THE DEPRESSED PERSON

By David Foster Wallace

HARPER’S MAGAZINE/JANUARY 1998

 

The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror.

Despairing, then, of describing the emotional pain itself, the depressed person hoped at least to be able to express something of its context—its shape and texture, as it were—by recounting circumstances related to its etiology. The depressed person’s parents, for example, who had divorced when she was a child, had used her as a pawn in the sick games they played, as in when the depressed person had required orthodonture and each parent had claimed—not without some cause, the depressed person always inserted, given the Medicean legal ambiguities of the divorce settlement—that the other should pay for it. Both parents were well-off, and each had privately expressed to the depressed person a willingness, if push came to shove, to bite the bullet and pay, explaining that it was a matter not of money or dentition but of “principle”. And the depressed person always took care, when as an adult she attempted to describe to a supportive friend the venomous struggle over the cost of her orthodonture and that struggle’s legacy of emotional pain for her, to concede that it may well truly have appeared to each parent to have been, in fact, a matter of “principle”, though unfortunately not a “principle” that took into account their daughter’s feelings at receiving the emotional message that scoring petty points off each other was more important to her parents than her own maxillofacial health and thus constituted, if considered from a certain perspective, a form of neglect or abandonment or even outright abuse, an abuse clearly connected—here she nearly always inserted that her therapist concurred with this assessment—to the bottomless, chronic adult despair she suffered every day and felt hopelessly trapped in.

The approximately half-dozen friends whom her therapist—who had earned both a terminal graduate degree and a medical degree—referred to as the depressed person’s Support System tended to be either female acquaintances from childhood or else girls she had roomed with at various stages of her school career, nurturing and comparatively undamaged women who now lived in all manner of different cities and whom the depressed person often had not laid eyes on in years and years, and whom she called late in the evening, long-distance, for badly needed sharing and support and just a few well-chosen words to help her get some realistic perspective on the day’s despair and get centered and gather together the strength to fight through the emotional agony of the next day, and to whom, when she telephoned, the depressed person always apologized for dragging them down or coming off as boring or self-pitying or repellent or taking them away from their active, vibrant, largely pain-free long-distance lives. She was, in addition, also always extremenly careful to share with the friends in her Support System her belief that it whould be whiny and pathetic to play what she derisively called the “Blame Game” and blame her constant and indescribable adult pain on her parents’ traumatic divorce or their cynical use of her. Her parents had, after all—as her therapist had helped the depressed person to see—done the very best they could do with the emotional resources they’s had at the time. And she had, the depressed person always inserted, laughing weakly, eventually gotten the orthodonture she’d needed. The former acquaintances and classmates who composed her Support System often told the depressed person that they just wished she could be a little less hard on herself, to which the depressed person responded by bursting involuntarily into tears and telling them that she knew all too well that she was one of those dreaded types of everyone’s grim acquaintance who call at inconvenient times and just go on and on about themselves. The depressed person said that she wass all too excruciatingly aware of what a joyless burden she was, and during the calls she always made it a point to express the enormous gratitude she felt at having a friend she could call and get nurtuing and support from, however briefly, before the demands of that friend’s full, joyful, active life took understandable precedence and required her (i.e., the friend) to get off the telephone.

The feelings of shame and inadequacy the depressed person experienced about calling members of her Support System long-distance late at night and burdening them with her clumsy attempts to describe at least the contextual texture of her emotional agony were an issue on which she and her therapist were currently doing a great deal of work in their time together. The depressed person confessed that when whatever supportive friend she was sharing with finally confessed that she (i.e., the friend) was dreadfully sorry but there was no helping it she absolutely had to get off the telephone, and had verbally detached the depressed person’s needy fingers from her pantcuff and returned to the demands of her full, vibrant long-distance life, the depressed person always sat there listening to the empty apian drone of the dial tone feeling even more isolated and inadequate and unempathized-with than she had before she’d called. The depressed person confessed to her therapist that when she reached out long-distance to a member of her Support System she almost always imagined that she could detect, in the friend’s increasingly long silences and/or repetitions of encouraging clichés, the boredom and abstract guilt people always feel when someone is clinging to them and being a joyless burden. The depressed person confessed that she could well imagine each “friend” wincing now when the telephone rang late at night, or during the conversation looking impatiently at the clock or directing silent gestures and facial expressions communicating her boredom and frustration and helpless entrapment to all the other people in the room with her, the expressive gestures becoming more desperate and extreme as the depressed person went on and on and on. The depressed person’s therapist’s most noticeable unconscious personal habit or tic consisted of placing the tips of all her fingers together in her lap and manipulating them idly as she listened supportively, so that her mated hands formed various enclosing shapes—e.g., cube, sphere, cone, right cylinder—and then seeming to study or contemplate them. The depressed person disliked the habit, though she was quick to admit that this was chiefly because it drew her attention to the therapist’s fingers and fingernails and caused her to compare them with her own.

The depressed person shared that she could remember, all too clearly, how at her third boarding school she had once watched her roommate talk to some boy on their room’s telephone as she (i.e., the roommate made faces and gestures of entrapped repulsion and boredom with the call, this popular, attractive, and self-assured roommate finally directing at the depressed person an exaggerated pantomine of someone knocking on a door until the depressed person understood that she was to open their room’s door and step outside and knock loudly on it so as to give the roommate an excuse to end the call. The depressed person had shared this traumatic memory with members of her Support System and had tried to articulate how bottomlessly horrible she had felt it would have been to have been that nameless pathetic boy on the phone and how now, as a legacy of that experience, she dreaded, more than almost anything, the thought of ever being someone you had to appeal silently to someone nearby to help you contrive an excuse to get off the phone with. The depressed person would implore each supportive friend to tell her the very moment she (i.e., the friend) was getting bored or frustrated or repelled or felt she (i.e., the friend) had other more urgent or interesting things to attend to, to please for God’s sake be utterly candid and frank and not spend one moment longer on the phone than she was absolutely glad to spend. The depressed person knew perfectly well, of course, she assured the therapist[1], how such a request could all too possibly be heard not as an invitation to get off the telephone at will but actually as a needy, manipulative plea not to get off—never to get off—the telephone.

 

The depressed person’s parents had eventually split the cost of her orthodonture; a professional arbitrator had been required in order to structure this compromise and, subsequently, to negotiate shared payment schedules for the depressed person’s boarding schools and Healthy Eating Lifestyle summer camps and oboe lessons and car and collision insurance, as well as for the cosmetic surgery needed to correct a malformation of the anterior spine and alar cartilage of the depressed person’s nose which had given her what felt like an excruciatingly pronounced and snoutish pug nose and had, coupled with the external orthodontic retainer she had to wear twenty-two hours a day, made looking at herself in the mirrors of her rooms at her boarding schools feel like more than any person could possibly stand. Also, in the year that her father remarried, he, in either a gesture of rare uncompromised caring or a coup de grâce that the depressed person’s mother had said was designed to make her own feelings of humiliation and superfluousness complete, had paid in toto for the riding lessons, jodhpurs, and outrageously expensive boots the depressed person had needed in order to gain admission to her second-to-last boarding school’s Riding Club, a few of whose members were the only girls at this school who the depressed person felt, she had confessed to her father on the telephone in tears late one truly horrible night, even remotely accepted her at all and around whom the depressed person hadn’t felt so totally pig-nosed and brace-faced and inferior that it had been a daily act of enormous personal courage and will just to leave her room and go eat dinner in the dining hall.

The professional arbitrator her parents’ lawyers had agreed on for help in structuring their compromises had been a highly respected conflict-resolution specialist named Walter D. (“Walt”) Ghent Jr., though she had been shown his business card—complete with its parenthesized invitation to informality—and his name had been invoked bitterly in her hearing on countless occasions, along with the fact that he billed at a staggering $130 an hour plus expenses. Despite overwhelming feelings of reluctance on the part of the depressed person, the therapist had strongly supported her in taking the risk of sharing with members of her Support System an important emotional realization she (i.e., the depressed person) had achieved during an Inner-Child-Focused Experiental Therapy Retreat Weekend which the therapist had supported her in taking the risk of enrolling in and giving herself open-mindedly over to the experience of. In the I.-C.-F.E.T. Retreat Weekend’s Small-Group-Frama-Therapy Room, other members of her small group had role-played the depressed person’s parents and the parents’ significant others and attorneys and myriad other emotionally painful figures from her childhood, and had slowly encircled the depressed person, moving in steadily together so that she could not escape, and had (i.e., the small group had) dramatically recited specially prepared lines designed to evoke and reawaken trauma, which had almost immediately evoked in the depressed person a surge of agonizing emotional memories and had resulted in the emergence of the depressed person’s Inner Child and a cathartic tantrum in which she had struck repeatedly at a stack of velour cushions with a bat of polystyrene foam and had shrieked obscenities and had reexperienced long-pent-up wounds and repressed feelings, the most important of which being a deep vertigial rage over the fact that Walter D. (“Walt”) Ghent Jr., had been able to bill her parents $130 an hour plus expenses for playing the role of mediator and absorber of shit while she had had to perform essentially the same coprophagous services on a more or less daily basis for free, for nothing, services which were not only grossly unfair and inappropriate for a child to feel required to perform but which her parents had then turned around and tried to make her, the depressed person herself, as a child, feel guilty about the staggering cost of Walter D. Ghent Jr., as if the cost and hassle were her fault and undertaken only on her spoiled little fat-thighed pig-nosed shiteating behalf instead of simply because of her fucking parents’ utterly fucking sick inability to communicate directly and share honestly and work through their own sick issues with each other. This exercise had allowed the depressed person to get in touch with some really core resentment-issues, the small-group facilitator at the Inner-Child-Focused Experiental Therapy Retreat Weekend had said, and could have represented a real turning point in the depressed person’s journey toward healing, had the public shrieking and velour-cushion-pummeling not left the depressed person so emotionally shattered and drained and traumatized and embarrassed that she’d felt she had no choice but to fly back home that night and miss the rest of the Weekend.

The eventual compromise which she and her therapist worked out together afterward was that the depressed person would share the shattering emotional realizations of the I.-C.-F.E.T.R. Weekend with only the two or three very most trusted and unjudgingly supportive members of her Support System, and that she would be permitted to reveal to them her reluctance about sharing these realizations and to inform them that she knew all too well how pathetic and blaming they (i.e., the realizations) might sound. In validating this compromise, the therapist, who by this time had less than a year to live, said that she felt she could support the depressed person’s use of the word “vulnerable” more wholeheartedly than she could support the use of the word “pathetic”, which word (i.e., “pathetic”) struck the therapist as toxically self-hating and also somewhat manipulative, an attempt to protect oneself against the possibility of a negative judgment by making it clear that one was already judging oneself far more negatively than any listener could have the heart to. The therapist—who during the year’s cold months, when the abundant fenestration of her home office kept the room chilly, wore a pelisse of hand-tanned Native American buckskin that formed a somewhat ghastlily moist-looking flesh-colored background for the enclosing shapes her hands formed in her lap—said that she felt comfortable enough in the validity of their therapeutic connection together to point out that a chronic mood disorder could itself be seen as constituting an emotionally manipulative defense mechanism: i.e., as long as the depressed person had the depression’s affective discomfort to preoccupy her, she could avoid feeling the deep vertigial childhood wounds which she was apparently determined to keep repressed at all costs.[2]

 

Several months later, when the depressed person’s therapist suddenly died—as the result of what was determined to be an “accidentally toxic combination of caffeine and homeopathic appetite suppressant but which, given the therapist’s extensive medical background, only a person in very deep denial indeed could fail to see must have been, on some level, intentional—without leaving any sort of note or cassette or encouraging last words for any of the patients who had come to connect emotionally with the therapist and establish some degree of intimacy even though it meant making themselves vulnerable to the possibility of adult loss-and-abandonment-traumas, the depressed person found this fresh loss so shattering, its resultant hopelessness and despair so unbearable, that she was forced now to reach frantically and repeatedly out to her Support System, calling three or even four different supportive friends in an evening, sometimes calling the same friends twice in one night, sometimes at a very late hour, and sometimes, even, the depressed person felt sickeningly sure, either waking them up or maybe interrupting them in the midst of healthy and joyful sexual initimacy with their partner. In other words, sheer emotional survival now compelled the depressed person to put aside her innate feelings of shame at being a pathetic burden and to lean with all her might on the empathy and nurture of her Support System, despite the fact that this, ironically, had been one of the two issues about which she had most vigorously resisted the therapist’s counsel.

The therapist’s death could not have occurred at a worse time, coming as it did just as the depressed person was beginning to process and work through some of her core shame-and-resentment-issues concerning the therapeutic process itself, the depressed person shared with her Support System. For example, the depressed person had shared with the therapist the fact that it felt ironic and demeaning, given her parents’ dysfunctional preoccupation with money and all that that preoccupation had cost her, that she was now in a position where she had to pay a professional therapist $90 an hour to listen patiently and respond empathetically. It felt demeaning to have to purchase patience and empathy, the depressed person had confessed to her therapist, and was an agonizing echo of the childhood pain she was so anxious to put behind her. The therapist, after attending very closely and patiently to what the depressed person later acknowledged to her Support System could all too easily have been interpreted as just a lot of ungrateful whining, and after a long pause during which both of them had gazed at the digiform ovoid cage which the therapist’s mated hands at that moment composed[3], had responded that, while she might sometimes disagree with the substance of what the depressed person said, she nevertheless wholeheartedly supported the depressed person in sharing whatever feelings the therapeutic relationship itself brought up so that they could work together on exploring safe, appropriate environtments and contexts for their expression[4].

The depressed person’s recollection and sharing of the therapist’s supportive responses brought on further, even more unberable feelings of loss and abandonment, as well as waves of resentment and self-pity which she knew all too well were repellent in the extreme, the depressed person assured her Support System, whose members she was by this time calling almost constantly, sometimes even during the day, from her workplace, swallowing her pride and dialing their work numbers and asking them to take time away from their own vibrant, stimulating careers to listen supportively and share and help the depressed person find some way to survive. Her apologies for burdening these friends during daylight hours at their workplaces were elaborate, vociferous, and very nearly constant, as were her expressions of gratitude to the Support System for just Being There for her, because she was discovering again, with shattering new clarity in the wake of the therapist’s wordless abandonment, just how agonizingly few and far between were the people with whom she could ever hope to really communicate and forge intimate, mutually nurturing relationships to lean on. The depressed person’s work environment, for example, was totally toxic and dysfunctional, making the idea of trying to bond in any mutually supportive way with coworkers ludicrous. And her attempts to reach out in her isolation and develop caring relationships through church groups or nutrition or holistic stretching classes or community woodwind ensembles had proved so excruciating, she shared, that she had been reduced to begging the therapist to withdraw her gentle suggestion that the depressed person try her best to do so. And as for the idea of girding herself and venturing out once again into the emotionally Hobbesian meat market of the dating scene … at this juncture the depressed person usually laughed hollowly into the speaker of the headset telephone she wore at the terminal inside her cubicle and asked whether it was even necessary to go into why her intractable depression and highly charged trust-issues rendered this idea a sheer pie-in-the-sky flight of pathetic and denial-ridden fancy, at best.

By this stage in the grieving process, the depressed person’s emotional agony had so completely overwhelmed her vesitigial defense mechanisms that whenever a member of her Support System finally said that she was dreadfully sorry but she absolutely had to get off the telephone, the primal instinct for sheer emotional survival now drove the depressed person to swallow every last tattered remnant of pride and to beg shamelessly for two or even just one more minute of the friend’s time and attention, and—if the “supportive friend” held firm and terminated the conversation—to spend now hardly any time listening dully to the dial tone or gnawing the ragged cuticle of her index finger or grinding the heel of her hand savagely into her forehead or feeling anything other than sheer primal desperation as she hurriedly dialed the next ten-digit number on her Support System Telephone List, which by this time had been photocopied several times and placed in the depressed person’s address book, workstation terminal’s PHONE.VIP file, billfold, minilocker at the Holistic Stretching and Nutrition Center, and in a special pocket inside the back cover of the leatherbound Feelings Journal which the depressed person—at her late therapist’s suggestion[5]—carried with her at all times.

It was at this same point, driven by desperation to abandon all defenses and to share her deepest feelings with what was possibly the single most trusted and indispensable member of her Support System, that the depressed person shared that she felt she had found, somehow, finally, the willingnes to risk trying to follow the second of the late overdosed therapist’s two suggestions which she (i.e., the depressed person) had most vehemently resisted over the course of their work together. The depressed person proposed now to take an unprecedented emotional risk and to begin asking certain important persons in her life to tell her straight out whether they had ever secretly felt contempt, derision, judgment, or repulsion for her, and was choosing to begin this vulnerable interrogative process with the one particularly nurturing and dependable and trustworthy Support System member with whom she was sharing via her workstation’s telephone right this moment.[6] She had resolved, the depressed person shared, to ask these potentially deeply traumatizing questions without preamble or apology or interpolated self-criticism. She wished to hear, with no holds barred, her very most valuable friend’s honest opinion of her, the potentially negative and judging and traumatic and hurtful parts as well as the positive and affirming and supportive and nurturing parts. The depressed person stressed that she was serious about this: the honest assessment of her by an objective but deeply caring confidante felt, at this point in time, like a litteral matter of life and death.

For she was frightened, the depressed person confessed to the trusted and convalescing friend, profoundly frightened by what she felt she was learning about herself following the sudden death of a therapist who for nearly four years had been her single most valuable resource and trusted support and—with no offense intended to any of the members of her Support System—her very best friend in the world. For she had discovered, the depressed person confessed, that when she took her daily Quiet Time now, during the grieving process, and got quiet and centered and looked deep within, she could neither feel nor identify any feelings for the therapist as a person, as a person who had diead, a person who only somebody in truly stupefying denial could fail to see had probably taken her own life, and thus a person who, the depressed person posited, had possibly suffered levels of emotional pain and isolation and despair which were comparable to or maybe even exceeded the depressed person’s own. And thus that although the depressed person had had agonizing feelings aplenty since the therapist’s suicide, these feelings appeared to be all and only for herself, i.e., for her loss, her abandonment, her grief, her trauma and pain and primal affective survival. And that this terrifying set of realizations, instead of awakening in her any feelings of compassion, empathy, or Other-directed grief for the therapist—and here the depressed person waited patiently for an episode of retching in the especially available trusted friend to pass so that she could take the emotional risk of sharing this with her—these realizations seemed merely to have brought up in the depressed person still more feelings about herself. At this point, sharing, the depressed person paused to swear up and down to her long-distance, gravely ill, frequently retching, but still caring and intimate friend that there was not toxic or manipulative self-hatred in this confession, only profound fear: the depressed person was frightened for herself, for as it were “[her] self”—i.e., her “spirit” or “soul”, her capacity for basic human empathy and compassion—she told the supportive friend with the neuroblastoma. She was asking sincerely, the depressed person said, honestly, desperately: what kind of person could seem to feel nothing—“nothing”, she emphasized—for anyone but herself? She wept into the headset telephone and said she was shamelessly begging her now single most valuable friend and confidante in the world to share her (i.e., the friend with the virulent malignancy in her adrenal medulla’s) brutally candid assessment, to pull no punches, to say nothing reassuring or supportive or exculpatory which she did not honestly believe to be true. She trusted her, she assured her. She had decided, she shared, that her very life itself, however fraught with agony and despair and indescribable loneliness, depended, at this point in her journey toward healing, on inviting—even, if necessary, begging shamelessly for—honest feedback, even if that feedback was traumatic or hurtful. The depressed person therefore urged her terminally ill friend to go on, to not hold back, to let her have it: What terms might be used to describe and assess such a solipsistic, self-consumed, bottomless emotional vacuum and sponge as she now appeared to herself to be? How was she to decide and describe—even to herself, facing herself—what all she had learned said about her?[]

 

[1] The multiform shapes the therapist’s mated fingers assumed nearly always resembled various geometrically diverse cages, an association which the depressed person had not shared with the therapist because its symbolism seemed too overt and simplistic to waste their valuable time together on. The therapist’s fingernails were long and well-maintained, whereas the depressed person’s nails were compulsively bitten so short and ragged that the quick sometimes protruded and began spontaneously to bleed.

[2] The depressed person’s therapist was always extremely careful to avoid appearing to suggest that she (i.e., the depressed person) had in any conscious way chosen or chosen to cling to her endogenous depression. Defenses against intimacy, the therapist held, were almost always arrested or vestigial survival mechanisms; they had, at one time, been environmentally appropriate and had served to shield an otherwise defenseless childhood psyche against unbearable trauma, but in nearly all cases these mechanisms became inappropriately imprinted and outlived their purpose, and now :in adulthood”, ironically, caused a great deal more trauma and pain than they prevented.

[3] The therapist—who was substantially older than the depressed person but still younger than the depressed person’s mother, and who resembled that mother in almost no respects—sometimes annoyed the depressed person with her habit of from time to time glancing very quickly at the large bronze sunburst-design clock on the wall behind the recliner in which the depressed person customarily sat, glancing so quickly and almost furtively at the clock that what bothered the depressed person more and more over time was not the act itself but the therapist’s apparent effort to hide or disguise it. One of the therapeutic relationship’s most significant breakthroughs, the depressed person told members of her Support System, had come when she had finally been able to share that she would prefer it if the therapist would simply look openly up at the bronze helioform clock instead of apparently believing—or at least behaving, from the depressed person’s admittedly hypersensitive perspective, as if she believed—that the hypersensitive depressed person could be fooled by the therapist’s dishonestly sneaking an observation of the time into something designed to look like a routine motion of the head or eyes. And that while they were on the whole subject, the depressed person had to confess that she sometimes felt demeaned and enraged when the therapist’s face assumed its customary expression of boundless patience, and expression which the depressed person said she knew very well was intended to communicate attention and unconditional support but which sometimes felt to the depressed person like emotional detachment, like professional courtesy she was paying for instead of the intensely personal compassion and empathy she sometimes felt she had spent her whole life starved for. She was sometimes resentful, she shared, at being nothing but the object of the therapist’s professional courtesy or of the so-called “friends” in her pathetic “Support System”’s charity and abstract guilt.

[4] Or even that, for example, to be totally honest, it felt demeaning and somehow insulting to know that today (i.e., the day of the seminal session during which the depressed person had opened up and risked sharing all these issues and feelings about the therapeutic relationship), at the moment their appointed time together was up and they had risen from their respective recliners and hugged awkwardly and said their goodbyes until their next appointment, that at that moment all of the therapist’s seemingly intensely personally focused attention and interest in the depressed person would then be withdrawn and effortlessly transferred onto the next whiny spoiled self-involved snaggletoothed pig-nosed fat-thighed pathetic shiteater who was waiting to come in and cling pathetically to the hem of the therapist’s pelisse, so desperate for a personally interested friend that they would pay almost as much per month for the temporary illusion of one (i.e., of an actual friend) as they paid in fucking rent. This even though the depressed person knew quite well, she had said, holding up a pica-gnawed hand to prevent interruption, that the therapist’s professional detachment was in fact not at all incompatible with true relationship, the depressed person then laughing hollowly to indicate that she heard and acknowledged the unwitting echo of her cold, niggardly, emtionally unavailable parents in the stipulation that what was objectionable was the idea or “principle” of an expense. What it really felt like sometimes was as if the hourly therapeutic fee were a kind of ransom or “protection money”, purchasing the depressed person an exemption from the scalding internal self-contempt and mortification of telephoning distant former friends she hadn’t even laid fucking eyes on in years and had no legitimate claim on the friendship of anymore and telephoning them uninvited at night and intruding on their functional and blissfully ignorantly joyful if somewhat shallow and unconscious lives and appealing shamelessly to their compassion and leaning shamelessly on them and trying to articulate the essence of her unceasing emotional pain when that very pain and despair and loneliness rendered her, the depressed person knew, far too self-involved to be able ever truly to Be There in return for the supportive friends to reach out and lean on in return, i.r., that the depressed person’s was a pathetically starved and greedy omnineediness that only a complete idiot would not expect the members of her so-called “Support System” to detect all too easily, and to be repelled by, and to stay on the telephone only out of the barest and most abstract human charity, all the while rolling their eyes and making faces and looking at the clock and wishing desperately that the phone call were over or that the depressed person would call someone else or that the depressed person had never been born and didn’t even exist “if the truth be told”, if the therapist really wanted the “totally honest sharing” she kept “alleging [she] want[ed],” the depressed person later tearfully confessed to her Support System she had hissed derisively at the therapist, her face (i.e., the depressed person’s face) contorted in what she imagined must have been a repulsive admixture of rage and self-pity. If the therapist really wanted the truth, the depressed person had finally shared from a hunched and near-fetal position beneath the sunburst clock, sobbing uncontrollably, the depressed person really felt that what was really unfair was that she was unable, even with the trusted and admittedly compassionate therapist, to communicate her depression’s terrible and unceasing agony itself, agony which was the overriding and a priori reality of her every waking minute—i.e., not being able to share the way it felt, what it actually felt like for the depressed person to be literally unable to share it, as for example if her very life depended on describing the sun but she were alllowed to describe only shadows on the grounds …. The depressed person had then laughed hollowly and apologized to the therapist for employing such a floridly melodramatic analogy. She shared all this later, with her Support System, following the therapist’s death from homeopathic caffeinism, including her (i.e., the depressed person’s) reminiscence that the therapist’s display of attention during this seminal but ugly and humiliating breakthrough session had been so intense and professionally uncompromising that she had blinked far less often than any listener the depressed person had ever opened up to face-to-face had ever blinked. The two most special and trusted current members of her Support System had responded, almost verbatim, that it sounded as though the therapist had been very special and the depressed person obviously missed her very much; and the one particularly trusted and valuable, physically ill long-distance friend whom the depressed person leaned on more heavily than on any other friend during the grieving process suggested that the most loving and appropriate way to honor both the therapist’s memory and the grief over her loss might be for the depressed person to try to become as special and caring and nurturing a friend to herself as the late therapist had been.

[5] As a natural part of the grieving process, sensuous details and affective memories flooded the depressed person’s agonized psyche at random and unpredictable moments, pressing in on her and clamoring for expression and processing. The buckskin pelisse, for example, though the therapist had seemed almost fetishistically attached to the Native American garment and during cool weather had worn it, seemingly, on a near-daily basis, was always immaculately clean and always presented an immaculately raw-and-moist-looking-flesh-toned backdrop to the varioform cages the therapist’s unconscious hands composed. It had never been clear how or by what process the therapist’s authentic pelisse’s buckskin was able to stay so perfectly clean—unless, the depressed person confessed to imagining, the therapist had worn it only for their particular appointments. The therapist’s chilly home office alos contained, on the wall opposite the bronze clock and behind the therapist’s recliner, a stunning molybdenum desk-and-personal-computer-hutch ensemble, one shelf of which was lined, on either side of the deluxe Braun coffeemaker, with small framed photographs of the therapist’s husband and sisters and son; and the depressed person often broke into fresh sobs of grief and self-excoriation on her workstation’s headset telephone as she confessed to her Support System that she had never even asked the therapist’s intimate loved ones’ names.

[6] The singularly valuable and supportive friend on the telephone was an alumna of one of the depressed person’s boarding schools, a generous, nurturing divorced mother of two in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who had recently undergone her second course of chemotherapy for a virulent neuroblastoma, which greatly reduced the number of activities and responsibilities in her full, vibrant, undepressed life, and who thus was not only almost always at home but also enjoyed nearly unlimited conflict-free availability and time to share on the telephone, for which the depressed person was now careful to enter a daily prayer of gratitude in her Feelings Journal.

 

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Puisi (Cerpen Nugroho Notosusanto, 1954)

Ketika aku bersama Gon keluar dari Bioskop Menteng habis nonton “High Noon”, kami melihat Gajah berjalan di muka kami bersama seorang gadis. Kami membuntut dia dari belakang: itulah pertama kalinya aku melihat dia.

Dari muka datang dua orang pemuda yang badannya kukuh dan mukanya hitam dan seram. Sambil menyiulkan ballade “High Noon” mereka menerjang siapa saja yang menutupi jalan mereka. Setiba di muka Gajah dengan gadisnya, mereka agak minggir, tetapi yang satu masih menyenggol sang gadis. Tenang Gajah membalikkan badannya, telunjuknya diacungkan kepada pemuda itu yang kebetulan sedang menengok, “Sini!”

Kedua pemuda itu berhenti, mengambil sikap mengancam. Gajah mendekati mereka. “Ayo, minta maaf kepada nona itu,” katanya dengan isyarat tangan yang kaku. Kami berhenti juga, menonton dari kejauhan. Kedua pemuda itu bertolak pinggang.

“Berani sama saya?” kata yang ditunjuk.

“Kurangajar ya kowe!” bentak yang satu.

Sesaat kemudian Gajah sekali pukul menghajar kedua lawannya itu. Khalayak ramai secepat semut mengerumuni mereka. Gajah payah dikerubut kedua orang itu, karena satu-satu di antara mereka sama besarnya dengan dia, hanya tingginya kalah. Gon menyentuh lenganku. Kemudian cepat ia maju dan memeluk salah seorang di antara pemuda itu. Aku mencoba berbuat demikian pada yang satunya, tetapi satu saja tak berhasil dengan lenganku yang seperti sapu lidi. Tetapi orang-orang lain membantu. Gajah–yang hidungnya sudah keluar kecapnya–juga dipeluk orang sehingga tak dapat bergerak. Setelah Polisi Perintis datang, persoalan diselesaikan di tempat, dan kami mengantar Gajah pulang liwat rumah gadis itu.

Ketika salah seorang anak dari rumah yang didiami Gajah merayakan lulus propaedeusenya, aku diundang juga. Pesta malam itu pesta laki-laki. Gajah spesial membeli cognac dan whisky dan sebentar saja ia bersaingan dengan Dean Martin, Mary Ford, Patti Page dan lain-lain yang suaranya membubung dari record-changer mereka yang masih baru.

Namun julukan Gajah sesungguhnya kurang tepat, karena ia tidak gendut. Memang ia besar, tetapi panjang. Tapi kalau ia mabuk, memang ia mirip gajah mabuk, atau dengan istilah Jawa Kuno: Gajah Mada, nama perdana menteri Majapahit yang terkenal itu.

Ketika itu ia sedang merasa dirinya jadi Cary Cooper sebagai marshall dalam film “High Noon” yang sangat dia gemari. Karena mondar-mandir dan bernyanyi itu jadi panas, mukanya merah dan peluhnya berlelehan di wajah dan sekujur tubuhnya. Tiba-tiba ia membuka kemejanya kemudian singletnya, sehingga bicepsnya bulat mengkilat ditimpa sinar lampu. Tidak puas dengan itu ia membuka pantalonnya sambil berteriak, “Panaas! … Panaaas!”

“Minum!” kata teman-teman sambil membawakan sloki yang whiskynya telah mereka taburi abu sigaret biar tambah keras. Dengan sekali teguk whisky itu dituang oleh Gajah ke dalam perutnya, kemudian ia berjalan terhuyung-huyung kian kemari dengan celana dalamnya. Tiba-tiba gelas sloki itu dilemparkannya kepada kaca pintu depan, sehingga pecah berhamburan. Setelah perbuatan yang merugikan itu, ia berlari masuk ke kamarnya sambil menjeritkan lagu “From the Halls of Montezuma …” Kami semua lega, mengira ia akan tidur. Tetapi kelegaan itu tidak lama, karena tak lama kemudian pintu kamar dibuka dengan keras dan Gajah berlari keluar dengan telanjang bulat sambil berkendangan dengan mulutnya. Tetapi bukan itu yang mengejutkan kami, melainkan pisau pandu yang diacung-acungkan dengan tangan kanannya.

“Dia pernah melihat tari Cakalele,” kata Gon.

Tetapi tari Cakalele pertunjukan Gajah agak berbahaya, karena akhirnya pisau itu disambitkannya kepada pintu belakang, yang alhamdulillah tak ada kacanya. Dengan patuh pisau itu nancap ke dalam kayu pintu itu. Teman-teman serumah bertepuk tangan, lalu bersama-sama menidurkan Gajah.

Setelah itu percakapan sejurus lamanya berputar-putar di sekitar Gajah. Gon dulu sepasukan dengan dia. Gajah seorang brenschutter. Lain daripada itu ia juga berfungsi jagal ayam dan algojo. Sudah dua kali ia diserahin pelaksanaan eksekusi.

Jon bercerita, bahwa ketika mereka mengantarkan jenazah kawannya yang dipindahkan makamnya, Gajah pernah hampir menimbulkan insiden dengan pasukan lain. Karena sebuah kendaraan militer yang datang dari arah yang berlawanan dengan iring-iringan, tak mau melambatkan jalannya. Gajah dengan enak mengangkat brennya dan menembakkannya kepada master jeep itu sehingga bensinnya terbakar.

Di antara perkelahian-perkelahian Gajah yang kerapkali terjadi, perkelahian durianlah yang paling terkenal. Gajah sedang berjalan-jalan di sebuah pasar buah-buahan, ketika ia berselisih dengan prajurit KNIL. Waktu itu masih ada KNIL. Ketika orang KNIL itu menyerangnya dengan belati, Gajah dengan tak pikir panjang mengambil durian dari bakul salah seorang pedagang lalu melemparkannya kepada lawannya, yang sama sekali tak bersiap menghadapi senjata itu. Hasilnya: muka lawannya remuk sehingga harus dirawat di rumah sakit.

Gajah sudah empat tahun di Fakulteit Hukum, tetapi masih tingkat pertama saja. Ia lebih suka belajar judo dan melempar belati. Kerapkali pula ia menantang anak-anak asrama lain untuk bertinju. Tapi anak-anak pada segan karena ia suka mata gelap.

Gajah tak mempunyai ibu lagi. Pulang ke rumah ayahnya yang tinggal di Yogya ia tak pernah. Alasannya ganjil sekali: segan. Atau malu.

Tapi cerita yang paling menarik tentang Gajah adalah cerita Cip. Katanya, kalau Gajah marah atau tak senang hatinya, lalu masuk ke dalam kamarnya sendirian yang kemudian dikuncinya, maka setelah ia ke luar ia seolah-olah jadi manusia lain. Teman-teman serumah mengiakan Cip.

“Kami pernah mengintip dari lubang pintu,” kata Jon, “Gajah duduk di ranjang sambil memandang ke dalam sebuah album. Entah album apa.”

Anak-anak sibuk berspekulasi tentang album Gajah itu.

“Ada foto almarhum ibunya,” kata seorang.

“Foto meisjenya!” kata yang lain.

Tapi tak ada yang tahu dengan pasti. Gajah sendiri tak mau mengaku. Anehnya kalau ditanya, ia tidak marah, melainkan malu, bahkan malu sekali. Biasanya untuk menghilangkan malunya ia memaki-maki lalu meninju-ninju karung pasir yang tergantung di belakang rumah.

Aku jadi bersahabat dengan Gajah. Entah mengapa ia suka kepadaku. Mungkin karena ia sering membeli majalah, nonton dan keluyuran bersamaku.

Pada suatu malam yang panas, Gajah dan aku dapat pinjaman Jeep lalu putar-putar keliling kota. Di jalan ia sedang mengemudikan Jeep itu, ketika tiba-tiba sebuah Jeep tentara memotong jalannya. Seketika itu juga iblis terlepas di dalam hati Gajah. Jeep itu dikejarnya dengan kecepatan gila, sama gilanya, dengan yang dikejar. Di jalan raya Kebayoran di dekat bekas Pekan Raya, Jeep itu dapat terkejar lalu distop. Belum pernah aku melihat seorang militer dihajar sedemikian rupa oleh preman, meskipun orang itu demobilisan. Sepulang kami dari perjalanan itu Gajah marah-marah. Di rumah ia terus masuk ke kamarnya dan menguncinya dari dalam: aku tak diacuhkannya sama sekali. Setelah motorkap Jeep itu aku buka biar dingin, aku mengetuk pintunya.

“Siapa itu?” suaranya bertanya lembut.

“Aku.”

Pintunya dia buka. Ia menyembunyikan sesuatu di belakang punggungnya.

“Boleh aku melihat albummu?” tanyaku langsung.

Ia tertegun sebentar. Kemudian mengunci pintu lagi.

“Engkau tidak akan menertawakan aku?” tanyanya.

“Buat apa? Tidak, aku tidak akan ketawa, apa pun isi album itu.”

Ia diam sebentar, berpikir, masih ragu-ragu.

“Aku percaya, engkau akan mengerti aku,” katanya seperti berbicara kepada diri sendiri.

“Mana?” kataku, karena album itu masih saja tersembunyi di balik punggungnya.

“Ini,” katanya sambil mengeluh. Matanya mengawasi wajahku dengan teliti ketika aku menerima album itu dan membukanya.

Lembaran-lembaran album itu putih. Pada halaman yang kubuka tertempel kertas guntingan yang ada tulisan cetakan:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line.

Nor all your Tears wash out a word of it.

Di bawahnya ada tanggal. Aku ingat, bahwa di sekitar tanggal itu “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” yang ada rubayyat Umar Khayyamnya seperti tertulis di situ, sedang diputar di Jakarta.

Lembaran-lembaran album itu aku buka terus. Semuanya ditempeli guntingan kertas dengan tulisan cetakan.

“Sintawati datang dari Timur.”

Sintawati menyusur pantai ….

Setelah sajak Asrul Sani, sajak Rivai Apin dan sajak penyair-penyair yang tidak begitu terkenal dari pelbagai majalah. Ketika aku sedang membawa sajak Taslim Ali “Kabut”, perlahan-lahan album itu direbutnya. “Coba lihat ini,” katanya. Ia membuka-buka beberapa lembaran lalu menunjukkan sebuah sajak yang kertasnya sudah kuning. Sebuah sensasi bagiku, karena kulihat di situ sajakku “Triwikrama”.

Kepalaku aku tegakkan. Ia tenang memandang ke dalam mataku. Pandangan yang tenteram, bukan pandangan liar Gajah dalam hidup sehari-hari. Ia memeluk bahuku.

“Di sini aku menyimpan jiwaku,” katanya sambil mengacu-acukan album itu dengan tangan kirinya.

“Aku mengerti,” kataku.

Ia melepaskan aku dan duduk di tepi ranjangnya. Dengan penuh terima kasih ia memandang kepadaku. “Album ini terug val basis yang paling aman,” katanya dengan suara lembut dan ganjil baginya. Kemudian ia berdiri dan berjalan menuju meja tulisnya. Majalah Zenith bulan Oktober terletak di situ. Diambilnya majalah itu. Aku melihat dari samping. Ia berhenti membolak-balik pada sebuah saja. Sajak M. Balfas: “Harum Pagi”.

Diambilnya gunting dari lacinya, dikoyaknya halaman itu dari majalah, kemudian diguntingnya rapi-rapi, direkatnya ke dalam albumnya.

“Mari ke luar,” katanya pada akhirnya.

Aku mengangguk.

Ia pergi menuju almari pakaian yang setelah terbuka.

Dengan hati-hati album itu disisipkannya di antara kemeja cowboy dan kemeja khaki dril militer. Kemudian kami ke luar. Di ambang pintu aku menengok ke meja tulis. Zenithnya masih terbuka: dua halaman yang penuh puisi.

17-3-1954

Tokoh Gajah ini mengingatkan saya pada sosok Umar bin Khattab, yang pembawaannya sangar namun diam-diam berhati lembut. Cerpen ini terdapat pada halaman 67-72 Tiga Kota oleh Nugroho Notosusanto (penerbit Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, cetakan kedelapan, 1995).

 

Chairil Anwar (oleh Aboe Bakar Loebis, 1995)

Seorang teman saya yang sering sekali datang di asrama ialah Chairil Anwar, penyair dan pelopor sastra Angkatan 45. Saya pertama kali berkenalan dengan Chairil di rumah Bung Syahrir. Pada suatu hari saya melihat seorang pemuda, berbadan kurus, dengan pakaian kurang bersih, berambut seperti tidak disisir, matanya besar dan agak merah. Pada waktu itu ia sedang membaca, berdiri di depan lemari buku. Rupanya ia sedang mencari buku. Syahrir yang sedang bercakap-cakap dengan saya, tiba-tiba berteriak, “Nini, jangan kau ambil buku dari sini. Tiap buku yang kau bawa tidak pernah kembali!” Saya pun bertanya siapa orang itu. “Kau belum kenal dia, itu Chairil Anwar, penyair, kemenakan saya,” kata Syahrir. Chairil kemudian menggabungkan diri dengan kami, dan sesudah berbincang-bincang beberapa waktu, saya pun minta diri hendak pulang ke asrama. Chairil langsung mengatakan mau ikut dengan saya. Ia belum pernah masuk ke asrama itu. Kami berjalan dari Jalan Maluku ke Parapatan. Di tengah jalan ia terus-menerus melampiaskan ras bencinya kepada Jepang dan kekagumannya terhadap Syahrir. “Oom aku ini, begini” atau “oom aku ini begitu” dan seterusnya. Di Jalan Jawa ia mengajak mampir sebentar di suatu rumah. “Aku mau bertemu dengan Affandi, barangkali ia ada di rumah.” Pada waktu itu Affandi rupanya tinggal di jalan itu, maka kami pun mampir. Ia memperkenalkan saya kepada Affandi, yang baru pertama kali saya temui. Chairil berbicara macam-macam dengan Affandi, saya hanya mendengar. Sesudah beberapa waktu saya katakan bahwa saya mau pulang. Baru Chairil berhenti berbicara.

Sesudah perkenalan yang pertama kali itu, seringkali ia datang kepada saya, paling tidak tiga kali seminggu. Kalau ia datang biasanya pertanyaannya ialah, “Kar, kau ada duit? Aku lapar.” Kalau memang sedang ada duit, maka kami pun pergi ke Pasar Senen untuk makan. Kalau sedang tidak ada duit, saya katakan saja, kantong sedang kosong. Pertanyaan lain ialah apakah saya punya buku baru. Walaupun ada, saya selalu mengatakan tidak ada, karena kalau saya katakan ada, ia langsung mau membaca buku itu dan membawanya. Buku itu pasti tidak akan saya lihat lagi. Sering pula sehabis makan di Pasar Senen, kami mampir di kios-kios buku bekas. Di sana ia selalu memilih-milih buku, dan menganjurkan buku-buku tertentu kepada saya. Kalau saya beli satu buku, maka pasti ia mengatakan, “Aku saja yang baca dulu, kau toh banyak buku pelajaran yang mesti dibaca.” Kalau saya iyakan, maka buku itu akan lenyap. Kalau ia datang di asrama sesudah bertemu dengan orang lain, maka diceritakan pembicaraannya dengan orang itu. Seringkali ia datang marah-marah, juga kepada Takdir (S. Takdir Alisyahbana), yang dianggapnya seorang materialis dan egois, atau marah pada seniman-seniman yang bekerja di Pusat Kebudayaan yang didirikan oleh Jepang. Chairil selalu berkata, “Orang-orang apa itu, mereka menyebut dirinya seniman, padahal tidak lebih daripada pelacur, melacurkan diri pada Jepang supaya dapat duit. Kau baca sajak si Anu yang memuji-muji kehebatan perang Jepang, sedangkan Jepang akan kalah? Apakah itu bukan pelacuran karena dia membuat sajak itu cuma supaya dapat duit dari Jepang!” Ada dua orang tidak dicaci makinya, yaitu Cornel Simanjuntak, komponis terkenal, dan pelukis Basuki Resobowo. Melalui Chairil pula saya menjadi kenal baik dengan dua seniman ini.

Sekali-kali ia datang dengan sajak yang baru ditulisnya. “Kar, dengar ini,” lalu dibacanya sajaknya. “Bagus tidak?” tanyanya. Saya tidak mengerti apa pun tentang puisi, jadi tidak tahu apakah sajak itu bagus atau tidak. Kalau saya hendak menyenangkan hatinya, saya puji sajak barunya itu, kalau saya sedang kesal, saya katakan apakah bagusnya? Maka ia pun menerangkan dengan panjang-lebar mengapa sajak itu bagus, dan apa artinya dan sebagainya. Supaya ia menghentikan uraiannya, saya katakan, “Memang hebat kau, Nini. Ayo, kita pergi makan!” Begitulah, pergaulan saya dengan Chairil Anwar sangat akrab. Berhubung sikapnya yang suka bicara seenaknya, dan sikapnya yang benci pada Jepang, maka ia beberapa kali ditangkap polisi. Beberapa minggu setelah saya keluar dari tahanan Kenpeitai, dan saya baru saja sampai di Jakarta setelah “mengungsi” beberapa waktu ke Yogya, dan sedang naik trem dari stasiun Gambir ke Kramat melalui Cikini dan Kalipasir, di halte Cikini, Chairil melihat saya duduk dalam trem. Ia segera naik, dan dengan gugup ia katakan, “Kar, kau jangan marah ya, tetapi aku tidak tahan sakit. Aku digebug oleh polisi. Mereka tanya, siapa temanku bergaul tiap hari, aku sebut nama kau. Aku tidak tahan sakit.” Memang saya lihat pipinya luka. Saya tidak marah, melihat ia ketakutan begitu. Saya cuma berkata, “Gila kau.” Esok harinya saya pergi lagi dari Jakarta, untuk menghindari kemungkinan dipanggil oleh polisi.

Pergaulan saya dengan Chairil berjalan terus, sampai di masa revolusi, sampai ia kawin dengan Hafsah di Karawang. Malahan kalau Basuki Resobowo atau Suryo Sumanto (kemudian bekerja di Perfini) melihat saya sendirian saja, mereka selalu bertanya, “Chairil mana?”

Saya bertemu terakhir dengan Chairil di Yogya beberapa minggu sebelum saya bertolak ke Sumatera. Ia merengek minta duit. Katanya ia hendak pulang ke Karawang. “Biniku menunggu di Karawang, aku tidak ada uang buat pulang.” Saya pun memberinya uang. Begitu uang itu diterimanya, ia langsung melompat-lompat kesenangan, dan cepat-cepat ia meninggalkan saya dengan ucapan, “Sekarang aku bisa ke Balokan ….” Balokan adalah lokasi pelacuran di dekat stasiun Tugu, Yogya.

Begitulah perpisahan saya dengan Chairil Anwar, “binatang jalang” itu. Perkawinannya dengan Hafsah tidak berlangsung lama sesudah mereka memperoleh seorang anak perempuan. Saya sedang bertugas di India ketika mendapat kabar, bahwa Chairil telah meninggal dunia, karena menderita bermacam-macam penyakit yang didapatnya karena cara hidup seperti binatang jalang.

….

Bagian lain yang memberi kesan “tertentu” bagi saya dalam buku Kilas Balik Revolusi: Kenangan, Pelaku, Saksi oleh  Aboe Bakar Loebis (editor Sugiarta Sriwibawa, penerbit Universitas Indonesia Press, Jakarta, cetakan kedua, 1995), dari halaman 71-74.

Seputar Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia ke Romantisisme

Tahun lalu, di Kemudian.com akun azkashabrina memublikasikan cerpen komedi sejarah berjudul “Agenda“. Dalam cerpen ini pengarang memarodikan detik-detik menjelang proklamasi kemerdekaan Republik Indonesia, ketika tokoh-tokoh pemuda seperti Sukarni, Wikana, dan Adam Malik membujuk Bung Karno agar segera melaksanakannya. Cerpen ini mendapat sambutan ramai, ada yang menyanjung ada pula yang tidak sreg.

1400468

sumber gambar

Dalam buku Kilas Balik Revolusi: Kenangan, Pelaku, Saksi oleh Aboe Bakar Loebis* (editor Sugiarta Sriwibawa, penerbit Universitas Indonesia Press, Jakarta, cetakan kedua, 1995), peristiwa persiapan proklamasi itu memang mengandung momen yang menggelikan. Sedikitnya kesan itulah yang saya tangkap dari gaya bahasa penulis.

Bagian yang menurut saya lucu dimulai ketika penulis menyebutkan di halaman 101 bahwa Sukarni, salah seorang tokoh pemuda yang menjadi tokoh utama dalam cerpen azkashabrina, memiliki kesuburan imajinasi. Berikut paragraf lengkapnya.

Rapat bubar dan semuanya pulang ke tempat masing-masing untuk menyebarluaskan putusan-putusan yang diambil. Sebagian berkumpul di asrama Baperpi, Cikini 71 (sekarang gedung Bank Niaga, cabang Cikini). Saya sendiri pergi ke Cikini. Di sana kami menunggu kedatangan kembali utusan yang dikirimkan kepada Soekarno. Mereka kembali kira-kira pukul 10, dan melaporkan kegagalan usaha mereka serta menambahkan bahwa Soekarno marah-marah dan tidak mau dipaksa-paksa oleh pemuda. Reaksi kami yang berkumpul di asrama Baperpi itu juga marah, karena itu dibicarakan tindak lanjut yang harus dilakukan. Putusannya ialah supaya Soekarno dan Hatta “diangkat” saja. Ketika kami sedang membicarakan hal ini tiba-tiba muncul tiga orang, dua di antaranya berpakaian PETA. Mereka adalah Sukarni yang memakai seragam PETA, Shodancho Singgih dan Yusuf Kunto. Sukarni segera berbicara dengan nada agitasi tentang semangat rakyat yang sedang meluap, ketegangan luar biasa di kalangan masyarakat, dan sebagainya. Semuanya ini menunjukkan kesuburan fantasi Sukarni, tetapi turut mempengaruhi putusan untuk menculik Soekarno-Hatta.

Sampai di sini saya belum kena benar dengan yang dimaksudkan sebagai “kesuburan imajinasi”. Barulah ketika sampai di halaman 103, saya tergelak.

Dalam perjalanan dari Rengasdengklok dari Jakarta, pada waktu senja, terlihat dari mobil asap dan api menyala di mana-mana. Sukarni pun berkata, “Lihatlah rakyat sudah mulai bergerak, membakar-bakar.”

Ini hanya merupakan bukti lagi kesuburan imajinasi Sukarni, karena yang dilihat hanya para petani membakar jerami di sawah yang selesai dipanen.

Dalam buku ini peristiwa persiapan proklamasi kemerdekaan RI diceritakan secara terperinci dalam bab “Hari-hari Sekitar Proklamasi” (halaman 76-121)–entah apakah azkashabrina sudah membacanya. Hal lain yang mengesankan yaitu simpulan dari peristiwa proklamasi itu sendiri. Dalam cerpen azkashabrina, peristiwa proklamasi dan pengibaran bendara merah-putih terasa khidmat dan menggetarkan. Sebaliknya yang dirasakan oleh Aboe Bakar Loebis selaku salah seorang tokoh pemuda yang turut berkontribusi dalam mempersiapkan peristiwa ini. Berikut penuturannya dalam halaman 106.

Bagi saya, pembacaan proklamasi kemerdekaan pada hari itu sebenarnya merupakan suatu anti klimaks. Setelah tiga tahun hidup dalam ketegangan dalam suasana konspirasi untuk mengejar cita-cita kemerdekaan, dan kemudian kegiatan tanpa lelah, tidak kenal haus dan lapar dengan ketegangan terus-menerus sejak tanggal 14 Agustus, berakhir dengan pembacaan naskah proklamasi yang terdiri dari beberapa kalimat kering, yang ditulis di rumah seorang pembesar Jepang, disaksikan oleh oknum-oknum Jepang, yang dibacakan dengan nada kering dan datar pula, di depan hanya puluhan orang di halaman rumah, oleh seorang Soekarno yang sedang tidak enak badan.

Proklamasi Kemerdekaan yang kami impikan, suatu proklamasi yang menyatakan hak hidup dan hak menentukan nasib sendiri bangsa Indonesia dengan cita-cita untuk membangun suatu masyarakat yang adil dan makmur di tanah air Indonesia, proklamasi yang kita susun sendiri, tanpa diketahui oleh Jepang atau oknum-oknum Jepang, dan dibacakan dengan semangat berapi-api oleh seorang orator Soekarno, di suatu rapat raksasa di lapangan terbuka, hanya merupakan impian yang tidak terkabul.

***

Dengan sangat rasional, ia kemukakan mengapa menurut pandangannya, suatu negara serikat merupakan bentuk negara yang terbaik bagi Indonesia. Disebutnya antara lain besar dan luas wilayah, banyaknya suku bangsa dengan kebudayaan yang sangat beragam dan bahasa yang berlainan, tingkat kemajuan ekonomi dan sebagainya. Kalau kami juga rasional, mungkin sekali kami dapat menerima argumen Bung Hatta, tetapi kami tidak rasional. Mengenai soal persatuan, kami malahan sangat emosional; persatuan tidak dapat ditawar. 

Kutipan di atas, yang diambil dari halaman 256 buku ini, memafhumkan saya betapa peristiwa-peristiwa sejarah sering kali diwarnai oleh sentimen, sampai-sampai Harun Yahya pun mengeluarkan buku Ancaman di Balik Romantisisme dan menyinggung nasionalisme di dalamnya. Sentimen, romantisisme, emosi, dan berbagai istilah lainnya yang menurutkan perasaan itu apabila dialami sekelompok manusia yang menyatakan kesatuannya sebagai bangsa akan melahirkan negara, adapun pada seorang individu dapat menghasilkan, katakanlah, karya fiksi berupa cerpen.

*Aboe Bakar Loebis (l. 1923) merupakan salah seorang tokoh pemuda yang turut serta dalam berbagai kegiatan persiapan proklamasi kemerdekaan. Nantinya beliau berkiprah banyak dalam membantu perjuangan pemerintahan Indonesia yang baru berdiri hingga memangku berbagai jabatan di lingkungan KBRI.

Tiga Tahapan Tiga Warna

Baru-baru ini saya mengetik ulang cerita dari Bobo lawas. Cukup mengasyikkan. Saat membuka halaman-halaman majalah tersebut, terasa kembali semarak dunia anak-anak, ketika segalanya tampak menarik dan menimbulkan keingintahuan, imajinatif, fantastis, lucu, dan sebagainya. Nostalgia. Cerita-cerita yang saya ketik ulang itu walau sederhana, namun mengandung gagasan kreatif maupun pengetahuan, dan, terutama, menenteramkan*: kebaikan pasti menang; hitam dan putih tampak benderang walau hanya di permukaan.

Lalu tebersit pikiran untuk memandang hidup ini menurut tiga tahapan.

Tahap pertama, yaitu masa anak-anak, zona hitam-putih. Sebetulnya masa ini tidak murni hitam-putih, sebab itu merupakan kacamata yang para pendidik berupaya memakaikannya pada kita. Kita toh belum benar-benar bisa membedakan yang hitam dengan yang putih itu menurut pemahaman sendiri.

Tahap kedua, yaitu masa remaja atau dewasa muda, zona abu-abu. Istilah kerennya sih coming of age. Pada masa ini kepolosan memudar, mulai tumbuh kesadaran akan kesenjangan antara diri dan dunia nyata di sekelilingnya. Kacamata hitam-putih yang dulu dipakaikan mulai terasa tidak cocok, dan ketika dilepas yang tampak serba abu-abu. Yang hitam dan yang putih mengabur. Hidup bukan melulu soal yang baik dan yang jahat, bahkan kita sulit menentukannya. Agaknya pandangan kita tengah dikeruhkan oleh gejolak diri yang memang sedang masanya.

Tahap ketiga, yaitu masa dewasa matang, zona hitam-putih keabu-buan. Badai mungkin tidak sepenuhnya berlalu seperti yang dikatakan dalam lagu itu. Namun, di sela-sela terpaan angin ribut dan dera hujan, kita mulai dapat melihat yang terang. Kadang penglihatan kita mengabur sehingga susah lagi menentukan arah. Tetapi, ketika cahaya kesadaran kembali menyorot, kita tahu bahwa ke arah terang itulah kita hendak berpegang dan menuju, memperjuangkannya.

Pandangan ini mungkin bisa diterapkan dalam pembacaan/penulisan, katakanlah karya fiksi. Karya pada tahap pertama itu seperti cerita anak, atau cerita dewasa dengan pelakonan sesederhana gadis baik melankolis versus ibu tiri berhati bengis. Karya pada tahap kedua berupa cerita yang apa adanya, tidak berpretensi memberikan suatu arahan pada pembaca sebab penulisnya sendiri belum bisa atau sebodo teuing dalam menentukannya. Karya pada tahap ketiga yaitu ketika penulis berusaha menunjukkan “pencerahan” dengan cara sesamar mungkin sehingga cuma pembaca dengan penglihatan bagus yang dapat menemukannya.

Cuma Ilmu Lamun sih, tanpa Ilmu Filsafat apalagi Ilmu Sastra. Bukan serius.

*) Jika masih punya nafsu untuk mengorek-ngorek koreng duniawi dan punya banyak waktu, tiap-tiap cerita anak tersebut bisa saja dibuat versi undercover atau politically correct-nya; diperluas bingkainya dan diperumit. Misal, ayah Pian yang menganggur itu di-PHK karena memperjuangkan hak-hak buruh di pabrik tempat kerjanya dulu, atau, sebetulnya ia suka menghabiskan waktu dengan mabuk ciu, mengadu babi, dan lagi diburu oleh kader Partai yang enggak kira-kira saat menagih pajak.

Belajar dengan Menerjemahkan Ulang

The Kite Runner_01.jpg

Atas: Teks sumber (The Kite Runner karya Khaled Hosseini); Tengah: Hasil latihan; Bawah: Hasil latihan disesuaikan dengan teks terbitan Qanita, cetakan I, Maret 2006 (penerjemah Berliani M. Nugrahani, penyunting Pangestuningsih, proofreader Herlina Sitorus)

Beberapa waktu lalu saya memiliki partner berlatih menerjemahkan. Awalnya, salah seorang dari mereka mengusulkan untuk menerjemahkan The Perks of Being Wallflower (selanjutnya TPBW) bersama-sama, lalu hasilnya dipertukarkan dan dibandingkan sebagai bahan belajar. TPBW dipilih karena merupakan novel remaja yang bahasanya relatif sederhana. Dari membandingkan hasil terjemahan, ditemukanlah sekian perbedaan. Perbedaan itu menjadi patokan untuk memperbaiki hasil terjemahan sendiri.

Ternyata, walau bahasanya relatif sederhana, ada saja ungkapan yang memerlukan penelusuran lebih jauh. Kebodoran pun terjadi. Karena sama-sama baru belajar dengan pemahaman bahasa yang kurang mendalam, mungkin juga karena pakewuh, kami sulit menentukan hasil terjemahan siapa yang betul. Bagaimana diskusi bisa berjalan? Partner saya itu bilang: Seperti orang buta menuntun orang buta.

Baru belakangan ini saya terpikir untuk mencoba cara lain dalam belajar menerjemahkan: Menerjemahkan teks yang sudah pernah diterjemahkan orang lain dan diterbitkan, terutama yang buku terjemahannya laris (anggaplah itu sebagai yang baku), lalu membandingkan hasilnya. Cara ini seperti dalam blog Latihan Menerjemahkan Novel, hanya saja tanpa ulasan sehingga perlu proaktif dalam membandingkan hasil latihan dengan terjemahan yang dianggap baku itu.

Dulu saya kurang tertarik dengan cara ini karena ingin menerjemahkan karya yang belum pernah diterjemahkan orang lain. Akan tetapi, ada waktunya ketika orang mulai merenungkan draf yang menumpuk dan mempertanyakan kualitas.

Tiga Cerita tentang Pengarang dari H. Misbach Yusa Biran: (3) Nasihat untuk Para Seniman

Bagaimanapun juga Rusli tetap teman saya, meskipun ia sudah jadi pemuda kumal. Saya harus menolong dia dari keadaannya sekarang. Baiklah, saya tidak akan mengatakan bahwa ia telanjur jadi seniman, karena ia akan sedia berkelahi dengan siapa saja yang mengatakan soal telanjur itu. Saya tidak takut bertarung dengan Rusli yang berbadan kerempeng dan berpantat tepos, cuma saya tidak gemar berkelahi. Lagi yang saya niatkan adalah ingin menolong dia. Dan syukurlah, ia bisa menyetujui pendapat saya tanpa harus berkelahi, yakni bahwa ia harus mempunyai pekerjaan tetap. Menurut Rusli, menganggur itu merusak jiwa. Entahlah, tetapi yang pasti dengan menganggur seperti sekarang ini penghidupannya tidak terjamin dan sayalah yang terus-menerus dirongrongnya: rokok sebatang, beli pita mesin tik, aspro …. Tak apa, sungguh tak apa kalau masih ada. Tapi dia harus menjamin hidupnya sendiri, bagaimana kalau saya mati?

Saya punya kenalan, seorang kepala di salah satu kantor pemerintah yang mengurus soal-soal kebudayaan. Ia baru saja diangkat. Rusli setuju untuk saya ajak minta pekerjaan padanya. Saya bisa bolos, gampang, saya kerja di kantor pemerintah.

“Pukul delapan baru buka kantor, kan?”

“Betul, tapi sebaiknya kita memberi kesan pertama yang baik. Kita harus sudah berada di sana pada pukul setengah delapan,” kata saya dengan perasaan mulai lega karena sudah terbayang rasanya sebentar lagi Rusli telah berpakaian rapi sebagaimana orang baik-baik lazimnya.

“Mana orang kantor pemerintah sudah datang sepagi itu?”

“Itu bukan urusan kita.”

“Tidak, soalnya apakah besok aku bisa bangun pagi-pagi. Nanti malam aku akan menyelesaikan cerita pendek yang tanggung dalam penggarapan.”

“Aku bermalam saja di rumahmu.” Menyesal saya. Sejak pukul tujuh sore ia sudah duduk di muka mesin tik. Termenung-menung kemudian mengetik, termenung dan mengetik lagi. Begitu terus tidak bisa diajak ngobrol. Kesal menunggunya. Mau keluar dari rumah, segan, jalanan di luar rumahnya becek betul. Tadinya saya pikir paling lama juga tiga jam ia kerja, sudah itu kami bisa cerita-cerita asyik tentang masa depan. Tetapi lewat tiga jam malah ia lebih asyik lagi termenung dan mengetik. Kadang-kadang hampir setengah jam penuh ia cuma melotot saja. Rokoknya sudah punah pada jam dua belas, merembet pada rokok saya. Setengah satu mata saya sudah berat sekali.

“Tidurlah, tinggal sedikit lagi. Aku sedang mencari penutupnya saja.”

Tidak tega rasanya meninggalkan dia duduk bekerja sendiri. Saya paksa-paksakan membuka mata. Entah sesudah berapa lama, maka mata saya telah dengan sendirinya terpenjam. Rasanya belum lama ketika badan saya digoyang-goyang oleh Rusli. Sudah pukul setengah tujuh. Rusli tidak tidur hingga waktu itu.

“Kaubilang semalam cuma tinggal mencari buntutnya saja.”

“Aku ulang mengetiknya. Ada beberapa bagian di tengahnya yang harus diubah, karena penutupnya ada perubahan.”

“Satu cerita pendek harus dikerjakan semalam suntuk?”

“Sebenarnya tidak perlu, tapi kalau kutunda buyar lagi idenya. Sudah lima hari aku cernakan dalam kepala.”

Lima hari, bisik saya dalam hati. Lima hari satu cerita pendek.

Saya pergi mandi, Rusli duduk dengan kaki terbujur lepas, pucat benar mukanya. Lalu ia cuma cuci muka saja. Itu saya tidak setuju benar, tetapi saya tidak tega menegurnya. Ya Allah, bagaimana kalau anakku sendiri yang jadi pengarang …?

Perkiraan Rusli salah. Setengah delapan pagi kenalan saya itu sudah berada di kantornya. Ia kepala bagian, jadi harus memberi contoh pada bawahan. Tetapi soalnya yang pokok, menurut Rusli, karena ia baru dijadikan kepala bagian di situ.

“Saya baru beberapa bulan saja duduk di bagian ini,” kata kenalan saya, “Dan Saudara tahu apa yang baru bisa saya lakukan? Membongkar, membongkar, dan merombak! Saya telah diserahi kerja untuk meneruskan kerja orang yang terdahulu, dan ternyata rencana serta konsep mereka tentang kebudayaan hanya membuat saya terpingkal-pingkal saja. Saya rombak semua, apa boleh buat harus peras keringat karena untuk kebudayaan kita tidak bisa main-main. Kebudayaan adalah jiwa, warna, dan segala-galanya dari suatu bangsa. Bagaimana mungkin hal besar ini hanya diserahkan kepada orang-orang yang hanya biasa kerja rutin, yang kerja hanya untuk menunggu pensiun saja? Omong kosong! Orang dengan kapasitas begitu tak mungkin bisa mencintai kebudayaan, menghargai hasil seni, menghargai seniman, serta bisa ikut mengembangkan kesenian Indonesia yang tengah mencari coraknya ini! Bagaimana mereka bisa menghargai, bahkan untuk hanya sekadar bisa mengerti penghidupan seniman?”

Kalau diladeni terus omongan bapak ini bisa sampai malam, pikir saya. Maka begitu ia sedang terhenti karena menempelkan rokok ke mulutnya, saya buru-buru masuk bicara.

“Pak, maksud kedatangan saya ini ialah untuk memperkenalkan kawan saya, yang tempo hari pernah saya ceritakan kepada Bapak.”

Bapak Kebudayaan dan saya sama-sama memandang ke arah Rusli. Masya Allah, Rusli tertunduk, tidur rupanya. Saya tendang kakinya. Bapak kebudayaan pura-pura tidak melihat.

“Saudara pengarang, bukan?” tanya Bapak kebudayaan sambil menoleh ke arah lain. Rusli termenung-menung kebingungan, masih belum pulih kesadarannya. Saya tendang lagi kakinya.

“Ya …, ya, begitulah ….”

“Saya yakin bahwa pekerjaan saya harus mendapat dukungan kalangan seniman-seniman muda, yang jiwanya masih hidup, dinamis, penuh cita-cita, dan semangat. Saya kira kita akan banyak bisa kerja sama.”

“Jadi, apa saya bisa diterima kerja di sini, Pak?” tanya Rusli.

Saya kagum akan keberanian Rusli kali ini.

“Punya ijazah SMA?”

“Tidak, Pak,” kata saya, “Saudara Rusli pernah duduk di kelas tertinggi SMA, bagian B lagi, Pak.”

“Yang penting ijazah,” jawab Pak Kebudayaan dengan suara kecewa sambil bangkit. Melangkah pelan ke jendela. “Saya sudah memajukan sebuah rencana ke atas. Kalau diterima, saya kira Saudara bisa saya pakai. Tetapi itu harus menunggu lama sekali karena banyak betul meja yang mesti dilewati oleh rencana tersebut.” Pak Kebudayaan menoleh pada Rusli, Rusli sedang melamun ke arah lain. “Saya gembira sekali bisa bekerja sama dengan seniman muda. Jangan salah sangka, saya bukan orang kolot. Tetapi saya kira, buat seorang seniman hidup tidak terikat adalah lebih baik, kan?”

“Tidak!” jawab saya kontan. “Penghasilan yang didapat dari tulisan tidak mencukupi.”

“O, ya …?” Bapak Kebudayaan duduk, nampak ia sangat tertarik pada jawaban saya. Rusli menendang kaki saya.

“Berapa honorarium sebuah cerita pendek? Dapat empat ratus?”

“Tidak sampai ….”

“Berapa? Tiga ratus?”

“Tujuh puluh lima,” jawab Rusli, “paling tinggi.”

Bapak Kebudayaan lesu menyandarkan bahunya ke sandaran kursi. “Begitu kecil ….”

“Majalah-majalah sekarang oplahnya kecil, terutama majalan kesusasteraan.”

“Tetapi itu bukan alasan untuk tidak menghargai suatu hasil seni!” kata Pak Kebudayaan dengan amat sungguh-sungguh, bernafsu. Berdebar hati saya, rasanya Rusli akan ditolongnya juga bekerja.

“Jadi, bagaimana, Pak?” tanya saya halus dan sopan.

“Pemuda tidak boleh mundur!” Pak Kebudayaan merenung sebentar. “Saya kira, saya bisa mendapatkan jalannya ….”

“Ya, Pak,” sambut Rusli tidak sabar. “Jalan apa?”

Bapak Kebudayaan tersenyum, “Jalannya adalah bekerja secara sistematis. Anak-anak muda sekarang memang tidak bisa disalahkan kalau mereka tidak bisa bekerja secara sistematis karena orang-orang tua mereka sendiri telah mengalami keguncangan hidup disebabkan perang dunia kedua. Tetapi walaupun bagaimana, bekerja secara sistematis tetap diperlukan. Terutama bagi para seniman dewasa ini.”

“Betul, Pak!” saya menggongi. “Maksud Bapak, di sini Saudara Rusli harus bekerja secara sistematis?”

“Bukan kerja di sini. Bekerja sendiri, sebagai pencipta. Maksud saya begini, sebuah cerita pendek kan honorariumnya tujuh puluh lima?” kata Pak Kebudayaan. Rusli diam saja, saya yang mengangguk. “Saya tidak bisa menduga berapa biaya hidup seniman sebulannya, entah tiga atau empat ribu. Akan tetapi biasanya seniman irit, taruhlah dua ribu. Maka mulailah dengan mengumpulkan nama-nama majalah serta mingguan yang memuat cerita pendek. Sepuluh buah saja cukuplah. Maka kalau semua penerbitan itu sekaligus Saudara kirimi cerita pendek dan memuatnya, artinya Saudara akan menerima honorarium sepuluh kali tujuh puluh lima rupiah, berarti tujuh ratus lima puuu …?”

“Luh,” sambung saya.

“Ya! Tujuh ratus lima puluh, satu minggu. Maka satu bulan akan berarti empat kali itu, sama dengan tiga riii ….”

“…,” saya tidak menyambung.

“Tiga ribu rupiah, berarti seribu lebih banyak daripada biaya yang dibutuhkan oleh seorang seniman. Itu kalau Saudara bekerja secara biasa saja. Lebih-lebih kalau Saudara mau pula mengisi majalah dan mingguan yang begitu banyak bertebaran. Saya satu, satu bulan bisa terima bersih enam ribu rupiah, gampang!”

Enam ribu sama dengan harga sebuah scooter Vespa. Bapak Kebudayaan memandang kami berdua sambil tersenyum, menunggu pujian atas idenya yang hebat itu. Rusli hanya mengangguk-angguk kecil, tetapi saya segera tahu bahwa ia akan berbuat nekad. Betul saja. Kalau saya tidak buru-buru minta permisi pulang, Rusli sudah niat akan ngomong yang kasar-kasar.

“Enak saja …, empat puluh karangan sebulan,” gumam Rusli waktu saya bonceng menuju ke tempat redaktur untuk mengambil honorarium tulisannya. “Kalau semua nenek-moyangnya mau bangun lagi dari dalam kubur untuk membantu aku mengarang sih, boleh juga …!”

“Sabar,” kata saya. “Innallaha ma’a shabirin.”

Untung belum terlambat, sang redaktur baru saja akan berangkat.

“Tapi daftar honorariumnya belum dibuat, Bung Rusli. Sabarlah, besok saja kemari lagi. Atau hari Senin sajalah, besok Sabtu, setengah hari kita kerja.”

“Ini kali saya betul-betul minta tolong, Bung. Saya ada …, saya perlu betul ….”

Redaktur kesal, membuka majalah yang memuat tulisan Rusli. Dipelajari, ya sebentar, diukur-ukurnya panjang karangan.

“Lima puluh rupiah, bagaimana?”

Rusli tak menjawab. Terasa mata saya berkaca-kaca. Redaktur tak mau melihat keadaan kami berdua. Ia menjatuhkan matanya kembali pada tulisan Rusli dalam majalah. Ujung jarinya dipukul-pukulkan ke meja, berpikir.

“Nah,” kata redaktur tiba-tiba sambil merogoh kantong, “Saudara terima saja dulu uang saya pribadi, enam puluh lima …. Sisanya terserah kapan mau ambil, sepuluh lagi …. Beres?”

Rupanya Rusli ada janji bayar utang hari itu pada warung nasi dekat rumahnya, lima puluh rupiah. Sisa lima belas.

“Lebihnya ini kita belikan rokok dulu, kemudian boleh kita makan sama-sama …, kita habiskan semua, habiskan semua!”

Lima belas dikurangi lima setengah rupiah untuk rokok, tinggal sembilan setengah rupiah. Sisanya akan dihabiskan untuk makan berdua.

“Saya sakit perut sajalah, Rus.”

“Sakit perut saja bagaimana?”

“Maksud saya, saya pulang saja …, sakit perut …, tidak ikut makan ….”

Kami berpandangan dan sama-sama mengerti. Rusli makan sendiri.[]

halaman 96-102, Keajaiban di Pasar Senen oleh H. Misbach Yusa Biran (penerbit CV Indocamp, Jakarta, cetakan ketiga, 2005)