‘I know what you need’ & What exactly is ‘love’?

As I was leafing through one of the best short story collections by Stephen King – Graveyard Shift, I came across a peculiar and intriguing piece named ‘I know what you need’. Long story short, the ever-gorgeous Elizabeth met Ed, an odd but sweet guy who seems to fulfill every single one of her secret desires/wants. With the death of her fiance and Ed’s ability to comfort or mollify her at the darkest hours, they started a relationship that seemed to quasi-perfect.

One of the greatest questions raised in the short, and I quote, ‘He’s made you love him by knowing every secret thing you want and need, and that’s not love at all. That’s rape.’

So what exactly is love? What are the elements that constitute love? Is fulfilling wishes a vehicle of forcing others to fall in love? Is it mental manipulation?

First of all, just to clarify, I am currently single and deem myself as a ‘forever alone’ prototype, thus I am nowhere qualified to state what exactly is love, but am doing so just to throw out some of my thoughts. Love, in my opinion, has a three-fold structure: Passion, intimacy and commitment (we are excluding polygamy in this discussion unfortunately) Passion originates from the attraction between the two, be it mental or physical, also the element that is considered as the rudimentary one. Intimacy refers to the closeness/proximity between the partners, the amount of communication and understanding that flows between the two. Commitment, on the other hand, is about the trust and confidence either have in each other. It should also be noted that loyalty happens both ways, needs both time and concrete evidence to sturdy their faith in each other.

Secondly of all, fulfilling others’ wishes or appeasing the other is, what I consider as, a form of understanding and a way of showing love and care. Yes, a relationship should be a two-way process with both of the participants willing to sacrifice themselves or strive to make the other happy. It is by making both of the people jovial in a relationship, but not one.

In the story, Ed is adamant in making Beth happy, peppering her with gifts, fixing chairs in her beloved positions, appearing in the moments of her life where she needed him. In my perspective, Beth is in need of the emotion support that Ed offers. My line of logic runs as follows:

  1. There is no fault in Ed, whose talent in detecting and deciphering other’s thoughts is natural – his gifts should not be deemed as sin. I think it is an agreeable fact that he has no wrong in possessing the talent that he was blessed with.
  2. Secondly, Ed’s acknowledgement and his actions bring no tangible harm to Beth herself. In fact, Ed is offering emotional support at the RIGHT times, when he knew she needed someone to come by – he actively took up the role of taking care of her, making sure that she wasn’t emotionally lapsing after the staged death of her fiance. As their relationship blossomed, he tried to perfect every little detail: the softness of the chair, the way she liked the house to be tidied, the level of physical intimacy she aspires to have. At her pace, at her liking. Ed never did rush her or force her into being intimate or into a relationship in the first place – as he clarifies, he wanted her to be with him when she’s comfortable, unforced and willing.
  3. Thirdly, his intentions. Sure, he did use voodoo magic to cause her fiance’s death – but one point to note is that Beth herself was forced into marriage with her then fiance, who also stated that she was unwilling and unhappy with the relationship. Instead of allowing her to go with a decision she would regret, Ed used malicious methods to save Beth out of the relationship crisis she was in. Not saying that Ed was right, just stating that he did try his best to cast aside things Beth dislikes, and in coincidence, his best interests are also vested in the death of the fiance coincidentally. One thing we can be sure of is his desire to be with Elizabeth – which has grown since kindergarten days. It is one thing labeling it creepy and unwanted, and another to say that it is a strong, unwavering desire. He definitely never overstepped his boundaries, given that he knew WHAT SHE WANT, and he fulfilled all of WHAT SHE WANTS. By realizing her wants, he gains her love and trust, which in this case, is a win-win situation. It may sound like a contract, but it is of unspoken terms, and furthermore, even if Ed can predict Beth will fall in love with him by doing those actions, what’s wrong with that? Many people endeavor to win the heart of others – some by buying flowers, peppering their crushes with attention and many more other tactics that work. Once this unsigned contract breaks under the condition that Ed can no longer satiate Beth’s desires, Beth can still choose to love him or not – at the end of the day, she is not bounded to Ed, but to her criteria in men and her own choices in everything that Ed is able to perfect.
  4. Fourthly, is it psychological manipulation? If he acknowledges what she wants, and fulfills her wishes accordingly – does it count as forcing her to love him? After all, many people wish to find a partner completing a set of criteria, ticking box after box of ‘handsomeness’ or ‘niceness’. In real life, should dreams be realized, it is an undeniable fact that some can fulfill absolutely every single wish the other has with extreme measures. So what exactly is Ed’s fault for accomplishing everything that Beth wants and needs? I personally think it can only be manipulation when he actively controls what she wants and thinks of, but fulfilling the wishes she thought of under free will is a disparate thing. By definition, Ed would have to change her behavior or perception to things to qualify himself as a cheap, nefarious con of emotions – but he never did. He created an image of himself that was sweet and caring, and as long as it didn’t falter or cease to be true, it is very possible that Beth will continue the relationship since she likes her boyfriends to be able to make her happy – a very understandable requirement. Ed was willing to change himself, to alter his own image to make Beth happy, and there is nothing wrong with that unless Ed uses this image to abuse Beth’s emotions and then reveal a horrific personality later on after gaining her trust -which is untrue in the story. He fit into his character seamlessly and was actually willing and happy to do so, and I see no fault in that.

 

Leaving (3)

She was fading quickly. The ivory white blended with her gown, the rate she was sprinting tells me that it was impossible to reach her. The distance is too long, my speed was too slow – for some queer reason nature had a way of sucking people into unfathomable dimensions, and she was one of the unfortunate experiments. I was just the control experiment, lacking of any reactants to push me forth. All I could see were the splashes she makes while running; the accelerating pace of her footsteps; the swaying of her soaked hair –

Something protruded my skin. Stabbed, to be more accurate. The stinging sensation rushed up, the sharp pain mangled with my frustrations, overwhelming my nerves. I looked back just to see tiny needles prickling my legs, these tiny objects covering most of my back, forming dots of blood and painting wiggly, irregular streaks of bright red. My vision started to blotch in crimson, the sourness of blood wafting to my nostrils, my thighs felt so powerless and tired. The needles kept sticking onto my skin, piercing my veins and blotching my pale skin with candy red coloration. The red came flooding in, at first drop-wise, then forming a puddle, and further on the road, began to faze in with the water.

It was pitch dark.

 

Leaving (2)

It was her hazel browns that caught my attention – sparkly and full of jovial exuberance. Her entrancing smile would light up the nose, her slight wrinkling of her nose, the intertwining of her slender fingers – everything about her was the epitome of beauty. Her angelic presence, her airy tone, her unintended chuckles, her rosy blush were all magnetic to attention and love. The way she brushed the strand of hair back, the way she covers her dainty mouth when she laughs, the way she focuses on her work with the pouted lips were engraved in my mind with intricate details.

All I could do was to run after her: to clench her forearm and pull her back before it was too late. The corridor glistened with an occasional raindrop that smeared on the walls, the sweat dripping from my forehead. I welcomed the patters of rain hitting on my body, the bouncing off my skin as I rushed to catch up with Alejandra’s pace.

As the miles stretched on, I realized there was no way I could go up to her and turn her back to where sanity lies. Curtain after curtain of rain splattered on me, obstructing my running. I was completely soaked from head to toe, with droplets of rainwater dangling from my bangs, mystifying my vision as I saw the white figure ahead of me frantically running along the endless passageway.

Biting down my lip, I summoned all of my strength as I charged with an unspeakable fury – my emotions swirling while our memories drip-dropped into mixture contained in my heart. While my sanity screamed for me to halt, to stop before I catch a cold in this pouring rain, telling me that there is no practical use when she is evidently miles away, my heart summons me to go straightforward. The blank walls flew past me as I stormed my way through the shower, her hair swaying past my face, her silly-sounding laughter whirled around, her slender fingers tapping my shoulders, everything about her were enveloping my mind – her floral scent invasive to my nostrils, her gentle touch making my skin tingle, her sweet voice ricocheting off the walls into my ears.

‘Why would you leave me deserted?’   

‘Why would you have the conscience to abandon me in this caliginous world?’

She replied with her resonating silence.

Book review on Rose Madder – a Stephen King novel

I have an obsession with horror/thriller flicks/novels – a fact proven to be both time-consuming (considering how much of a couch potato i can be when movies of the said genre come on) and unhealthy (considering how un-mainstream this is). Nonetheless, as a half-biased reader, I’d like to offer my own opinion on one of the most recent novels I’ve read – Rose Madder.(despite being an unprofessional critic)

Rose Madder – a rosy color (a flushed,pink shade) that most know by, is a 1995 novel that I haven’t discovered till the fateful day my brother fished it out of the bottom of a nameless stall amid the countless booths set up in the book fair. Seeing as I have never read it – he kindly purchased it and got reimbursed for HKD$59.90 (very cheap for a Stephen King novel) while I began to flick through the pages.

Having read many of Stephen King’s novels/short story collections, I knew what was coming: A innocuous commencement with hints dropping left and right, a building-up that keeps you on the edge, the anticlimax that makes you skid off the seat (I assure you it’s a common occurrence), then the ominous ending that gives you chills (or not, some do have marvelous endings) – and after reading this, it contradicted everything I knew (or at least I thought I knew) about his horror novels.

First of all, King’s piece was a tad to straight-forward with the gore. The beginning was just a thrust-in-your-face horrific: the stranded lady Rosie Daniels got beaten up by her husband, Norman Daniels, resulting in a very bloody miscarriage. Norman turns out to be her first love, a well-praised policeman/golden boy, whilst also being a psychopath who has a fetish of biting and raping women. As the plot carries on, we can blatantly see how much of a misogynist Norman is, beating his wife ruthlessly, biting prostitutes (a witness in the case), often objectifying and murdering women he encounters on various occasions.

I was not accustomed to this style of writing that even King himself stated was a bit, ‘stiff, try-too-hard’ – sure, it was a lot to take in with a lot of blood and gore, but it was also unlike King to be overtly descriptive of the ‘bloody’ scenes. In one of the ending scenes as Norman stuck a letter-opener into the throat of a cop – it is written,’the wound in his throat gaped open around the blade like the gill of a fish and more blood squirted onto the collar of his shirt.’, which is definitely not the best line of prose I can come across at 3 a.m. in the early morning.

Secondly, the reference to the Greek mythology felt forced, a bit too far-fetched. Although I was not a huge fanatic for fantasies and myths – for better deciphering of Rose Madder, I began browsing site after site for information that furthers my understanding on the matter. At the end of the day, the coherence between the story and the myth is disappointing – Erinyes was meant to be somewhat of a menacing yet blind bull-like creature in the novel, and in the fantasies itself he should have hairs like snakes (Medusa-sque) and dog heads (and a bunch of animal parts blended and mashed together). The stepping-into the picture with the woman portion of the novel (which took at least a good 200 pages) was unfortunately unconvincing, perhaps due to my paucity of imagination of dilapidated monument and a goddess-like figure. Aside from the latter parts of the chapter with the goddess-like Rosie (the mythical one) biting into Norman, which certainly has a sting in it (pun intended) and is an irony itself, the fantasy that Rosie can step into a portrait to a mythical place is haplessly puzzling to me.

Having said that, I’d also like to say that it was a very courageous move for King to incorporate these elements into his tales – a very rare and fresh take on how I perceive his works and also showcases his creativity to twist Greek myths around to his own flavor. Regardless of the alien style of writing King employed in the said story, I can also see King’s lyrical writing coming through in certain parts of the novel, which particularly enjoyed – the wordplay, the smooth transitions, the detailing, the ambiance setting were all impeccable. Leaving the myths and legends behind, the referencing back-and-forth in the novel were intriguing – the iconic scenes where Rosie gazes upon the drop of blood on the bed, the transitioning between Norman’s and Rosie’s perspectives were all quintessential.

Rose Madder is surely not the best work of King, but definitely not the worst – it’s a fact that there are cringe worthy parts, but I can also see parts of King’s writing shining through the piece. I will give it a solid 7/10 (I am an unprofessional critic, really) considering the efforts and brave attempt to try something new like Greek myths, but it is definitely an enjoyable read personally.