Read it here or on AO3
Summary: Chidi Anagonye has never been more sure of how unsure he feels about Eleanor Shellstrop. She is something to him in all 800 versions of reality- something more than a mistake. A mis-soulmate maybe.
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. – Søren Kierkegaard
This isn’t the version of himself that is in love with Eleanor Shellstrop.
The night has all the quiet desperation of the complacent damned. There are fireflies, garden lights, the twirl of green, red, and blue from the plastic party accoutrements on the stucco wall of the empty house behind them. The trellises frame their little band of misfits in healthy, springtime dreaming.
Chidi is awash in a sort of peace that doesn’t rattle with his usual clattering of thought, like dropping marbles all over the linoleum in the campus library. His feet are bare and in the grass. Frank Sinatra is playing moonishly in the background. Tahani and Michael are waltzing with more class than he’s ever been close to, a perfect four-step out-of-time. Jason is trying to teach Janet how to armpit fart beside the rusty lawn chairs.
Eleanor is standing with a polaroid camera, trying her best to frame Tahani and Michael in a shot with one hand but gives up and tosses the non-compliant offender into the grass behind the DJ booth. Her hair floating and staticky around her face in corn-silk platinum. Drink fitted perfectly between her thumb and index finger, the comfort of the night-owls and the last-calls hanging off the corner of her easy smile. Orange-red lipstick smudged but unattended to. Eyes wide and excited with that minute and perpetual sadness edged behind the dark frame of pupil.
He shakes his head and thinks of Kierkegaard and his leaps into faith. She is stepping off a cliff’s ledge and thinking — how impossible it would be to replicate the view. Beautiful.
A siren’s call for moral imperfection, she is his passion for works-in-progress. He somehow spent eight-hundred iterations puzzling over the implausibility of re-making a damaged soul, so self-obsessed with her own scuff marks that she seemed impervious to ethical dilemma. It was a special kind of magnetism that really spotlighted his teleological shortcomings on the outset of pretentious academic musing.
If poetry is the truest form of expression, then Eleanor is poetry. Vulgar, indiscreet, profane and concrete more than metaphorical poetry. Forking poetry.
Maybe he loved a past version of Eleanor. It’s not that he doesn’t remember. He feels it just beyond his fingertips every time he reaches out. That twinge that burns red hot in the tips of his ears and usually just manifests in some variation of “What?”.
He knows that he could love her. But if he felt so decisive before, it isn’t so simple now— as he would be pretending he has shed the most fundamental cornerstone of his personal flaws. He could love her. He did love her with all the fear of losing her. But only in spirited arguments and long hours of laughing, discombobulated oversharing and eating frozen yogurt from the same spoon with quiet worry about their predicament and their potential discovery.
But it wouldn’t be fair to love her in a version that could not offer her the unshakeable sureness that she romanticized in the video. The kind that kissed her forehead and wrapped an arm around her waist. That was plain moral. Undebateable.
Her seafoam eyes lock onto his. She begins half-skipping up to him trilling “Dance, dance, dance with me!” Drunk.
Her forehead bumps into his chest as she tries unsuccessfully to slow herself. He can’t help but smile because he can feel the protest climb into the back of his mouth while his arms are reaching out to catch her. Ever a walking contradiction.