doubt, pt. 5


I started feeling weird about how I never trusted anyone, so I started hoarding secrets--that way, when someone started asking why I doubted them, I could hand them a secret. "Here," I'd say. "This is for you." And it was mostly just a test. Everything is a test.

It was the same thing with Eris. We'd reached the point where I needed to say "no, I totally trust you," so I dug up one of my buried secrets. "Here, you can have the one about my friend who died in middle school." I wrapped it up neatly and gave it to her in a box. I told her I gave her this because I trusted her, but really it was because I doubted her. Because I wanted to see what she'd do with something so precious to me. So I watched her and I poked and prodded her, and I even got myself to believe I was just proving how much we trusted each other.

Eventually all the little tests, trying to get her to prove that I should still trust her, became a ritual. She never fought back or complained or anything. I built an entire relationship on doubt, and still, when she finally did prove me right, I had no idea it was coming. By the end I doubted she was even capable of betrayal.

It hurt, of course, but part of me was secretly pleased.


doubt, pt. 4


Before I fled my old social circles--that festering den of liars that I loved so much--there was a kid I dated, whose primary virtue was that he didn't seem like the rest of the people I knew. He was obsessed with uncertainty and doubt and the ephemeral nature of reality, and for some reason that was relentlessly charming, and made me want to follow him blindly wherever he wanted to lead me.

My sister laughed at me when I told her about him, because she saw herself in my descriptions of him. She said, "You can't trust people like me. We're inherently untrustworthy." And that just sounded like the sort of charmingly self-deprecating thing people like that would say, so I didn't really pay it much heed. But she said something that stuck with me.

"The best thing you can do for someone like that is to doubt them," she told me. "When you've embraced the ephemeral nature of the world we live in, the last thing you need is someone trying to make you into some sort of immovable rock."

I didn't listen, of course, because humans never listen to the good advice. But when my gossamer anchor disintegrated, suddenly the full weight of it struck me. I don't even remember this kid's name, but I do remember how important it is to give in to doubt every now and then.


doubt, pt. 3


For most of my life, the people I've been closest to have tried to maintain a careful distance from me, because as far as they're concerned I'm just a ticking time-bomb, waiting to go off and betray any trust they gave me. And that's probably fair, of course, but it made me doubt myself, too. I doubted myself so wholly and completely that it became a part of who I was--a little bit of stability to cling to.

Alex changed all of that, or at least tried to. She trusted me implicitly, and in so doing she robbed me of a carefully constructed identity. Any time I tried to tell her, she tried to reassure me, like I was a child telling her about monsters under my bed. And I just let it happen, because against something so powerful as trust, what could I do? Every effort to revive that doubt failed, no matter how I tried. Her soothing words drowned the self to which I had clung so desperately.

So one evening, as she was whispering about how she wished I could see myself from her eyes, I resolved that there was one weapon against which trust could never stand: betrayal. Her confidence in me would be shattered, and I could finally be free of the tyranny of trust.


doubt, pt. 2


Doubt sort of defined our relationship, didn't it? And really it sort of defines all human relationships--we can't just go around trusting each other, after all. We keep our guard up around random strangers, so why not around people who are close to us? Just because you were important to me was no reason for me to suddenly assume that you had my best interests at heart. I never had your best interests at heart, after all. Anyway, a breach of trust can happen entirely on accident, and if all of our endless fights were any indication, that was bound to happen sooner or later.

So of course I doubted you. I had no reason to do anything else. It's nothing personal, it's just that life is simpler when you operate under the assumption that people are going to let you down. And it's not like I was wrong: you did disappoint me, time and time again. So doubt was just another thing I did in order to survive.

For the longest time you used to send these drunken emails late at night--I assume they were drunken, anyway, because I'm generous--talking about trust. Telling me you trusted me, or saying how much it hurt that I didn't trust you, or asking that I show how much I trust you. Not often, just every couple of months, usually when I'd done something that brought the doubt that formed the seed of our relationship into the foreground. You were fond of swearing that you'd never betray me--as if I even knew what the word meant. I've always been far too sensible for that.

I assume you got your answer, anyway, when I never wrote back. For all of the problems we had, I always thought our relationship went well precisely because I kept my expectations low. Unrealistic hopes have destroyed civilizations and brought empires to their knees. What hope did I have against that?


doubt, pt. 1


Something about you seemed fundamentally untrustworthy from the moment we met--I think it was a Labor Day barbecue, wasn't it? I can picture it clearly: you complaining about America's lack of appreciation for the labor movement, about how by rights this should be on May Day, about how most Americans simply see it as an excuse to eat hamburgers and get drunk. I can still hear your sarcastic tone, still see your ironic little smirk. I showed up late and didn't know anyone there, but I knew two things as soon as I saw you: I knew that you liked me for some reason, and I knew that was probably a bad thing.

I drank more than I usually do that night. I'm not good at parties, and you were making me uncomfortable. It didn't help. I ended up ducking out back for air after even more people showed up, and I wasn't really surprised that you'd followed me out there. I was surprised that it didn't bother me anymore. Perhaps the alcohol had drowned that little seed of doubt. You asked if I was feeling okay, your tone abruptly lacking the carefully constructed irony from earlier, and that put me on edge again. As if your apparent sincerity could be anything more than artifice.

I answered honestly, because honesty is usually the best way to get rid of someone. But you stayed, and I made what I have often thought of as the worst decision of my life then: I decided to just let you stay around. So long as I kept that seed of doubt alive, so long as I didn't let myself trust you--well, there was no harm in seeing where the evening would take it, was there? I was fairly certain the evening would end with you in my bed, except when we reached my doorstep you simply leaned in close and told me to call you when I was sober.

And that's how I stopped watching the doubt I'd spent all night nurturing: in that moment I was certain I'd misjudged you. I let it grow wild, and from that moment on, the only thing I was uncertain of was myself.


a prelude for september

September always feels like something is ending to me. Or rather, a lot of somethings: summer is ending, and with the coming of fall it becomes official: the year is almost over. That endless period where the sun never sets has gone away, and the days are getting shorter. This isn't a bad thing, of course. Sometimes summer is more dead than the darkest nights of winter. The sharpness of an autumn breeze carries a beautiful new life with it.

I wrote about trust in March, which seems like it was forever ago, in another world. September's stories are about doubt. At some point it was going to be betrayal or something obvious like that, but betrayal isn't much of a counterpoint to trust, is it? It's one of the many possible outcomes of trust. (One of the others is solidarity. The two aren't mutually exclusive.) But doubt--it's that little voice in the back of your head telling you to be on your guard, even when being on your guard could cost you everything. Doubt is a constant companion for a lot of people, I think. The real trick is to make it your friend. It's only a creeping poison if you let it be one.


solidarity, pt. 5


I managed to talk you into taking public transit that night, because that night was supposed to be some sort of reconciliation, and I wanted a chance to talk. The moment you asked me to go I imagined it: waiting in the thin fog, alone at some bus stop, waiting for a bus that would take forever to come. I'm sure it says more about me than anything else, but people bond over those unpleasant moments, don't they?

I'd be lying if I didn't say the image I'd kept in my mind of that night didn't linger far longer than the actual events. Which is to say: no matter how I tried, I could never convince myself that solitude was preferable to solidarity. The difference, I think, is that solitude is real, and therefore easily dismissed. Solidarity is an idea. God knows you tried, but you can't kill an idea.

Still, sometimes I wait at that bus stop, and the city's beautiful and quiet, and I wish that all your efforts to kill that bond that we shared had succeeded. Sometimes I wish I could think of nothing but the peace of a city sleeping, instead of your ghost coming up to haunt me. But I can't. You can't exorcise the ghost of someone who's not dead. And on some level I know that we'd both be the poorer for it even if we could.