What We Can Not Keep

by Jessica Lohafer

It is comfortable to be alone. To gather myself in the morning, observing the frost on my neighbor’s roof. Laying in bed far too long, limbs tangled in the spines of all my books, Steinbeck resting precariously along the edge of the sheets. I think, if they were to find me gone, and this bed was all the world would know of my exploits, the things its frame could tell them. A woman operated on. Measured and considered, and sometimes not at all. My lampshade, still broken, blinks at me from across the room. Pictures unframed. Closet in ruins. The light making a convincing entrance across my desk.

What else can be expected of a person, but to rise each day and find something to eat. To pay taxes and read the newspaper. I’m amazed at the little effort it takes to cross this breadth of carpet, these stairs. I put lined paper into my typewriter and consider what’s laid out before me: students crossing the street, cars parked too close together, friends sharing a cigarette in the thirty degree weather. Not even the worst cold can keep them inside, addiction motivation for movement.

I am unmotivated. Enough energy to perform simple tasks, and then retreat. It seems I have worked a long time trying to fill space, to reject solitude. Now that it’s here, enough to swim in, I don’t quite know how to proceed. Each time it becomes more familiar. But does this familiarity breed accomplishment? Samuel Hamilton, my literary kindred spirit of East of Eden, says this of success, “On one side you have warmth and companionship and sweet understanding, and on the other – cold lonely greatness. There you make your choice.” Samuel chooses companionship, and lives well, but toils against an unforgiving ground. And while the recent cold spell and this novel may have left me feeling somber, I don’t know if I can accept these as the only two options.

Someone asked me to write about utopia, to give my own definition. It has everything to do with perfection, heaven on earth. When I was young, I thought of heaven like light, like warmth. Sitting in the sun of our sliding glass door, taking a nap with my brother, that was all I wanted. I got older and made goals. Heaven was accomplishment, something measured by how closely I met my own expectations. I felt alive when I was winning. School was utopia, education was bliss. What do I want now?

I want it all. I want everything, all at once. I want companionship and passion, rhetoric and measurable achievements. Though Samuel’s words are convincing, I reject their ultimatum. I am going to find the things that belong to me; I’m going to learn to let go of what I can not keep. I will appreciate its brief entrance into this prose. And here’s the trick: if you really want it, do you have to forget about it completely in order to get it again? The sensible would suggest yes, that to move forward, you should keep yourself from looking over your shoulder. The hopelessly infatuated might tell you to never let go, always hope.
I say, pick both.