Distance is a fickle friend.
It changes, all too capriciously, with our whims. On its own and when it is far away from our own affairs, it conjures up images of fantastic dreams, faraway coasts — sometimes sunshine, sometimes snow. The world seems soft and bright. Distance itself is a faraway and acceptable concept. At times real life intrudes. A train, coming in from the other end of the island. A car crossing the length of the expressway. The hours spent in the air on a cramped seat. Distinct, measurable. One place to another.
When it comes at them straight, most people surprisingly neither recoil from the idea of distance with horror nor shrink into themselves. It is just miles, they say. They laugh, though somewhat nervously. When the opportunity to consider distance comes before us, immediately the gaps between things lessen, and everybody thinks they can manage it. There are other things, other bonds, besides that which clearly ties us all together. It is not, as they all say, about seeing each other every day. Some element of mystery is required, some magic. It is a world where girls, no matter their age, silently watch boys they don’t know turn into men they dream about in the day and at night. The space is required, accepted, acceptable. A plane flies off the next day? No matter. Our love will keep us alive. We will count the days, the months. What is calculable seems acceptable as well, even if it takes some getting used to.
Or not, for there may be no older lie than the one which silently promises that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
The word itself, if I may say so, is deceptively short. The world shrinks when distance is presented as a mere concept. A fifteen-minute walk to your new friend’s house seems near until you find out she lives at the top of a hill. Fifteen hours on a plane seems bearable, but it’s also 10,000 kilometres away. The word itself hides an incomprehensible chasm of space, of time, and of all the other things that never pop out till the other person goes far, far away.
When you’re near everything seems smaller. Far away, even the small things count. What else is there to see or notice? When contact time is so limited, anything can happen. Some people find their true love in between the doors of a cafe every Friday afternoon, reading Nabokov in nerd glasses and muttering to himself. There is a cigarette lit, a puff. A sigh. It seems magical. But when someone near to your heart is so far away, a pause turns into an unbearable silence. A full stop, a sign of anger. Short sentences signify curtness, just as an unwillingness to ever talk properly. And then the question: why are you hurting me? It comes out silently, plaintively. The question is a little girl with big eyes who fears punishment. Because contact time is so rare, such an urgent cry for help is never voiced.
But the hours pass, and then the years. Bit by bit our dreams are eroded as we know more but see less. You shouldn’t have to tell someone, “if only we were closer…”; whatever space apart, near or far, we chose our loves, all the while knowing. We meet, we love, we fight. We cry, and then we make up. We love for a while, then we fight again. We meet, we have a good time; we fly, and then we fight. When does it stop? Perhaps never. We fell in love with a dream. The reality is, distance is a grainy film that obscures too many things, and it is not always something nearness can cure. Ironically, far away they seem less perfect, more like themselves, less suffocated by love. Their other, more distant, selves emerge. Wonderful as you are when you are together, who you deal with most of the time is the person he is when he is furthest from you.
We kid ourselves still. It is such a heavy burden, this distance apart. But what could be stronger (and worse) than love? Many things, it seems, and the most of all, time. You can’t put your arms around a memory.