Lock and Key

On occasion, my appetite for interaction with other people shifts quickly and dramatically toward being a recluse. It happens so fast that I do not recognize it is happening until after the fact. Suddenly, I want nothing to do with anyone else. In fact, if I could shut myself out of the equation, I happily would do that. I want no part of human involvement; I’d rather be a rock or a piece of driftwood or an abandoned abalone shell than a person. It’s odd, I suppose, to feel such strong distaste for anything human. I’ve never heard anyone else suggest they have had the same sensation. But, then, I don’t think I’ve ever shared it with anyone else, either. Part of my hesitance to share this desire for intellectual and emotional detachment has to do with the difficulty of explaining it; how does one articulate  one’s wish to be an inanimate seashell on a deserted island on the edge of a forgotten sea?

I assume the source of my desire for disengagement is a feeling of contempt for people. It gets to the point that I expect to be disappointed even in the people I treasure, simply because they, too, belong to the human race. And, of course, that disappointment applies to me, too. Because no matter how much I might want to be a model of decency and humanity and tolerance and generosity, I discover simply by living my life that I am not that model, nor will I ever be. “We’re all just human.” That excuse for our failings is too facile and too forgiving to be acceptable. It’s meant to reassure ourselves, and others, that we’re okay, even though we’re flush with faults. “We’re all just human,” as if that justifies the flaws we could erase, if only we dedicated ourselves to the task. I’m not asking to be perfect, just not so deeply infected with imperfections that their removal would leave nothing, not even a shell.

This mood, if that’s what it is, will recede over time. In the interim, I would best serve myself and everyone with whom I interact if I would just get in the car and drive west, stopping only when I get to the desert of west Texas or New Mexico. There, I could stop and get a room in some little nondescript motel and use it as a base from which I could ponder what purpose there might be for humans and scorpions and snakes and other creatures that, when threatened, can be dangerous.

I began writing a short story a few years ago in which the protagonist was in the midst of deciding whether to take a treatment for an otherwise terminal illness that would guarantee him another healthy thirty years. By taking the treatment, though, everyone who had ever known him would lose every speck of memory about him, thanks to technology that could erase a memory chip that every human had inserted into the brain. I never finished the story. I don’t know whether he decided to let the disease take its course or whether he chose to allow him memory to disappear from the lives of everyone who had ever encountered him. If I had that choice today, I think I’d choose to be erased from the memories of everyone who had ever known me. It would then be easier to be done with it. But that’s not an option. My story was science fiction. Perhaps twenty years hence, we will have the ability to erase memories in ourselves in the same fashion we erase memories in computers. Until then, though, we’re stuck with persistent memories and the pain that accompanies them. So my absence during my trip to the desert would be noticed. And that would ruin the trip and the opportunity to ruminate about “why?”

As far as I can tell, nothing in particular provokes these radical misanthropic moods. They just happen. They are accompanied by a surliness that deserves to be kept under lock and key. I’m not the one who should be trusted with the key.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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