What Martyrdom Means to Me
"and when I heard that, a distant chime went off for me,remembering a time when I believedthat I could simply live without it."
—Tony Hoagland, "What Narcissism Means to Me"
Oh, what a thrill to be juggled!
One touch and you're soaring. Up you go,
delirious, until the slow reality of gravity
begins to pull you down to earth
and then you're falling, terrified, sure this time
is the last. He never loved you.
But the juggler's manipulations are masterful.
He learned early, performing for his mother's
meager affection. Practiced, precise,
he knows how to read an audience
and he knows how to touch you
with an economy of motion, hold you
for one eternal moment, just enough
to send you skyward. He keeps you orbiting
his massive head, round and round, up and down,
with token expenditures of time and attention.
The juggler keeps as many objects dancing for him
as he can. Each suspended presence
adds to the evidence proving his worth.
The juggler craves applause, and it must be deserved.
He's wasting his life
trying to feel worthy.
That much is clear to you.
Those moments of embrace, longed-for
and ecstatic and treasured, fuel your faith
in a future when the juggler forsakes all others
—letting them fall on him like clarifying rain
at the climax of a love story—and catches you
in both hands, to have and to hold,
vowing never to juggle again.
He won't need to perform anymore
because he won't need applause anymore
because he has undeservable love
which is all he ever needed.
But then you fell in love with the actor
—a human child almost seen
beneath the haze of dizzying impressiveness—
and the more you love the performer
the more you hate his perpetual performance.
Why allow yourself to be used
as a prop? Because knowing the juggler, you know
what happens to those who fall out
—or throw themselves out—of his illusion.
They hit the ground, and timed with a misdirecting
flourish of his hands he quietly kicks them
offstage. Out of his life. If you don't adapt yourself
to support his reality, you don't get to be there
for him. And you wonder, when gravity asserts
its apocalyptic inevitability and the juggler's flimsy
production comes crashing down—
who else will still love the man
like you do? Who will teach him,
in his nakedness, what love is?
So you let him starve you, and you wound yourself
for his sake, and you rest satisfied in the presence
of that disgusting and stigmatic evidence:
Your love, at least, proves worthy.