The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
“I am alone, and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects. This being you must create.” –Frankenstein’s monster
It was Christmas in Guatemala. My fiancé and I were waiting for a small tour bus to pick us up and take us on a three-hour trip from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. When we climbed in, the bus was mostly full, but we found seats near the front, across from a couple in their mid-sixties. American tourists. I don’t know what it is about American tourists that clearly sets them apart from European tourists. Perhaps the cargo shorts, loose t-shirts, pale skin, extra weight, and a clear unwillingness to integrate to the culture gave this particular couple away.
The woman greeted me with an eager smile while the husband simply nodded and then resumed staring out of his window. The intensity of her greeting made me feel uncomfortable, and I simply whispered a “hi” while the muscles in my cheeks attempted to lift my lips into a smile. I know I failed at this attempt, but she took those small muscle twitches as an invitation to tell me her life story.
She and her husband, whose name I can’t remember, were retiring in Guatemala. He had children of his own, she said, but they were all grown up now. She’d gotten married later in life, but she’d never been married before. When she nudged her husband to join the conversation, he shrugged her off or pretended to be asleep. I wasn’t interested in her story either, but this didn’t deter her. There was desperation in her voice. Her husband obviously didn’t like listening to her either.
She didn’t ask much about me, but her need for connection was evident, so I indulged her, wondering if she’d exhaust herself, or if I’d have to pretend to be sleepy to stop her chatter. I don’t remember all the details of her travels, but two things stuck out to me: first, her husband only joined in when she was relating the tale about her experience on a “chicken” bus in Guatemala City. She and her husband were robbed at gunpoint (an all too common inauguration experience). Second was a brief comment Rosie made about her desire to live in Flores, Peten, which is a small island city close to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Most tourists go to Flores to visit the ancient ruins. But Rosie said she’d like to live in Flores because her name was Rosie and Flores means “Flowers.” I tried not to roll my eyes.
Now, however, I understood she was desperate for a meaningful connection. Now I understood that her unmitigated exhortation of truths was her attempt to reach out and dispel the awful isolation she was experiencing. I understood that her move to a new country was a far-flung attempt to achieve the natural human need for closeness, just like Boo Radley, whose need for human connection was so great that he placed small objects and treats for the Finch kids to find on their way home from school.
Part of me felt repulsed. Her intense truth-display made me want to avert my eyes, as if her desire to reveal her inner nature was something inappropriate. Her desire to break her isolation only made her even more isolated.
I understand that need for connection, however. I’ve been in that situation before. I’ve been desperate before. Perhaps it was this very recognition that repulsed me. I’ve commented on strangers’ Facebook statuses before. I’ve uploaded pictures of my children to see people’s reactions. I’ve commented on mommy blogs before. Hell, I’ve even gone as far as considering WRITING a mommy blog before, all in an effort to reach out, to be heard, and to interact with other human beings. I’ve done all this, even with a husband who doesn’t scoff at me, with a handful of good friends, and with a supportive family.
The theme of isolation always reminds me of Viktor Frankenstein, who willingly cut himself off from society to pursue his desire to create life, who locked himself in a room, ceased attending class, stopped interacting with human beings, stopped responding to letters from his loved ones in his feverish and selfish pursuits, and which led him so far as to raid tombs for body parts. Viktor Frankenstein, who, in his unnatural and self-imposed isolation, became a monster and so was able to create only that which was monstrous.
“‘Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not…I, like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within me; and, finding myself unsympathized with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin.”
And then, naturally, thinking of Frankenstein–the irresponsible creator–leads me to think about my own creator, especially when I’m depressed and unable to connect to others. Like Frankenstein’s monster, in my anguish, my despair, and my loneliness, I lash out at my Creator, the God whom I feel has so wantonly and unnecessarily given me life. In those times, I demand Him to answer this simple question:
“Why the fuck did you create me?”
Occasionally, I feel guilty about willingly bringing kids into this valley of tears. During those times, I wish I would not exist. I don’t desire death, because I (un)fortunately believe in an immortal soul. The fear of an even worse reality in hell has kept me here (though I have had a few close calls). And even if I don’t desire death in my times of despair, I resent God for creating me and for making me necessary for my children. I resent God for my blessings. I resent him for giving me an existence, a soul. I have hated God.
And then, when I’m crying, kneeling, balled up, or in the fetal position just covering my ears and closing my eyes, wishing to eliminate all thoughts, or else lying motionless attempting not to feel so numb, my three-year-old approaches me, hugs me and says “It’s okay Mommy. It’s alright. Are you happy now? Did I make you happy?” And I hate God even more for making me the mother of this beautiful child. I hate God for allowing my husband to love me so unconditionally. I hate God for sending me a daughter who craves my company with an intensity I don’t understand.
I am Frankenstein’s monster. I feel the resentment the monster feels, I unand derstand his need for revenge and destruction. I feel abandoned. I feel cheated into an existence I never asked for. And, above all, even when surrounded by these people who love me, I feel alone.
“God is one but not solitary.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
But then I think about the creators again, both Viktor Frankenstein and God. And I remember the Trinity. The Trinity, it seems, is central to all of this. I’ve wondered if God was feeling lonely during the Creation. Is that why he created us? But God couldn’t have been, could He? If God is love, and that love needs to go from within to the outside, then God must’ve had a Someone to love, right? God is love because, from His love of His son, the Holy Spirit sprung forward. We have a Trinitarian God who, as much as He’d like, could never be isolated. He needed to be more than one, and so he’s three.
I suppose this is an over-simplified explanation of the Trinitarian God. But, this, I think, is the root of our existence and the root of our desire for human connection. It’s because we were created in God’s image with the purpose to choose to love Him, and through that love to perfect our natures, that our wills must be united to His. That’s why being isolated is such an unnatural and generally undesirable state of being.
Maybe that’s the difference between me and the monster: the nature of the creator differentiates the creation. Dr. Frankenstein was isolated, while my creator, in permanent union as a Trinity, could never have been isolated. Perhaps my nature is not as grotesque, as shameful and repulsive as the monster’s nature, because we mirror our creators.
“Do not live entirely isolated, having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already justified, but gather instead to seek the common good together” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
The dangers of a self-imposed isolation are evident. People who do not easily connect with others tend to be selfish and desire an unnatural connection with their fellow beings based on control. Indeed, the person with a self-imposed isolation seeks only the self-good, instead of the common good. I wonder if that is why Rosie kept talking about herself instead of asking anything about me. Perhaps she recognized a need for connection but, having been deprived of meaningful interaction, reached out in such an imperfect way that she repelled rather than engaged. She wanted to be heard and chose to make herself vulnerable for it. But why do we recoil from vulnerability? We desire and crave honesty from others, don’t we? I wonder whether people would answer “fine” if, instead of being asked, “how are you?” they were asked: “what is your current state of being?” Would people answer honestly? Would I even want to hear the answer? Or am I content with a “fine” because it requires no effort on my part? Is it part of our duty to refrain from retreating into ourselves to seek the common good?
If it is, on that day five years ago, I failed. The bus stopped at a restaurant. The travelers were allowed to stretch their legs and eat lunch. After getting back on the bus, I switched seats with Daniel to avoid Rosie. I put on my headphones and wrote in my mostly-unused travel journal. I closed myself up for any conversations except those with Daniel. I did not allow Rosie an opportunity to talk to me. My good-bye wave when we arrived in Atitlan was feeble, as I was attempting to get away from the woman who had–unknowingly–made me feel so uncomfortable with her desperate, but most natural attempt to connect with another human being.
Gabriela Bollich is a Guatemalan nomad who currently resides with her husband and children in Houston, Texas. She has an M.A. in creative writing from University of Louisiana Lafayette and is a member of the Sick Pilgrim community.