Nicole Bian

Forbidden Fruit by Chris Grimstad

A Measure of Soul

He’d never thought about love before. He’d never quite understood it. The idea of attraction, the perceived flattery of it all. It all seemed ostensibly, and perhaps offensively, dehumanizing and degrading. There was something missing inside of him, a crucial piece of the puzzle that simply did not exist. It seemed that a fragmented picture that everyone else could see the entirety of lurked under a layer of static in his head. It was endlessly aggravating and intensely infuriating.

And herein lies the problem with trying to love him. He wants to do better. He wants to be kind. He wants to love. He just doesn’t know how. And once upon a time, a long time ago, he was angry, and he hurt people because he didn’t understand–and as much as he hates himself for doing it, he still remembers how to do it. It wasn’t so much an obligation not to hurt others, but rather a lack of personal benefit.

It wasn’t so much the feelings it gave him, but the principle of it all. A cheeky smile and a riposte? How utterly painful and stereotypically vapid, and yet, he’d found it enjoyable. But in the context of the vicinal party? It felt like an intrusion of his independence, a violation of his autonomy.

There was an unspoken demand there, to be turned from narrator to character, to be perceived as a direct object rather than the subject. It was true, he craved to be desired simply for being, but to be the object of desire? To be the recipient of someone else’s emotions and cravings? It was alienating. It equated him to his body.

And how he hated to be anchored to his body.

He remembered, as a child, when he’d practiced having crushes. Even as a child, the so-called pinnacle of purity and untouched virtue, society had begun to sink its claws into his mind and the minds of his peers.

He’d certainly never been told he needed to practice. It just seemed expected of him. He’d assumed he’d learn how to love in the future, figured it was a skill that could be honed, such as playing an instrument; it was a skill that if he’d practiced enough, would come naturally with time. Perhaps the reason he’d felt no change is that, at his core, where others are made of gasoline and kindling, waiting to be lit and rage in passion, he was carved from bone and marble, fundamentally inflammable and colder to the world than the world deserved.

Or perhaps he’d wanted a part in the drama of it all. The entire world was raised on love stories, and as a child, they’d seemed exciting and entertaining. The drama, the longing, the constant infatuation, the heartbreaking sacrifices. Perhaps on some level, he wanted a part in it; he wanted to know and live the fantastic tragedies naturally like his peers. So he practiced “love” like an actor practicing his lines–vaguely entertained as an outsider is, but not living the story as his own life.

Imagine his surprise when he’d discovered it wasn’t all fundamentally performative. Physical interest in another’s body had always seemed like one big act to him; a performance that the entire world was in on. Romantic attachment had always seemed like a consciously developed choice. Apparently, it wasn’t an act. Apparently, those emotions and desires were real.

He didn’t understand.

He was the subject of his respective story, the way everyone is the subject of their respective stories. He is the center, the viewpoint and perspective through which everything is filtered and everything is considered. Absolutely intangible to himself. Simply existing.

Associating his visage with his simple existence felt right, correct on some inexplicable level. He’d never quite felt connected with his body. There was always something fundamentally wrong with it, something different and altered on a base level. He’d always wondered, when he’d contemplated his indifference and detachment to his physique, why he found himself drawn to ideas and concepts of feeling like a stranger to himself. There were always a few specific, measurable objections, and yet, it was ineffable.

He wants to love. He just doesn’t know how.

It was functional, a tool. Not part of his identity. Useful in existing, yes, but not a representation of his existence, and absolutely not something he could identify with outside of just being.

Being picked apart psychologically and physiologically was a never-ending series of onerous and irritating events that followed one after the other. There is nothing wrong with him, and he knows on an instinctive level that there isn’t anything wrong with him, yet there’s always that nagging voice that whispers to him about the basal wrongness that exists within. Why was he like this? Why couldn’t he experience life the way others so effortlessly did? Notions of normality had always irked him, and yet, he wondered what it was like to be–as society liked to call it–“normal.”

He was envious, it was true, to a degree, but simultaneously, it was a relief. The baffling overwrought emotional and dramatic gymnastics of his friends and colleagues confused him and proved to be a constant source of irritation. He’d had to bite his tongue more often than not when others recounted their escapades with others. He tried to understand, tried not to view it in the way others saw as callous and emotionless, but no matter how he tried, it all simply seemed like everyone in the world was so utterly determined to make mountains out of molehills, to long and yearn and love in a way he could never understand.

Such worries could not touch him – they simply did not exist in his head. He was the audience viewing listlessly behind a glass screen, watching the lives and emotions of others unfolding before his eyes as a form of exasperating entertainment. It simply was to him. There was no connection, no familiarity to the discussion.

Love, it seemed, was an addictive, exotic, hallucinogenic drug, far more entertaining than anything he’d ever had, and yet had no effect on him. He wanted to be able to relate, yearned to understand this seemingly vital piece of the human condition, yet it seemed that no matter how hard he tried, that sort of compatibility simply didn’t exist to him. He’d always been told that desire, carnal and otherwise, was stitched into the essence of a soul. But by what measure would you make of a soul that didn’t have any? It was heartbreaking, and yet, he couldn’t seem to care, no matter how much he desperately wanted to.

Nothing was ever out of desire or longing. Entertainment. That’s all it was. Some days, he felt like a monster, like a Lovecraftian terror beyond mortal comprehension, viewed as a human only on the surface level, but brimming with filth and rot on inside. Something so inherently and completely human and yet, something he didn’t have. Something he didn’t–couldn’t–understand that seemed to define every aspect of existence.

It was like being called an enigma. How funny. Placing a mask of faux mysteriousness to cover the inherent nonexistence in an attempt to cover it up. Absolutely hysterical. But as much as he wanted to care, as much as he wanted to know how it was to be more human, he found that he didn’t particularly care. He wanted to know, sure, but it was more out of mild curiosity than anything else. If there was something wrong with him, some random term in some obscure manual that claimed he was abnormal in a dysfunctional way? He didn’t really care, quite frankly. But he still couldn’t help but feel defensive under the scrutiny of others.

That there exists only one kind of love is a fundamental misunderstanding of the emotion altogether. He was still capable of “love” to a degree, he just simply was unable to experience desire and attraction. He could learn to love, have obligations to those he did love, but the idea of infatuation, of “falling in love” was alien to him. It puzzled him to no end.

There wasn’t a term for what he was; he hadn’t needed a term. Or, at least he thought so. Aromantic Asexual. It was odd, really. People who wrote were authors, people who made art were artists, people who acted were actors. There wasn’t really a reason for making a word for people who weren’t interested in writing, creating, or acting. He’d never thought to claim a term for his lack of interest in love. AroAce. The black ring stared at him from his right hand. So there really was nothing wrong with him.

Perhaps then, it really didn’t matter that he was made of marble and bone instead of kindling. If he really was inflammable, not made of kindling and gasoline, he found no reason why that was wrong. At the very least, he could find solidarity with those who felt the same as he did, who’d had the same experiences and growing pains he’d lived through. It was a comforting thought.

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