Pt. 1 "Home"
I believe I am now entering the twilight of this breakup process. The reality is kind of embedded in my life now and while the road ahead is unclear, it is at least taking shape. But if they say it is darkest before the dawn, then perhaps it is also brightest before dusk (allow me to torture this metaphor a little bit), and things seem to have come into focus during this sunset, if only for a little bit. I can see through the relationship, a top down view almost, and my personal failings become properly contextualized, along with some of hers too. With this clarity, though, comes the tougher position of seeing my loneliness in all of its abstracted glory. Even further beyond this landscape of loneliness and disillusion that I feel, I can see even further back, to a place where I felt much lonelier, a place that got much darker than I ever expected my life to get, and I can see a time that makes me appreciate how grounded and lucky I am to be in my present position, simply by virtue of not being that dark, weird time from my past.
A little personal history: when I first went to college I didn't flunk out, but I wasn't far off. After my first two semesters I dropped out for almost a year, moved back in with my parents, and established my first relationship. I then planned to move back to my college town, with my girlfriend trailing behind me by 6'ish months. Through a friend of a friend I subleased a place and moved in, ready to give the whole college thing another try. The place I subleased was a house from the 50's that had been converted into an upstairs/downstairs type duplex. It was down a long driveway with a house being used for a real estate business the only neighbor in any direct vicinity. Strangely, there were also no doors inside the house, besides the bathroom door. At first I liked the place, it was cheap, not any amenities besides an air conditioning unit in the wall, and private enough that I could record music anytime without fear of neighbors (the upstairs neighbors only moved in halfway through my time there and we kept completely opposite schedules). Moving in, I imagined it would be a solidly productive time in my life.
I can't say when I began to feel a certain kind of insanity kicking in. I have memories of trying to get to sleep and hearing…sounds, I guess. It would almost be as if the shadows themselves were talking in some strange language that I couldn't quite hear, but caught glimpses of none-the-less. I would spend sleepless nights, caught in my own head, repeating mantras to myself and not completely trusting whatever it was I felt was on the other side of the sheet that acted as a door for the bedroom. I don't believe in ghosts or anything (though I probably did at the time) and I don't think what was happening at the house was any sort of haunting experience. I just think that place was dark…a weird dark void, with a bad energy that I encountered at such a time in my life that it nearly swallowed me whole.
That's not entirely accurate or fair, though. It wasn't the Bleak House that was slowly grinding into my mental plane. The house wasn't driving me to the brink of a desperate loneliness that I couldn't see my way out of. The house wasn't making me miserable in such a profoundly depressing way that it ate to my very core. My relationship was, or at least the position I had put myself in in the relationship. I was with a viciously co-dependent person at the time, and trying to maintain a long distance relationship with a jealous, needy girlfriend takes more mental fortitude than I have probably ever possessed. When I would be out for the night and get a call from her, there would inevitably be disappointment and passive-aggressive anger in her voice, causing me to leave whatever I was doing and make it home so I could call her again and assuage her fears that I wasn't out doing anything with possibly anyone. This led to me never going out and never seeing anybody, to not disappoint her. Not to say this was all her fault. I played into the same game and could be just as much of a jealous asshole when she was out, but there was a key difference: she didn't care when I was upset. As I imagined the crazy debauchery that she could be up to at any point that I wasn't literally on the phone with her, I would lie awake in my bed, mumbling inanities and 'hearing' the shadows as they moved through the corners.
It's strange to look back, through this time in my life, and realize how utterly miserable the relationship was making me and that I thought nothing of it. I had somehow gotten the idea that there was some meaning to the suffering I endured in the name of love, that it was somehow a romanticized version of myself, a story I wove about how noble I was and that it all had a point, that it all meant something. Perhaps I was only thinking that if I could suffer out these next 6 months, we would be living together and it would all be good. It is strange that I couldn't see that the problems would only intensify in such a situation, but, once again, I believed there was a point to all this. But there wasn't. Only a self-imposed suffering that had blacked out any view I could manage outside of the situation.
Pt. 2 "Driving"
There was one constant during those dismal 6 months: Taxi Driver. I don't know what it was at the time, but I watched Taxi Driver obsessively, daily, as if trying to dig down to the very core of the film. It was as if it were speaking for me, as if I was a Travis Bickle'esque creature, just on the right side of sanity for now. Going back and watching it now, it seems telling what I can see now that I didn't before, which is how strange Bickle acts around other people. There is a current running through the film of Bickle trying to reach out to other people, to try and make some sort of personal connection, but each attempt ends in him acting almost antagonistically towards the people he's trying to connect to. When talking to Peter Boyle's character, Boyle tries to explain his version of life, which is essentially not to worry so much and just live for a while. Bickle responds by saying it's the stupidest thing he's ever heard. I can see now that it's not that Bickle can't reach other people, it's that he doesn't necessarily want to. They aren't telling him the things he wants to hear, and not acting the way he wants them to act, so he lashes out at the world that makes so little sense to him.
That's the strange thing about isolation, it becomes a feedback loop. The more you lose touch with people, and especially when you begin avoiding interaction on a large scale, the further you get into your own head and ideas, the further you begin to drift away from being able to interact with people on a regular level. Like Bickle, I found myself more and more isolated while being surrounded by people, but not being able to relate. Not only that, but also seeing something darker and more sinister in my surroundings than was really there. Take the scene where Bickle is standing outside the diner about to talk to Peter Boyle and a pimp walks by as Bickle and he eye each other down in an intense way. Watching it now I wonder if this is supposed to be real life or if this is just Bickle's mind. When you are in that state of mind, and growing further and further away from humanity, everything begins to look like a threat, and you ascribe nefarious purpose to those around you. It brings to mind that old maxim that if you are insane you wouldn't know that you are insane. Strangely enough, at the time I was questioning my own sanity (marking me as sane by the maxim) I was also delving further into this strange fantasy of a world where strangers had ill intentions towards me (which is an insane thing to truly believe).
There is also something about the look of Taxi Driver that plays into this strange space of isolated insanity that few other films capture. The general language for insanity in films has to do with hallucinations, ridiculous misunderstandings, and constant overtly erratic behavior. What they don't capture is the subtle nature of craziness, the kind where you slip in so slow and easy that nothing seems out of place, that you can hold your shit together around other people, but when you retreat to your private space your thought process just goes…askew. It's like after Cybil Shepard's character rejects Bickle, he starts to send her flowers that are promptly returned to him, as he writes in his notebook, 'The smell of the flowers are making me sick…I think I have stomach cancer…" During my time in the Bleak House a certain kind of hypochondria set in, where I always believed I was sick and it was always something else. I had become absolutely convinced that cancer was eating its way through my body (my 20 year old body), but at the same time was completely unwilling to do anything about it. Life had reached a point where it all seemed…pointless. But a surprisingly non-suicidal kind of pointlessness. More of an idea that this is life, this has always been life, and life must go on as well as I can manage.
Finally, there's Bickle's obsession with Cybil Shepard's character. I hesitate to even mention the character's name, because in truth it isn't her character that matters to Bickle, it is the idea of who her character is. She is an angel, she is above the filth that covers every other aspect of the city. She is pure, she represents a clarity, a happiness that has long eluded him. The problem is that Bickle doesn't know her, he has built up this strange idea of her in his mind and in his courtship she seems to confuse his strangeness for mystique, that is until he takes her to a porno theater. It is both a sign of how far Bickle has drifted from society that he does not see the problem in this gesture, but also it serves as the moment where the curtain drops for Shepard's character and the realization that what she thought was a mysterious nature was merely disguising, at worst, a perverted maniac or (more accurately) a maladjusted misanthrope. This in turn brings Bickle's world crashing down, as he loses the one thing he was living for and he almost immediately spirals further into his own world, which gets stranger, darker, and more violent.
I have talked about making someone else a caricature of what you want them to be in this series already, but I haven't necessarily talked about what happens when you make someone else your entire world, where co-dependency becomes a gateway to delusion and pain, where the entire world gets skewed because you are trying to force it through the perspective of another person. This is where I found myself at the Bleak House, entirely reliant on the relationship I was in, but also unable to relate to the world outside of the one I had created within those door-less rooms. I had dug myself a hole and instead of trying to climb back out I had begun to scrawl on the dirt, creating my own space that made sense to me, if no one else. The one thing that sticks out most about this time in my life, this time when I was neck deep in a relationship that I was fully enveloped in, is that I have never been more alone in my entire life.
Pt. 3 "Denouement"
For the first time in my life I think I can look back on those years, not just the Bleak House years but all the years of that relationship, and I can honestly say that I think it was all a mistake. This isn't an easy thing to say. While the relationship was probably less than 2 years in total, there were years before and after filled with longing, pain, infidelity, and sorrow. I'm not sure I came out the other end wiser or any better than I went in. If anything, I'm probably a little more damaged. But it's not right to look at life in such a way. It only serves as a cogent example of a how life moves, how you can't tell what's going on in your own life until after the fact (usually), and how we all have to take what we can from it and leave the rest behind.
The main lesson I think I have learned in retrospect is that you can be even lonelier with another person than you can be by yourself. Loneliness doesn't depend on how many people you have around you, it depends on your mindset, but the truth can be especially hard to see when you are mired in someone else's world. When you try to define yourself through someone else's viewpoint, you inevitably run into the wall that it is impossible to truly ever know another person, much less what they are really thinking. You end up reaching some malformed view of the world, forced through misaligned filters that only lets reality trickle in. Soon enough you are shaving your head like a Native American and going on killing sprees to express your existential angst with the world (well, maybe not all of us).
While I don't feel the same way I used to at the Bleak House anymore, there is still some residue that I run against from time to time. I can still recall the way it felt to be lying in bed, frightened, but not quite frightened of anything tangible, just the strange recesses that our minds can reach when provoked. Maybe the harshness of these times has left me hardened, and now I can deal with this current relationship/breakup on a much more logical level. I know the pitfalls now and I was able to steadily avoid them this time. But there is something nice about knowing to what limits a mind can go and still return, though I would never want to revisit that Bleak House again.