A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

  • And if they were, then this was probably the shithole to live in—it was cheap, it was downtown, and their prospective landlord already had a crush on fifty percent of them.
  • We don’t get the families we deserve,” Willem had said once when they had been very stoned. He was, of course, speaking of Jude.
  • His presence beneath Willem’s bunk as familiar and constant as the sea.
  • But these were days of self-fulfillment, where settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble. Somewhere, surrendering to what seemed to be your fate had changed from being dignified to being a sign of your own cowardice. There were times when the pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive, as if happiness were something that everyone should and could attain, and that any sort of compromise in its pursuit was somehow your fault
  • At nights, he and his parents would have silent meals; he could almost feel them pulling away, as if they were unpeeling themselves from their lives as parents of two children and readying themselves to drift toward a new identity elsewhere.
  • He wanted to scream at his parents, to hit them, to elicit from them something—some melting into grief, some loss of composure, some recognition that something large had happened, that in Hemming’s death they had lost something vital and necessary to their lives. He didn’t care if they really felt that way or not: he just needed them to say it, he needed to feel that something lay beneath their imperturbable calm, that somewhere within them ran a thin stream of quick, cool water, teeming with delicate lives, minnows and grasses and tiny white flowers, all tender and easily wounded and so vulnerable you couldn’t see them without aching for them.
  • But you could, you did: he was proof of that. It was like any relationship, he felt—it took constant pruning, and dedication, and vigilance, and if neither party wanted to make the effort, why wouldn’t it wither?
  • They would never have demanded he be like them; they hardly wanted to be themselves.
  • And so he had begun his adulthood, the last three years spent bobbing from bank to 22822858bank in a muck-bottomed pond, the trees above and around him blotting out the light, making it too dark for him to see whether the lake he was in opened up into a river or whether it was contained, its own small universe in which he might spend years, decades—his life—searching bumblingly for a way out that didn’t exist, had never existed. If he had an agent, someone to guide him, she might be able to show him how to escape, how to find his way downstream. But he didn’t, not yet (he had to be optimistic enough to think it was still a matter of “yet”), and so he was left in the company of other seekers, all of them looking for that same elusive tributary, through which few left the lake and by which no one ever wanted to return.
  • But then the feeling would dissipate, and he would be left alone to scan the arts section of the paper, and read about other people who were doing the kinds of things he didn’t even have the expansiveness, the arrogance of imagination to dream of, and in those hours the world would feel very large, and the lake very empty, and the night very black, and he would wish he were back in Wyoming, waiting at the end of the road for Hemming, where the only path he had to navigate was the one back to his parents’ house, where the porch light washed the night with honey.
  • As if lack of privilege were a competition that he was still determined to win, even in the face of another’s clear and inarguable triumph.
  • Much of his friendship with Jude, it often seemed, was not letting himself ask the questions he knew he ought to, because he was afraid of the answers.
  • You understood that proof of your friendship lay in keeping your distance, in accepting what was told you, in turning and walking away when the door was shut in your face instead of trying to force it open again
  • And it was only much later that Willem would wonder whether Jude had been saddened or relieved that he had been so readily believed.
  • He was astonished but relieved by how easily they accepted that, and grateful too for their self-absorption. None of them really wanted to listen to someone else’s story anyway; they only wanted to tell their own.
  • They were his friends, his first friends, and he understood that friendship was a series of exchanges: of affections, of time, sometimes of money, always of information
  • You have to talk about these things while they’re fresh. Or you’ll never talk about them
  • What you may not know is that this course load reflects—beautifully, simply—the very structure of our society, the very mechanics of what a society, our particular society, needs to make it work. To have a society, you first need an institutional framework: that’s constitutional law. You need a system of punishment: that’s criminal. You need to know that you have a system in place that will make those other systems work: that’s civil procedure. You need a way to govern matters of domain and ownership: that’s property. You need to know that someone will be financially accountable for injuries caused you by others: that’s torts. And finally, you need to know that people will keep their agreements, that they will honour their promises: and that is contracts.”
  • Could you have a real friendship if some part of you was always expecting betrayal? He
  • He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved
  • For all their interest in history, they were collectively irritated when he took interest in his own, as if he was persisting in a particularly tiresome hobby that he wasn’t outgrowing at a fast enough rate
  • Fairness is for happy people, for people who have been lucky enough to have lived a life defined more by certainties than by ambiguities.
  • It is morals that help us make the laws, but morals do not help us apply them.
  • if he could forget it was him, he could almost see how lovely an image it was, and why JB would have been attracted to it: for the strange person in it who looked so frightened and watchful, who was discernibly neither female nor male, whose clothes looked borrowed, who was mimicking the gestures and postures of adulthood while clearly understanding nothing of them.
  • the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
  • Lately, he had been wondering if co-dependence was such a bad thing. He took pleasure in his friendships, and it didn’t hurt anyone, so who cared if it was co-dependent or not? And anyway, how was a friendship any more co-dependent than a relationship? Why was it admirable when you were twenty-seven but creepy when you were thirty-seven? Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified. Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honoured by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.
  • Talk to me, he sometimes wanted to shout at Jude. Tell me things. Tell me what I need to do to make you talk to me.
  • It was sometimes incredible to him how much he cared about someone who refused to tell him any of the things friends shared with each other—how he had lived before they met, what he feared, what he craved, who he was attracted to, the mortifications and sadnesses of daily life
  • Their childhoods had been so paltry, so gray, compared to his, that it seemed they were constantly being dazzled as adults.
  • Their world is governed by children, little despots whose needs—school and camp and activities and tutors—dictate every decision, and will for the next ten, fifteen, eighteen years. Having children has provided their adulthood with an instant and non-negotiable sense of purpose and direction: they decide the length and location of that year’s vacation; they determine if there will be any leftover money, and if so, how it might be spent; they give shape to a day, a week, a year, a life. Children are a kind of cartography, and all one has to do is obey the map they present to you on the day they are born.
  • I admired how she knew, well before I did, that the point of a child is not what you hope he will accomplish in your name but the pleasure that he will bring you, whatever form it comes in, even if it is a form that is barely recognizable as pleasure at all—and, more important, the pleasure you will be privileged to bring him
  • We had made someone together, and we had watched him die together. Sometimes I felt that there was something physical connecting us, a long rope that stretched between Boston and Portland: when she tugged on her end, I felt it on mine. Wherever she went, wherever I went, there it would be, that shining twined string that stretched and pulled but never broke, our every movement reminding us of what we would never have again.
  • he was made aware of how much time he actually spent controlling his memories, how much concentration it took, how fragile his command over them had been all along.
  • Eventually he had learned how to manage the memories. He couldn’t stop them—after they had begun, they had never ended—but he had grown more adept at anticipating their arrival. He became able to diagnose it, that moment or day in which he could tell that something was going to visit him, and he would have to figure out how it wanted to be addressed: Did it want confrontation, or soothing, or simply attention? He would determine what sort of hospitality it wanted, and then he would determine how to make it leave, to retreat back to that other place.
  • As you got older, you realized that really, there were very few people you truly wanted to be around for more than a few days at a time, and yet here you were with someone you wanted to be around for years, even when he was at his most opaque and confusing
  • He would remember, then, Harold’s claim that life compensated for its losses, and he would realize the truth of that, although sometimes it would seem like life had not just compensated for itself but had done so extravagantly, as if his very life was begging him to forgive it, as if it were piling riches upon him, smothering him in all things beautiful and wonderful and hoped-for so he wouldn’t resent it, so he would allow it to keep moving him forward
  • Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?
  • It was precisely these scenes he missed the most from his own life with Willem, the forgettable, in-between moments in which nothing seemed to be happening but whose absence was singularly unfillable.
  • When Jacob was a baby, I would find myself feeling more assured with each month he lived, as if the longer he stayed in this world, the more deeply he would become anchored to it, as if by being alive, he was staking claim to life itself
  • So much of cooking, it seemed, was petting and bathing and monitoring and flipping and turning and soothing: demands I associated with human infancy.
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