Theresa O’Connor

Revisiting the Past, or Empathy Exhausted


I’ve experienced many things since I came here.

I was at my teacher’s before.

Silent and calm days.

I did nothing but exist.

That was fine with me.

I had nothing to do.

— Shinji


I’ve read Curtislatest update [2000 Oct 15 (Sun), 02:39] a few times now, and there’s a whole ocean of thoughts and feelings jumbled around inside me. I’d like to write something about it, but I’m not sure where to begin. I could try quoting his update, and replying paragraph-by-paragraph or something like that, but I think what I want to say doesn’t fit the flow of his update well at all. Perhaps stream-of-consciousness is the way to go in this case. And hey, that’s what I’ve been doing for this paragraph, so I might as well continue.

OK, here I go quoting Curtis, completely contradicting what I just decided. Oh well.

But we talked on the way home. It always happens — I had a similarly interesting walk back from there with Ted sometime last year.

I remember walking back to campus with Curtis, but walking the length of Urbana-Champaign with him during Destruction two springs ago remains in my mind much more vividly. We talked about a great many things both evenings. I’m happy to have experienced them.

I’m stuck in the middle about Amber more with [Casey] than I am with Ted.

  1. Kaoru: You dislike people?
  2. Shinji: Well, I don’t really care.

    Except for my father, who I hate.

    (Why am I talking about this kind of thing to Kaoru-kun?)

I think, if I-as-I-am-now were in Shinji’s shoes, my response to Kaoru-Curtis would be:

  1. Shinji-Ted: Well, I accept them.

    Except for Amber, whom I am indifferent to.

    (Why is it that I’m indifferent to her?)

I feel benevolent and accepting toward most everyone. We all have our convictions, desires, needs, and thoughts, and that’s fine. And yet with Amber, I don’t feel quite this way. Earlier tonight, at dinner, Curtis and I were talking about her, and the course of his friendship with her. I found myself trying to help Curtis, and yet at the same time I was trying to do so without any regard to the effects on her. It’s not even a minimal-level-caring-due-to-common-humanity thing, yet it’s not that I feel malevolently toward her. I don’t wish her ill, and I wouldn’t deny her good. It’s as though I exhausted all of the empathy that I felt for her long ago, and it wasn’t enough, and I don’t have any left.

Nobody bothers to know her — they just assume I’m cluelessly being ensared by the same insecure child they knew her as three years ago.

No, this isn’t quite the case. I knew her, and I know Curtis. She wasn’t (and assumedly isn’t) a child, and Curtis isn’t clueless. Not by a long shot.

Points. I’m not them. I’m not Casey and I’m not Ted. I’m far better at dealing with people than Casey is. I know her. I’ve known people like her before. I know what I’m doing, what I want, and what I don’t want.

Yokatta. I’m glad.

I’m not afraid to hurt her if she pushes; I don’t want to. But I also don’t think it will happen. She needs a friend who can deal with her without losing to her. If nothing else, I can at least try to do that.

I honestly hope that you can pull it off, Curtis. You’ll do your best; you always do. Gambate kudasai.

Nobody admits to anything. Nobody talks about anything. Casey won’t explain what he actually thinks. Ted never talks about it except in vague implications. Amber talks about certain things but not about others. Sometimes stories agree and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people make snap judgements without hearing all or half the story. And I’m just as bad — I don’t know what I’m talking about. And no matter how hard I try, I end up hiding my own little bits and pieces, too.

I almost wrote that I haven’t talked to anyone about those months, but that isn’t true. But it is true that I haven’t fully opened up to any one person. Some have different pieces of the puzzle, but all the king’s horses…

It’s true that I’ve left a lot of things unstated when talking to Curtis about it. Frankly, I’ve left a lot of it buried in various recesses inside, with “Do Not Disturb” signs liberally distributed among these memories. This is probably not the best policy.

Part of me wishes that those months had gone completely differently. If only I had done this or if only I hadn’t done that, things would have been different. Better. But when I step back from it all, I can see that I’ve grown immensely from those experiences, and although I hurt and was hurt, I think that I’m the better for it. Regret is a funny thing. I don’t know if the CBA comes out a net-gain or a net-loss. I do know that it’s got way too many relevant factors to consider, so the final conclusion eludes me. But I think of the matter as closed, the lessens learned, the successes and mistakes long since set in stone. In the same way that tombstones remind us of those of our past, and can leave us with a sense of renewed life, reflecting on mistakes of the past lets us realize and observe how we’ve changed to overcome them. Self-catharsis of sorts.

Connecting with others can and does hurt. But in the end, the pain of solitude is far, far worse. Keep trying. (For those of you who were expecting a more positive formulation of this, you’ll have to wait for another day. Sleep beckons.)

You avoid contact of the first kind at all costs.

Do you fear to feel other people?

Being ignorant of others, you will never be betrayed or hurt, though you will never escape from feeling sadness.

A person cannot erase sadness forever.

Everyone is alone.

However, people can forget, and so they are able to live.

— Kaoru