but is wasn't a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn't know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in these moments. It's so sad, and yet we all do it. We all cling to it; we all search for something to give us solace.
When he came down, he was slower, and clutching something his hand. He leapt down the last 5 feet or so and came over to me, uncurling his fingers. In his palm was something trembling and silky and the bright, delicious pale gold of apples; in the gloom of the jungle it looked like light itself. Uva nudged the thing with a finger and it turned over, and I could see it was a monkey of some sort, though no monkey I had ever seen before; it was only a few inches larger than one of the mice I had once been tasked with killing, and his face was a wrinkled black heart, its features pinched together but its eyes large and as blankly blue as a blind kitten's. It had tiny, perfectly formed hands, one of which was gripping its tail, which it had wrapped around itself and which was flamboyantly furred, its hair hanging like a fringe.
But mostly, I missed watching you two together; I missed watching you watch him, and him watch you; I missed how thoughtful you were with each other, missed how thoughtlessly, sincerely affectionate you were with him; missed watching you listen to each other, the way you both did so intently.
This isn't fair, he would think in those moments. This isn't friendship. It's something, but it's not friendship. He felt he had been hustled into a game of complicity, one he never intended to play.
That night, before bed, he goes first to Willem's side of the closet, which he has still not emptied. Here are Willem's shirts on their hangers, and his sweaters on their shelves, and his shoes lined up beneath. He takes down the shirt he needs, a burgundy plaid woven through with threads of yellow, which Willem used to wear around the house in the springtime, and shrugs it on over his head. But instead of putting his arms through its sleeves, he ties the sleeves in front of him, which makes the shirt look like a straitjacket, but which he can pretend—if he concentrates—are Willem's arms in an embrace around him. He climbs into bed. This ritual embarrasses and shames him, but he only does it when he really needs it, and tonight he really needs it.
And in an essential way, this was what he was most ashamed of: not his poor understanding of sex, not his traitorous racial tendencies, not his inability to separate himself from his parents or make his own money or behave like an autonomous creature. It was that, when he and his colleagues sat there at night, the group of them burrowed deep into their own ambitious dream-structures, all of them drawing and planning their improbable buildings, he was doing nothing. He had lost the ability to imagine anything. And so every evening, while the others created, he copied: he drew buildings he had seen on his travels, buildings other people had dreamed and constructed, buildings he had lived in or passed through. Again and again, he made what had already been made, not bothering to improve them, just mimicking them. He was twenty-eight; his imagination had deserted him; he was a copyist.It frightened him. JB had his series. Jude had his work, Willem had his. But what if Malcolm never again created anything? He longed for the years when it was enough to simply be in his room with his hand moving over a piece of graph paper, before the years of decisions and identities, when his parents made his choices for him, and the only thing he had to concentrate on was the clean blade stroke of a line, the ruler's perfect knife edge.
I know my life's meaningful because - and here he stopped, and looked shy, and was silent for a moment before he continued - because I'm a good friend. I love my friends, and I care about them, and I think I make them happy.
My phone rang, and although it wasn't a sinister time of night, and although nothing had happened that I would later see as foreshadowing, I knew, I knew.
It's a good story,' he said. He even grinned at me. 'I'll tell you.''Please,' I said.And then he did.
He had never done it before, and so he had no real understanding of how slow, and sad, and difficult it was to end a friendship.