Is it sad that Scarlett O’Hara, Vivien Leigh’s character in Gone with the Wind, used to be my idol? Is it ironic that I too grew up to be emotionally unavailable and heartless? I’m not really heartless (my boyfriend has dropped the H-bomb a few times during heated disagreements) but I am without a doubt “emotionally unavailable.” I can be compassionate, caring, concerned for others, but when people show the same feelings towards me, I am often just plain cold, and unsure of how to react. This is a common defense mechanism adopted by many who have experienced excruciating pain and rejection. It is just one of the results of abuse and neglect. I think this is why I idolized Scarlett O’Hara. It was not just her beauty and tenacity, but the strength and power she gained from being unfeeling. As a young girl who had already experienced much sadness, I too thought I could just put up an emotional wall like she did; rather than internalize the pain, I adopted her “I can’t think about that right now. If I do I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about it tomorrow,” attitude.
Using her emotional coldness for survival was useful. It protected me from the hurt and the pain my others intentionally inflicted upon me, however, you can only keep up emotional walls for so long, especially if you want to have good people in your life. At the end of Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler finally leaves Scarlet -right after she realizes that she actually was in love with him. Isn’t this always the way? He didn’t leave her entirely because of her emotional coldness and lack of compassion, it seemed that in a way, her non feeling attitude was actually one of the things that attracted him to her.
Over time and weathering, many walls crumble, even the emotional ones, but sometimes they crumble too late. Regardless of the fortifications I’ve put up, even I have epiphanies every once in a while. Every time my boyfriend and I argue, I realize how much I love him, how distant I’ve been, and how much more caring I could afford to be. It is just like the movie, and I sometimes wonder if one day, my ignorance and lack of understanding for his feelings will leave me on my doorstep alone in a stupor mumbling to myself “I’ll think about it tomorrow,” the same fate that begot Scarlet O’Hara. And if that happened, I would likely tell myself that I didn’t need him anyways, then reinforce my emotional walls with fresh brick and mortar, before picking myself up and doing my darndest to pretend that I don’t care and that I am strongest and most empowered alone anyways.
As they say, no man is an island, and eventually, I would come down from this high to peek over the wall timidly, wondering if maybe he was still around to go for a hike or to the movies with me. Living life alone is often satisfying, especially when you know that you have people in your life that you can meet up with if you wanted to. When you truly are alone, it is different, it is like the foreboding fog that surrounds Scarlett at the end of the movie, when she runs outside to chase Rhett, to see if she can still catch him, to see if she can keep him from leaving. She follows him to the front door. He walks away and disappears into the overwhelming fog; he is gone.
This is not the kind of alone people are talking about when they tell you to learn to appreciate being by yourself. This is the kind of alone that has you standing around as if you are waiting for something to happen but nothing happens. Still, you stand there for a while waiting for something, waiting for anything to happen, but at the same time you aren’t expecting anything to happen. After a while you hear distant cars, from the next street over, whizzing by one by one. Day fades to night, faintly you still hear the cars but focus now on the sound of crickets chirping in the breeze. The night is still, the sky is clear with many stars. It is quiet and suddenly you realize this is the sound of being alone. You begin to walk but are unsure of which direction to go, you feel nauseous realizing that it is over now; you are back to where you started gaining only one thing this time, a broken heart.
Scarlet was good at building up walls, but she didn’t know how to deconstruct them, she didn’t know how to let anyone in, even the people who loved her the most, like Melanie, a woman who’s loved Scarlet like a sister, was also a woman who’s husband Scarlet coveted the entire film. Through Scarlet and my own trial and error, I learned that although building up emotional walls insulates you from potential emotional harm, it also creates a false sense of self righteous stubbornness, a false confidence that becomes so second nature we sometimes forget that it is a mask, and by the time we let our guard back down and start feeling again, it is often too late. As the movie winds down, Scarlet cries to Rhett, apologizing for all she’s done, he responds with, “My darling your such a child you think that by saying your sorry that all the past can be corrected.” He gives her his handkerchief and walks away.
“Rhett, Rhett, where are you going? Please take me with you!”
“Back where I belong, I’m through with everything here, I want peace, I want to see if somewhere there isn’t something left of life thats charm and grace – do you know what I’m talking about?”
“No, I only know that I love you.”
“That’s your misfortune.”
“Rhett, if you leave, where shall I go, what shall I do?”
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”