“Today, I undress you with my poems, and you are so pale like a monochrome of light, a white light, a white inviting form of apparition, my beacon, my lighthouse, my seagull of hope. Into this day, I am willing to be taken by you. I am all alone and I do not care.”
— Chuck Akot, from Collected Prose, I have undressed you
I wasn’t kind, but I wasn’t unkind either. I wasn’t anything I guess. I wasn’t anything to anyone at all. I was nothing, a sort of non-being and I just wanted to fall asleep during the day. I let my face drown in the darkness of the pillow and tried to think that it was already night. I was in so much hopelessness. I literally couldn’t walk. I had this body that I needed to clean, feed and control but just thinking about those things made me feel very tired.
I have this theory: Love gets in through the cracks.
It’s like this: You are born with cracks. Lots of them, thousands of them perhaps and they make up the crackling texture of your hair, the crooked set of your teeth, the hopscotch pattern of your spine. There are little cracks, so small that they are rendered nearly insignificant. But only just nearly. The way you look when you laugh or the fact that you never quite learned how to parallel park. And yes, there are some big ones too like the way that you use words like whips when you’re angry or that you have the work ethic of a sleepy tortoise or that you can’t decide on a pizza place let alone a career path. And still, there are even bigger cracks. Ones that have fault lines named after people and epicenters that metastasize until the aftershocks rupture all over your body. Those are the worst.
And pretty soon, without your consent or even prior knowledge, your life becomes about filling in these cracks, about walking along them with a bucket of wet cement that pours and pours until it must be refilled. And then it pours again.
Your parents create some cracks because they’re human and they can’t help it. And you forgive them because they heal a lot of the cracks the world leaves behind like footprints too.That’s one of the first lessons you learn as you grow - that to be human is to leave cracks in some places and fill them up in others and hope to God that you heal more than you hurt. Someone else’s words act like the head of a pin on the surface of a frozen lake and you realize that words can create the deepest cracks of all.
Over time, you get pretty good at the pouring, at pretending that some of the cracks don’t exist and the ones that do don’t really matter. Daisies bloom out of some of the cracks and roaches crawl in others, like a miniature concrete jungle sprawling on the warped expanse of your heart.
And then you fall in love. Oh man, you fall in love and suddenly all you want to do is lovingly trace your fingertips over all the cracks in someone else’s soul. You are devastated, laid bare, by the ever shifting landscape of their hurt, of the way the ley lines dart away from your touch. Because in some ways, it’s easier to hurt than be healed. It’s easier to feel the pain than acknowledge that it’s there.
You pour every ounce of understanding and compassion that you have into them. Because that’s what love is, isn’t it? Using parts of yourself to fill in the holes someone else has never been able to fill.
So they leave. You have nothing left to give and they have nothing left to take so they leave. And you break. Like an old piece of pottery knocked over by a clumsy child, the break starts at the point of impact and stretches over your entire being from there. Every crack that has ever been filled reopens and some new ones spawn where you didn’t know cracks could go. There is a great, big yawning canyon gnawing away at your bones and you have nothing else to live for so you let it.
For a long time, you are fracture points and break lines and blurry x-rays that make nothing clear except that you are broken and your bones are not knitting themselves back together as they should. But not forever.
No, not forever because one day your kid cousin comes to visit and you haven’t seen them in ages but they throw their chubby arms around your neck and knobby knees around your waist. And you don’t feel it, not yet, but something in you heals. Something small, but something nonetheless. And on another day, you can’t sleep so you slip out of bed early enough for the birds to greet you with their chipper song and the sunrise is so beautiful. Like a star bursting across the horizon in shades of magenta and opal and raspberry pink. You smile for the first time in a while. And something else comes back together. You try yoga, decide that it’s for the birds and start running during the evenings to work off the ice cream weight. Your lungs burn and the soles of your feet itch and a cramp is eating away at your side but you put your fists in the air because you did it. And another crack heals.
That’s how it happens. Like falling asleep, it’s too slow for you to notice and too sudden for you to stop it. Love is everywhere, you realize. In the arms of your best friend and in a secret truffle on your cheat day and on the balcony at sunset and the little succulent in the window that reminds you that if it can keep alive for so long, so can you. You are honest with yourself, the kind of honesty that is brutal. The kind of honesty that hurts a little to say aloud. But there is kindness in that honesty too. Because instead of neglecting the cracks, you feed them. Yes, you give them a teaspoon of understanding and a pinch of joy and just a dash of love. Love that fills them so much better than that stupid bucket of wet cement ever did.
It is the best lesson you ever learn. That love seeps in through the cracks. We go through life, wishing away the cracks that we’ve acquired in the act of being human, in the state of being in progress. We build our walls brick by brick, our hands covered in mortar and we don’t stop for long enough to ask ourselves, where does the love get in?
That’s my theory. Love gets in through the cracks but only if we’re brave enough to look at the cracks and see something worthy of love. The bravery does not come easily. It does not come softly. For many of us, it only comes after we have been scraped raw and found the strength to rise again. But if you have not fallen in the space left by someone else’s cracks, take a lesson from the people who have.
Your cracks are neither good or bad; they just are. What you fill them with is your choice. I hope you make a good one.
We are fourteen years old - all pudgy cheeks, flowered converse and crooked teeth. It’s the summer before freshman year and we’re lounging on couches in my living room with our eyes narrowed on the t.v. You sigh quietly and say, “I’ll never look like the girls on t.v.” Cringing inwardly at the palpable envy coating your voice, I silently wish that I knew how to erase it permanently. But instead I sneer and scoff, “Who wants to look like that anyway? It’s all so fake - mascara swipes and calorie strikes.” I hear you mutter something under your breath that sounds suspiciously like, “I do,” but you let out a shaky laugh and drop the subject. So I do too. The words taste like gravel in my mouth and I wish I could swallow them back down, but the damage is done. So we sit, drowning under the weight of our own insecurities, all at once hating those girls and wondering how to become them.
I don’t know how to feel, I don’t know how to think, I don’t know how to desire. I’m a character in a novel that still needs to be written, vanishing into thin air and undone without ever having existed, among the dreams of someone who didn’t know how to complete me.
Fernando Pessoa, from Selected Prose in “Pessoa: Poems Of Fernando” [translated and edited by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown]