How much of your destiny is truly predetermined? How much of it is self-fulfilling prophecy? (There are technical terms for these things, I think, except I can’t remember them. Confirmation bias? Forer effect?)
Somewhat sadly and quite pathetically, I’ve come to identify myself with an unusual type of literary protagonist: the hero who doesn’t get the girl. Off the top of my head, there are only really three stories I can think of where this happens unambiguously.
Though I actually have never read it, the first one is Wuthering Heights, in the character of Heathcliff. My friend was reading Wuthering Heights at the time and told me that I reminded her of this character. (Great.) But I actually probably first ran into this character in Michael Penn’s song ”No Myth” which is, naturally, a song about a guy who isn’t able to hook up with the girl that he loves. But I think it definitely ranks up there on the list of obscure literary references made by a pop song. (Interesting bits of trivia: Michael Penn is the brother of the actor Sean Penn, and married the singer Aimee Mann) While this song came out in 1990, the most striking memory I have attached to this song is driving up 880 in Milpitas in 1998, although I don’t particularly remember where I was going.
Another character to which I’ve been likened is Sydney Carton, the doomed alcoholic barrister who falls hopelessly in love with Lucy Manette, and for whom he eventually sacrifices his life for. I didn’t read this book until my junior year in college, during a trans-Pacific plane trip to the Philippines. My sister had just read it for high school at the time. What struck her about the character was the aura of wasted potential that clung to this character.
Lastly, and perhaps less literary, is Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series. The love of his life, Lily Evans, ends up marrying a guy Severus totally hates, James Potter. Lily is eventually murdered by the Dark Lord Voldemort, providing the driving force for Snape’s hidden-yet-unwavering opposition to the bad guys, although he is eventually killed as well (for what I feel were rather arbitrary reasons, but I guess an author has got to do what an author has got to do when a deadline is looming.) He kind of combines the increasing bitterness and vengefulness of Heathcliff driven by losing the woman he loves first to marriage to a rival, and then to death, with Sydney Carton’s aura of wasted potential, total despair and wanton self-sacrifice, dying what seems to me, a meaningless death, since he does not get to find out that Voldemort was successfully vanquished and that Harry actually lives.
When I first read the dénouement to Snape’s subplot, I was astonished. Here was an actual character who could hold the torch for a lost love some 15+ years after the fact, and who ends up dedicating his entire life in memory of her, without hope or ambition of ever finding love again. As far as he was concerned, it seemed to me that he considered his life pretty much over. Finally. A character that I could relate to!
The astonishment soon turned into a mild depression, with the realization that the probability of me dying alone and unloved is pretty high, and ever increasing with time, and while it doesn’t seem like a good way to go, I’m in no mood to really do anything about it. It is, to put it bluntly, fucking hopeless.
But then again, there are far worse things in life than to be alone and unloved. For some unknown reason, the depression managed to snap a few days ago. While nothing has changed with regard to my non-existent love life, there seems to be something that has changed in my perspective.
My current attitude seems to range somewhere between “oh well” and “I don’t give a fuck.” I haven’t exstinguished hope entirely, but I’m pretty much gearing myself up for a continued solitary existence for however many more years I may have left. (I am utterly convinced that I am going to die young, for pointless reasons, and in quite possibly a violent manner.) Odds say, given my personal and strong family history of depression, anxiety, and just general insanity, I am most likely to end my life in suicide. Still, you can never rule out the random drunk driver going the wrong way on the freeway. Or early-onset coronary artery disease, the way my diet is. Suicide by hamburger. What a way to go.
Then I read about this metaphor about life, and I have to say, “Yeah. That’s it.”
Life. You do with it what you can. The faster your realize the things you can’t or won’t do, the less time you waste living with regret. I guess. Something like that.