Discover more from Bonesick
6. The Broken
The wait is killing me
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”
— Ernest Hemingway, A Farwell to Arms
Last episode, Toby bellied up to the bar to pour out his hurt to his bartender confidant. This is that story continued, but first, some Tarot card backstory:
6 | The Lovers
In addition to The Fool, I dare say The Lovers is my second favorite Tarot card, and not because of its seemingly obvious romance association. Bear with me here because I’m about to spin out a philosophical tangent.
Traditionally, The Lovers card features the biblical story of Adam and Eve, complete with symbols of the Tree of Knowledge, the forbidden fruit, and the serpent. Because they were the O.G.s of love, you ask? Well, might you know “love” as a horrifyingly painful experience where you’re torn from the tender arms of naive innocence and thrust into an all-too-real barren landscape of devastation, loss, confusion, and regret? Yes? Read on!
The Lovers represent the duality of union and separation, communion and banishment, sacred and profane, naïveté and knowledge. We cannot know one without the other. In the Adam and Eve story, it’s hard to believe God didn’t see it coming, ya know? Being omnipotent and all. Did he really give Adam and Eve the opportunity to obey or defy his One and Only Super Important Rule to never, ever, and I mean ever eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge? Or was it a setup? Perhaps the story is meant to illustrate that God—in cahoots with the Devil-serpent—knew it was Adam and Eve’s destiny to be banished from the ignorance of the Garden, shoved into the blinding light of Wisdom, and thus be the first dominos to fall and set our complicated human existence—as painful as it is lush—into motion. The only way we can ever experience life is to know death. Pshhh, original sin. Memento mori!
We are all born with the urge to find our Paradise Lost. Most of us look for it inside the soul of another mate, in our children, in our friends, but we also wander around looking for our missing piece in an office building, on a blank canvas, as we cross the finish line, on the horizon as the sun rises, and in between bites of a home-cooked meal. We are yang constantly focused on the gaping hole at our very center, knowing that yin has been barricaded out there beyond the great wall of the serpent’s curve. If only we could punch through, we’d finally feel complete. But that spot in our center isn’t a hole to be filled. It’s a paradise that’s been inside us all along, just waiting to be discovered.
When you’re dealt The Lovers card, perhaps it’s time to assess your own feelings of deficiency and inadequacy, or your sense of loss, absence, or lack. What flaw is the very thing that makes you beautiful? What’s missing, sure, but more importantly, might it be tucked deep inside you all along in some unrecognizable way? Are there values you crave from other people, places, or things, but no matter how much you consume, you’re left insatiable? What’s so “free will” about waiting for your destiny to arrive? Could you actively choose to forge a path that diverges from the ruts that have been laid out before you, even if your defiance will surely lead to fallout?
One man’s right is another man’s wrong, which is why our existence is such a beautiful disaster. It’s why love is so messy. It’s why everything feels so broken all the time. And why it’s so difficult to break through the polarity to understand the nuance.
So with all that said, let’s peel back another important layer of Toby’s backstory that pairs well with his Counseling Session from last episode.
6 | The Broken
The wait is killing me
And I keep waiting,
What do I need to do?
I'll do anything you want me to
I'll sit on a bookcase in your room
Alone with all your other favorite things
— Bob Mould
At first, Toby lumbered up his apartment building stairs. But three flights up, a thought affixed itself to the pit of his stomach and began its pull. His plodding steps turned to swift hops turned to two stairs at a time. Nights like tonight deserved their just dessert. He deserved the Box.
Not opening the Box was the most important promise he’d made after the procedure. He promised the doctor in their final session, promised the Clinic when he signed the waiver, promised that sweet nurse with hopeful eyes, and promised the orderly with the industrial strength tape who gave him an inauspicious side-eye. It was a promise he would repeatedly promise himself again each and every time he broke his promise. Just as he would again on a night like this.
Toby reached his apartment and carefully unlocked the door. He crept in quietly so as to not disturb Pam, even though she slept through everything. He opened up the hall closet, and just as he’d done dozens of times, reached to the high shelf, tipped the moving-size cardboard container toward his shoulder, and shifted it down to the floor.
He kneeled down and scanned the evidence of his previous mutiny: the very official 8” x 10” label with the very official Sicada Inc. seal and the very bright bold red letters that declared, “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHALL YOU OPEN THIS BOX,” sliced in half by the very obvious four-inch slit through the industrial strength tape just wide enough for a couple of boney fingers to slip into on these very vulnerable nights.
Toward him, he gently pulled the Box he’d promised he’d never open — but since it was already open now, he promised once again that this — THIS — would be the very last time that he would reach inside. The rest of the box contents were a non-issue. He had no recollection of what he packed in there the week before the procedure and didn’t care about any of it. Well, except for this one thing. He always remembered and couldn’t forget this one thing.
So he slipped two boney fingers inside and retrieved the envelope that always waited so patiently for him. He walked to the couch and slumped into his spot. The worn paper was soft like a baby blanket, both comforting and shameful, having held onto it all these years. Technically, the envelope was a letter he had mailed to her. His old house address was in the upper left corner and “Return to Sender” was scribbled hastily in all caps on the front.
But she had opened it, ever so carefully.
And she had finally written him back after months of going dark.
He lifted the top flap of the envelope. He ignored the letter he’d originally mailed to her — which he refused to read ever again — and carefully pulled out her letter, very slightly yellowed with age and stained. For years he had kept it crisp and protected, except for the one night when he had two-for-one too many down at Nick’s…
He had walked ten blocks for take-out and ten blocks home to eat it. After pounding down seven-eighths of a tub of Imugi #9 from House of Sineui, he snuck the envelope out of the box. Filled up to his sockets with sticky rice, Scotch, and disgust, he had crumpled the letter and tossed it in the trash with the near-empty take-out container. An hour later though, guilt forced his hand to rescue the sad ball of paper, smudged with Korean barbecue all over the left side. So after smoothing it out and wiping it down with the kitchen sponge, he set it out to dry on the window banquette. The next morning, he remembered how excruciating it had been to muster up enough courage to ask Pam to fold it up, put it back in the envelope, back in the box, and back on the high shelf. He was far too ashamed to do it himself. She, of course, was livid that he had opened the box in the first place. They didn’t speak for the rest of the day, which didn’t settle well because she had been so kind when he did dumb things.
Barbecue-stained edge in one hand, his eyes poured over the letter’s paragraphs. He allowed the twisted curls of adorable penmanship to cascade and caress him with waves of nostalgia. Her little o’s for i-dots, j-dots, and periods made the pages sparkle as if the sun glinted across her words at just the right angle. He allowed certain phrases he had memorized to drift into focus. “We had something almost unbearably inseparable.” “Remember that day at the orchard when that 6-year-old with the sticky caramel fingers accidentally called you Dad?” “I think about those afternoons at the bookstore, you were such a dweeb. But the sweetest one and that’s why I picked you.” And of course his favorite, “I was lost and you found me.”
He rested on the small tokens of kindness she graciously gifted him before he allowed the remaining bombs to explode with their painful shrapnel: “I had no idea you were capable,” “pain that left me gasping for air,” “not your charity case,” “you left me with no choice.” And the gut punch: “you’re right, you’re just like him.” Her little o-dots morphed into the fat teardrops that he had watched roll from her eyes in those last minutes together, impossible to ignore—as hard as he’d tried—the night he got up out of the bed, put on his clothes, grabbed his overnight bag, and walked out her back door for the last time.
As her letter reached the end of the page, the onslaught of her accusations was an excruciating lineup of the worst criminals, all standing in front of a merciless executioner. Her final sentence was the rattle of gunfire.
“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I were you, especially once you come to grips with what I used your money for.”
She didn’t even sign it. She left it at that. It was as if she was running on empty the entire letter, and she gave out and let the car drift off of a cliff. These were the bitter dregs at the bottom of what was once a full cup of relationship. Maybe it wasn’t ever full. Maybe it was on E the entire time. And so obviously because he siphoned every last drop for himself.
Remorse crashed through him in a full-body shudder, and he almost crumped up the letter again. But he knew he’d dumpster dive to get it back, so might as well avoid climbing aboard that shame train. He folded the letter and carefully placed it back in the envelope so it could rest in peace next to his own letter, which knew was filled with half-hearted apologies and full-blown excuses. Here lie two broken people who could’ve made a whole, he thought. Two jagged pieces who could’ve applied a balm of amnesty to their sharp edges. Like the golden veins in the kintsugi pots — imperfections, mistakes, childhood bullshit so tenderly bestowed with a second chance to shimmer when they caught the light.
He quietly walked back toward the hallway closet, back to the Box. He tucked the envelope through the four-inch tape slot and heaved the Box back to the top shelf. His fingers rapped it softly like an old buddy. “That was the last time,” Toby promised in a half-hearted whisper. As he did each and every time.
Synchronicity of the Week: As I was typing this up on the couch, my main squeeze was playing old ‘90s singles on the CD player, one of which was “Your Favorite Thing” by Sugar. This song was featured in one of the most ridiculously bonkers sketches from the MTV ‘90s comedy troupe show The State. This guy (played by Michael Ian Black) falls so in love with his toothbrush, and they spend all their time together, but eventually, he realizes he has to let his toothbrush go to see if their love is meant to be (spoiler alert: the toothbrush returns!) Anyway, the story and the lyric and that weird TV memory from nearly 30 years ago coalesced beautifully in my brain, so that’s why it’s up there.
This week, I also received THIS AMAZING CICADA by Tyler Thrasher from one of my besties of friends as if she knew a hint of Cicada symbolism would appear in this week’s episode.
Toby’s favorite restaurant “House of Sineui” is a reference to the Korean oral “Myth of General Sineui” in which Sineui tries to cheat death and isn’t successful because, well, you simply cannot do such a thing.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken ceramic vessels with lacquer and gold pigment — a practice that dates back to somewhere between the 15th and 17th century, depending on various legends. It’s “the art of embracing damage,” which might be my favorite combination of words ever. Learn more about kintsugi and the philosophy of wabi-sabi (the beauty of impermanence and imperfection) from “The Nerdwriter.” Hint, hint, major themes to come here (also where I picked Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms quote at the top of this episode).
Next time: In our next episode, we finally reach a pause point when progress is met with the stiff tug of The Chariot’s reins.
You might not be in love with your toothbrush, but if you’re lovin’ on Toby, let’s consider making this official: