Sometimes when envisaging itself the mind splits itself into many parts so as to see its different aspects more clearly, aspects embodied most often by characters that can play out their traits with the aim of seeing how they relate to one another. Sometimes two lovers are the easiest puppets for the conflicting parts of a mind, as is the case here, when Orpheus and Eurydice must realise how incompatible their responses to a common past damage have become, leading to an asymmetrical dance between one who flees and one who chases, always fruitlessly.
You are Eurydice, and what has bitten your ankle is your past. I wonder now if you allowed it to, beckoned the snake’s sharp mouth towards you, even after all these years you are unwilling to be separate from it, to let it stay where it belongs; this past, Eurydice, you speak to it endlessly, you steep in it, it puckers your skin. The bliss I seek seems to you impossible, and you are unwilling to contribute, preferring to dwell alone in the Underworld with these last traces of her, the poison that ferried you there, coursing through your translucent earthly flesh. You want to remain a tank of her imprints in the dark, to watch them glow and swim inside your river map, you want to be alone in silence without me, made to hear no words but those she left you.
And here I am, this other part of you, the desiring fool who, despite every person in our past, never lost hope in love, imprudent Orpheus descending again and again into the Underworld to find you, sing you into a freedom you have no care for. Here I am, Eurydice, the part you lost, trying in despair to win you back to me, but the split has occurred too long ago, and we are now two separate beings, one yearning for unity, the other seeking in an untouchable solitude the memory of others, easier to be with than her living twin. I, the hopeful part of you, once meant so much to you, you let me define us, you held me, I was your all. Were we once a single soul, Eurydice? Our perfect likeness tells me that we were, and yet you carry a damage I cannot feel, and a refusal to choose me over the company of others, whom you find so much more compelling. All this yearning to step out of yourself, Eurydice, and into unfamiliar depths and ruins.
Here I am, descending to where you are so as to convince your smirking wardens that all of this is a mistake, that you aren’t meant yet for this place, that your heart’s true wish is to be alive on the surface with my love for company.
“She will be yours in time,” I tell them. “Human lives are short, she will be back before you know it. Let me have her back just for a while.”
They bare their teeth with knowing eyes, the discomfort of sadness is felt in their skin. How can I be so deluded to believe that I know you, they think, believe that you are capable of wanting me, that what you truly want in life is to love me in return, that your stay down here is involuntary. Each time I stand before them, your sinister keepers don’t have the heart to tell me that they are not what’s keeping you down here, that you checked into this underground madhouse of your own volition, and no matter how many times they give in to the logic of my song and send you up there after me, none of it will last.
“You may be her twin, but you are superfluous to her.”
They don’t have the heart to say it. Every time I think I’ve found you again, Eurydice, every time I think you’re back, the same thing occurs: the viper who infused you with indifference returns, adding more and more of its poison to your system until your heart can no longer stand the uphill climb and tells me finally that I have to let you go, give up. Life down here is what you want, and you can no longer humour me. The poison will never leave your system.
When I had you, held you, placed my heart between your teeth, already you were dancing with the water nymphs, my name split apart from yours in the mind we shared, already you were bound by a trance I have seen before, in him who bends over the dark waters and sees himself dissolve into pink and yellow shakes and shivers, the water washing him clean of yet another layer of himself. He bends further and further forward, toward what he realises he can become if he unties himself from the love of any other person, and like you he is bitten, in his own way, his skin is lacerated and fed a poison he cannot undo. Like you, he becomes fragility, he becomes oscillatory, his care less constant than a spark.
On our last night of embrace your body pulled away from mine like a splitting cell and you got up to drag your bare feet through the dew. Your viper found you among the reeds, she returned, she said, “Come back to me, return to me, he is no more than anyone else you ever tried and failed to love. How can Orpheus’s song compare to everything I meant to you?”
Your eyes glazed over with an interminable expiration, and no matter how far my arms reached to hold you, you pushed me away. “We are two separate bodies now,” you said, “and I can no longer see what lies outside myself.”
But down in the Underworld, singing to your sunless keepers all those same songs that once made you fall in love with me, I am oblivious to the ruling couple’s hints, lit up by the hope in my own melodies. With this yearning pouring from my mouth incessantly, I walk up the incline separating our two worlds, I do so again and again, a boundless vigour driving me to salvage the connection I still sense between us.
I walk, dragging you behind me, the rope of my words tethered to the boulder of Sisyphus, I walk with the sweat of unrest coating my body with its gleam to the point where even your nostrils numbed by death catch a whiff of me. You ascend behind me without a word of reassurance. All I have to go by to feed my trust in your presence are the words you said to me long ago, when there was love behind your eyes, when I thought you felt the things I feel still.
All I have are the promises your wardens made, that stone couple who equate love with a violent convenience, presence and absence alternating according to contract. They know that you will be back down there with them all too soon. Those two never mean what they say, and all they really give me is permission to fail at gaining your love, over and over.
“If this is what you want…” they say, after hearing my desperate song for the hundredth time, thinking to themselves, “You know she doesn’t want you. It’s the poison in her ankle she’s in love with, the part of her that cannot expand. She loves that liquid person from the past swimming in her veins.”
But it is only her I want, just this one, Eurydice.
If my own future holds the venom of an ankle-biting viper, let this viper be Eurydice.
What if, on one of my many tiring ascents up the slope with you walking quietly behind me, what if there never was snake, what if the snake is just a way for you to shield my feelings? You may simply be unwilling to love me, to care, because we are too like each other except in what we want. You cannot respond to the love I sing for because this love is my concern, not yours. You may have given up trying to heal from the damage we both suffered, decided that of all the people in this world I am not different enough from what leaves you cold: the morning mirror, that dark socket on the wall. You cannot love me because when you try we both go numb, I with hope, you with the inability to give.
“I have given too much, too often,” you tell me, “and it’s drained me dry. I have tried to love myself and failed each time, the part of me that hopes is not the part that is fulfilled.”
I walk up the steep path, carried by thoughts of myself as a patient man, thinking I know how to be patient for you, Eurydice, how to wait for you to heal, Eurydice, my joy, my twin.
The stone below me is wet with the tears of the living. No sound of your ghost feet behind me, and all I want each time is to turn around to see your face, which is tantamount to saying that I want to see you love me, even though in this impossible world I know you can’t.
Still, the temptation is too strong each time, and I turn with my mouth open to bleed my love over your hands, to see the dearest face I know. And I do see it, but it’s a face asleep, a face in communion with an other, an absent person, someone you feel closer to in Hades than up there in life with me. When I turn around, each time anew, breaking the wardens’ one condition, it is not disappointment I see in your face but relief, a kind of gratitude.
“Thank you, Orpheus, for failing to bring me back with you, for not being enough to save me from my past. Your failure is my permission to stay down here and keep this shrine to my beloved poison alive in my flesh. Thank you for keeping me safe from life, for setting me free. Hers is the only company I truly desire, so thank you for trying and failing so many times. I know you love me, Orpheus, I really wish you didn’t, I’m sorry that you fell for that charming idea of wholeness, of spherical, double-bodied soulmatery as Aristophanes once joked. We fell together into that same shape, yes, but Orpheus, you know it cannot be. I am not made to be bound to the back of another person, no matter how alike we are. You are so pretty, and your body made love to mine so well, all of our time together a fond memory for me, but nothing could fill the wound she left in me. She was a different person, for god’s sake, how can that not be better than loving what is too much like you? It is her I love and yearn for in my loneliness down here, not you. I cannot leave the Underworld, Orpheus, all there is up there is the prospect of staring into your face day after day. That alone cannot bring me happiness. I hope you understand. In fact, I know you understand, because each time we are about to march back into the oblivious, waking world you turn around to look at me.”
Sometimes time folds when I climb these slopes and your words return to me, not these words but ones you spoke before, words that echo what I always wanted to hear, words that cradle and soothe, and for a moment a deep peace runs through me as though the branches of my arteries were lighting up my path through Hades for a while. Everything you gave me, Eurydice, makes it impossible for me to leave you down here, to give up the desire to wake to a clear unbroken mirror, see your face alive as I turn. And with this, the mistake occurs, always the same mistake in this pleating instant, the collapse of time: I turn to read your face again; before we reach the light of day, which seems impossibly far, I turn to ask you to love me.
You sigh and speak the words I dreaded. There is nothing to be done. You cannot want me no matter how much you wish it were different.
And with this you disappear again into the dark, relieved to be rid of me until the next time I descend with my lyre strapped to my back, return to the depths with my song and try again, because these attempts to lure you back to me are all I have left of a mutual bond that is now no more than our face in the dark and rippling water, the hollow parts in our mind into which I stumble, the languishing humidity of those many nights when you become still.