Sometime after the first diagnosis of decrepitude, but before the first warning of imminent danger to my well-being, I developed a yearning to discover whether I had authentic sentimentality. Not reconstructed memories of actual events, that is, but rather remembered feelings that were associated with actual events, or else a lack of feelings associated with actual events.
The best way to accomplish this examination seemed to be by contacting old acquaintances and family members. In the past I had often examined artifacts of my life, turning them over and contemplating them in order to judge the authenticity of my sentimentality. If I could not discover a sentimental feeling, I discarded the artifact. However, I usually was able to discover a faint memory, a regret, a missed connection, an unrequited gesture of love, or maybe a strong imaginary attachment. I would therefore hide it away, secure in the knowledge that the artifact represented some part of me I could otherwise not see. This time I thought it was best to contemplate my artifacts of people, and then prod them to discover some kind of living flesh in the form of an emotional reaction.
What I found was almost invariably befuddlement and disdain from my subjects. I don’t know if this was due to their past experiences with me or my surgical indifference in the present as I carved away rotting flesh. A couple of times I got the reaction I expected, but nothing more; I attributed those to the other person’s limitations, the boundaries they had previously defined for themselves when dealing with me.
I also tested subjects for whom I had no sentimentality, to see if they held any sentimentality toward me or if interacting with them might provoke some sentimentality in me. In these subjects the reactions varied from hostile indifference to enthusiastic, yet superficial, interest.
In only one case did I get a lively and genuine reaction, one indicating a depth of feeling that had been covered over by scar tissue. This was a relationship that I needed to carefully remake and revivify, one that counted for something more than the amount of time I could devote to it.
In all the other cases, I concluded that any sentimentality was delusion and vanity. I could realistically evaluate the actual significance based on the other person’s authenticity, but there was no need for me to inflate the significance with some kind of artificial importance. The emotional impact had passed and any memories present to me now might as well be fictitious, since there was no “relationship” as such.
So much for sentimentality. Now I work to expunge it wherever it grows on a surface. Whenever it is applied to people, it objectifies them, and they despise it. If anyone did not despise it, I should suspect that person of unalloyed idealism, a kind of fainting, self-indulgent romanticism that would not support interaction or growth.
Moreover, I cannot assume that a lack of perception on my part means anything other than a lack of interest on another’s part. Unless, perhaps, they want to sentimentalize me. I don’t need that either.