By Easton Smith
What can you tell me about Resistance?
What can I say about Resistance? We had some good times together. We were young and in love. The world was sharp and fast back then, but we found refuge in our alleyways, our escape routes. But why would you bring her up now? That was all a long time ago, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
I don’t mean to pry, I’ve just heard a few things, and given everything going on right now, ya’ know…it just seems timely. Can you tell me more?
Yeah…I guess there has been a lot of talk hasn’t there?…I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter, but fine. I’ll tell you about Resistance.
She woke me up like a bone snapping. Resistance took my sweaty palm, squeezed once for yes, and twice for no. It’s all I needed, yeses and nos, embraces and flights. We left school, found the city, left our depression and found drugs. Every bit of my flesh began to reject the sticky webs of my previous life, shed them like placenta. Then I sat, scraping the residue from between my toes and my ear canal.
She and I were good together then, when on every day eight hours of school stretched before me like a headache under fluorescent light, and she would present the same refrain, stinging fresh like pineapple every time, ‘I would rather not’. A big NO at the start of every day to build a carnival of yeses upon. The old sweat dried to our faces during broad-grinning moments and the next day it’s crusty residue would remind us of the exact contours of our joy; remind us to once again smile. The day after was always also the day before, and I still think we could have stayed that way forever if we had just kept going…
So what happ–
–Listen, sooner or later you realize that the person you love is not impossible: they are real, mortal, faltering. They are just another person who has something you want. Something tangible, like money, or some untouchable quality, like happiness. Either way, there comes a time when you realize that you either can or cannot create this thing for yourself, you are successful or unsuccessful in stealing their unqualifiable magic. And whether or not you have been a successful thief, that’s the beginning of the end…
What did Resistance have that you wanted?
She had two legs, just two legs to stand on. She only had two legs, two dimensions, yes, no, back, forward… the conviction of a caged thing.
“Justice: once that word is uttered, where will it all end? Easier to shout No! Easier to be beaten and made a martyr. Easier to lay my head on a block than to defend the cause of justice for the barbarians: for where can that argument lead but to laying down our arms and opening the gates of the town to the people whose land we have raped.” -J.M. Coetzee
Re-sistere, Latin, to stand in opposition. The wind pushes against our chests, and we lean slightly into it. Standing is always a collaborative act. Gravity, wound-up red muscles, friction, the various weathers of our world. We cannot stand but in resistance to some horizon line.
We don’t get to choose the horizon, the circumstances against which we stand. Their substance is given, and we have only to say yes or no, again and again and again until we have become something else altogether: a rebel or a suit; a tired-eyed mule of a human with a brown, withering bag of soulful nos, or a giddy-eyed fascist with polished metal buckles asserting yeses in halved syllables.
Sometimes the horizon is life itself. Sometimes resistance is the fist of choice hidden in the cannonball of desperation. You have to crack it open, however you can.
Listen, I know this may sound strange, but she is looking for you.
Yeah, I heard… I know.
Why don’t you just–
–No. No, it’s not like that. I’m a different person now. I know what you are going to say. You will bring your imperative politics into this, bearing the weight of history and future at once. You will say his name, you will say things have changed, you will spill your apocalypse upon the floor like I haven’t been thinking about it every day for fifteen years. You think this is new, but for me it feels like coming home. That’s what all this doom feels like, coming home after a long day to find things as I knew they would be.
“I could not be more elated right now. I can’t wait to see our political system die in hell-fire. Political-correctness, trigger-warnings, safe-spaces, and self-censorship be damned. The world is not safe, nor kind. I have seen the dark underbelly of this world, but I will never play the role of a victim. Let’s burn this bitch to the ground and rise like a phoenix from the ashes.”
This is a statement from an old friend of mine, made on the day after the 2016 presidential election. Twelve years before that election, back in 2004, I almost lost my virginity to her in the alleyway behind my house.
I told her I was too drunk to get hard, but in reality I was too nervous. I was just 15, intoxicated and anxious on a tuesday. Did we want to see the world burn back then, on a tuesday, in the alley behind my house? I start with a no, but I don’t trust my memory. Would I have saved the words had she said them, “I hate myself,” or “let’s burn this shit down,” or “I want us all to die”? Was that not the root of our common nihilism, that the monotony of normal life harmed us and we found that unacceptable, worthy of our most fervent resistance, even if it meant destroying our own bodies?
My politics have these inescapable origins in my childhood, in angst and fear, my traumas and my escapes. I cannot find the molecular difference between my drive to resist today and my drive to get drunk at fifteen. Trying to pin down the word “resistance,” I find that I can only return to these moments of stark, immediate choice, when killing ourselves was preferable to the life that was offered up.
I think the base mechanism of addiction is the same as radical politics: a blind faith in the ends. It’s a process of reduction, an arson of the self or the state or the system. Watch it all burn and then find amongst its ruins this glittering rock: not the substance of fulfillment, but the fetish of fulfillment, the end that is not really the end, but the promise of the end. Getting high is always just a retrenching of the need to get high again. The revolution never comes.
But the life of an addict is a simple one; a single magnetic pull for the moral compass, a clear directive. And I do find myself looking for simple answers more and more these days. I do find myself drinking more and more these days.
You are cynical. So heartbroken still that you refuse to see the hope that’s right here. You think you are wise, but it’s clear to the rest of us, you are just wounded, another sad old man who thinks his heartbreak is somehow special. Get over it.
…It doesn’t matter that you say that, it changes nothing. You are right, but it changes nothing for me. So, let me give you the single scrap of sad old man advice that I have: don’t ever wait for the sad old men. Our truths are so real to us after all this time. They are the wrong truths maybe but we cannot escape them. Sometimes we can invert them, refuse them in a swift and heroic act, but it takes five years to get us there and we expect five years of applause in return.
Best for you and Resistance to forget me, if you can. Sometimes we don’t need the cynical truth, sometimes it doesn’t set us free but traps us. Sometimes, it’s rather simple: those who can act draw life from their own reserves, and they may or may not ever be replenished.
But we are the same, you and I. Are we not the same?
Yes, we are, aren’t we? And that’s where we always end up, I think: unevenly aged, yanking our older selves around, whispering adages of hope and despair into our own younger ears.
“The new men of Empire are the ones who believe in fresh starts, new chapters, clean pages; I struggle on with the old story, hoping that before it is finished it will reveal to me why it was that I thought it worth the trouble.” –J.M. Coetzee
A large blot of ink, different shades of black, spread out across the concrete of an empty parking lot. Now, paint a yellow line across the point of division, the line we don’t cross, us/them. Give me a threshold, behind which I defend, and in front of which I can stare with sure-eyed hatred.
Better: splatter yellow paint till panting and gasping you bleed red onto the black and splotch on top of splotch I see no lines. If we must die for something, let us not die like robots, heads held high and arms at our sides, leaning against the noose in collaboration. Let us die like animals, thrashing against more than just a single untruth, but against every restriction of the body, every un-beautiful thing.
Wet and alive, humble and leaking, that’s the only way I want to face death, or any other line in the sand.