I feel like there’s a glass wall between me and the world. I stand with my hands pressed against it and look at other people, and they look at me, but we don’t touch. I scream at the wall and curse and swear and pound my fist on it but it muffles the vibrations and they pass across as a whisper. Most of the time I don’t even know it’s there.
There’s a passage from one of my favorite books, After Dark:
Still, Mari says nothing. Lightly biting her lip, she waits for the rest of the story. Takahashi takes his time searching for the right words.
“Finally, no matter what I say, it doesn’t reach her. This layer, like some kind of transparent sponge kind of thing, stands there between Eri Asai and me, and the words that come out of my mouth have to pass through it, and when that happens, the sponge sucks almost all the nutrients right out of them. She’s not listening to anything I say—not really. The longer we talk, the more clearly I can see what’s happening. So then the words that come out of her mouth stop making it all the way to me. It was a very strange feeling.”
Realizing that the tuna sandwiches are gone, the kitten twists itself out of Mari’s hands and jumps down to the ground, running over to the thick shrubbery and all but leaping in. Mari crumples the tissue in which the sandwiches were wrapped and stuffs it into her bag. She rubs the bread crumbs from her hands. Takahashi looks at Mari.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Metaphors should never be taken too far. But sometimes they’re the only way of expressing a feeling. I don’t really know how to connect with people. It’s a skill I just never acquired. I’ve done it before but only accidentally. Usually I talk, and listen, and we say words, and the words convey logical meaning, and I grapple with that meaning like solving a puzzle. Drained of nutrients.
It’s safe on the other side of a glass wall. I know damn well why I built it. It’s messy and gross and scary to be human, to not be logical. The hard thing is that most of my mental architecture is invisible to me. There are walls, halls, entire glass palaces that I can’t see because the light passes right through them. The only way to know they’re there is by touch; the frustrating resistance as I press against it or the pain as I cut myself on it. So I can’t honestly weigh the pros and cons and say, I don’t want a wall here today. It’s a hole in the world, a crowd of pedestrians all unconsciously navigating to avoid crossing a circle on the ground.
That’s why it’s important to write metaphors. Occasionally things materialize long enough to take a good look at them and decide, is this what I want? I spend a lot of time trying to get across a bridge, and there’s a glass wall blocking the bridge, and I walk up and down the shore of the river frustrated because I don’t see a way across. If I can see it for a second, I can break through it, that’s all it takes. It’s seeing it and holding onto the memory that’s hard.