Tonight, my heart is breaking, but at least it is, in some measure, at my own hand. In his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera defines vertigo as “a heady, insuperable longing to fall,” and it is exactly the result of this longing that has led me to where I am now: heartbroken, alone, and hoping by some magic that the phone will ring and it will all be undone.
Before I remembered his word and definition, I would have defined this feeling as a desire to smash, to smash all of it, the entirety of my life. I would have called it the siren song of the abyss. It is, as Kundera says, “the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts us and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.” However, there is a point at which we give up defending ourselves and give in to the longing, this “intoxication of the weak.” Suffering from it, “a man decides to give in rather than stand up to it. He is drunk with weakness, wishes to grow even weaker, wishes to fall down in the middle of the main square in front of everybody, wishes to be down, lower than down.” I found myself here, in this place, tonight, so I looked around for the biggest hammer I could find and smashed to pieces what I most depended on to keep me from falling, and now I sit in front of the computer realizing that it may be really and truly smashed with no magic spell to bring it back together. However, I am confronting this realization as I have every horrible realization of the past few months: with numbness.
Like Kundera’s character Tereza, vertigo is a thing I’ve struggled with nearly always, though for a long time I didn’t recognize it as such because I thought myself to be strong, and I think I was and am, but despite my strength—or more likely because of it—I have always had a desire to fall really and truly, once and for all and be done with it. This sounds suicidal, and at various points in my life, it has manifested itself as such, but mostly, it is something else. Mostly, it is a desire to just give in, to just have the ability to give in. I sometimes feel cursed by my strength, so at various times in my life, I’ve felt compelled to destroy my very foundation in the hopes that I can really and truly finally fall.
Now the desire is worse than it has ever been, though I am hardly suicidal. It’s simply that life has dealt me a series of blows that ought to have crushed me, that I have feared would crush me, but wish as I might for it, I still wake up every day and go to work and teach my students and be kind to friends and strangers and just get through. Wish as I might for it, I have not been crushed, and hence this vertigo, this smashing.
Of course, there is more to it. I’m sure I’ve gone and smashed the foundation in part out of fear, fear I would lose it anyway, so why not shatter it in my own time and see what happens? Why wait for someone else to do it? Why not dive into the abyss head first?
As I sit here alone, I know the answers to my questions, answers I now wish I had risked. We don’t smash things in spite of our desire to because we never truly know what we will lose until it is lost. We fear more than ever comes to pass. Though there is a beauty in falling, there’s also a beauty in standing strong and resisting the temptations of vertigo, but tonight I find myself unable to plug my ears against the sirens' song.