This morning I woke up to the sound of the neighbor trimming his tree. I told myself he would stop trimming only if I got out of bed. The tree got smaller and smaller. Soon it was just a stump, and he had to go underground and start trimming the roots, and still I couldn’t get up. The roots were gone and he was sawing through the earth and I told myself that when he came out in China, I would get up. It took him all day. I wept and curled and uncurled myself in a way I couldn’t control. I was actually writhing in heartache, as if I were a single muscle whose purpose was to mourn. But by the time my neighbor had hit the molten core, I was motionless. I had exhausted myself into a blank stare, a full-body examination of the ceiling. I could feel him pushing up underneath the streets of Shanghai, and to my horror, I felt hunger. The body’s expression of hope. As he burst through the ground and into the Chinese air, I sat up. He plowed into the sky, upward through tree leaves and then the clouds. My neighbor sawed into outer space. He cut through the Milky Way, right through the stars and stardust. He went around the universe in a giant circle. And then he landed, with a quiet thud, back in his yard. I lifted the curtain and saw him putting out the sprinkler. It was dusk. If he saw me, I would live. Look up, look up, look up. He raised his eyes, as if it were his own idea, and I waved.
From ‘No one belongs here more than you. Stories by Miranda July’, 2007
A broken heart is a troublesome thing at any time of year, but when the trees are bursting into leaf, as Larkin wrote (see our March post), heartache seems evermore a hardy perennial that can withstand the melting beauty of even the sunniest spring day. My foolproof remedy at times like this is to immerse myself in books. These are times when only literature can massage balm into the hard-to-reach places of the human heart, and I am currently finding grateful relief in Miranda July’s short stories. The passage above is, I think, one of the best descriptions of unrequited love I have ever read. It makes no difference to the ardent feelings of the narrator of this story, an adult schoolteacher, that it’s a fifteen-year-old special needs student that she’s in love with, but only a brave writer could pull this off and make it plausible and humane and hilarious. Miranda July, better known perhaps for her debut feature of 2006 ‘You, Me and Everyone I Know’, has one of the most original and surprising fictional voices I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s almost worth suffering heartache just to experience the relief of knowing that someone else out there knows what it’s like and can render it so beautifully. Highly recommended.