A person can bear any tragedy about which a story can be told. Stories have beginnings, they have reasons, they have logic; most importantly of all, they have endings. They have lessons. Lessons do not exist in the bare history of events, but in how the storyteller tells them. They are hence as much about forgetting as about remembering. This is how we can bear any distress in our life, when the events are over and ready to be made into a story. This is what we mean by "closure".
Around the eighth or ninth time I met my last girlfriend was when she realized she could love me. She says she can't remember exactly when it was and I can't either. All I know is that it was around the time that I realized that if I met the gaze of the girls who served coffee in shops around town and smiled just so, their eyes sparkled back. Much later I learned that some girls - the tricksters and those who have themselves been tricked one too many times - make a living from simulating that sparkle.
Some time around that eighth or ninth meeting, that sparkle crept into Holly's eyes with increasing regularity until I barely saw her without it. I knew I was on the brink of either glory or the abyss, and yet it never occurred to me that it is the fate of almost all love affairs to encompass both. I was no stranger to infatuation or what passes for a relationship between under-eighteens, but only just on the brink of understanding that these flings were born out of a combination of desperation and bravado - the all-permeating ache to know oneself, to know one's capacities for love; the ache constantly denied by the pretense of already knowing.
When Holly met me she thought I was conservative and prudish. Certainly no bore nor unsure of myself, but unsure of my capacity for love. (Later I told her that perhaps I needed to be taught. No, she said, you just needed to be shown.) She said my poems reminded her of Oscar Wilde and this was no compliment - she meant they were unadorned and rugged. The work of a man and not a poet. I met her gaze, I smiled just so, and I told her that if we were getting into the business of literary comparisons - a dangerous one, to be sure - then she was a Jane Austen novel and that I knew of no higher compliment that I could pay a vivacious woman. To my surprise, her eyes sparkled and she kissed me and our story began.
We lived in one of the most beautiful cities in England and I began to notice this for the first time as we walked through it together. Later an African told me that East Anglia was boring, it was ugly - there were no mountains, he said, the terrain was flat, and our river moved at the pace of a pond. He wanted chaos and combat from the land, he said.
I thought of all the blood that had been spilled over the African steppe and I sighed that if he thirsted for chaos and combat from nature, I envied the peace that must reign between him and his fellow man. I told him that nature's serene beauty lies in the constant repetition of her simple cycles. Nature allows us to escape from the chaos and unpredictability of everything that happens between one another into her warm, reliable, indifferent arms; just like a lover. I told him that nature's completeness and the elegant simplicity of its elements in eternal cycles was exactly the pattern of love, exactly what we all sought in each other's embrace.
When you start to realize things like this, you have begun to see how each person you love transforms your understanding of both yourself and the world around you. They make you realize that you might have something called a "soul" after all, but that the priest does not understand it. You realize that religion and philosophy are onto something but that if the eternal lies anywhere it is not in lonely discourse with yourself or an indifferent God, but in that sparkle in her eyes. You know what it means to be a human, naked amongst billions, alone in this world, stripped of all pretense, but at the same time lucky enough to have found all the protection you will ever need.
Then when it is over and you really are alone amongst billions, when the fervour dies from her eyes and becomes mere affection, slowly cooling after being removed from the fire, you drink and you talk and you smoke through the love hangover, and you nurse your stories. You ask: How can this truth have led to nothing? Was it no truth at all, but a falsehood? And you are crushed by the weight of the past, playing over every detail in your mind until they are banal by repetition and you have interpreted them in every possible way. And when this yields nothing you are forced, finally, into a surrender to theory.
For there has never been a man who could bear the sheer unprocessed weight of his past, of his lost love, without altering it. Stories may have a logic, but we do not. And when the intensity of the emotion has gone and your soul's connection to another is severed, what is left? Only your cold reason, attempting to make sense of a fate and a path which it is wholly incapable of grasping. And so we become storytellers. We impart logic, we invent causality, we pretend to have "closure". Our pretense returns, this time saying we are wiser, we have learnt lessons, oh look how much better we write! This is the way we make meaning of the past.
And then we go and do it all over again.