Our Hearts Condemn Us

illustration by Brianna Ashby

I end up crying on the flight home from Colorado. Stars blur. The hazy grunge rock of the Only Lovers Left Alive soundtrack clangs in my ears and scrapes a shovel across the tender surface of my brain. Red lights blink atop the plane’s wings. A tear rolls from my right eye, and I wonder: If Adam, a vampire, doesn’t need a toilet, where does the O negative go when he’s taken from it what he needs? He makes excuses for his out-of-order bathroom to Ian, his human assistant, and offers an alternative: “Please feel free to piss in the garden.”

A drop and a half of hot salt water falls from my left eye into my lap. I wonder what a vampire’s heart is good for, anyway. If he can be killed with a wooden bullet to the heart—if his heart is, in fact, working—what is its business? Whose blood is that, running through those ageless veins?

Only Lovers Left Alive

The soundtrack cover refreshes on the tiny screen of my iPod. Eve’s face rises, luminous as the moon, white as the moth on the wrong side of a window. I turn off the reading light and wipe my eyes in the dark.

I don’t want to go home. I am not ready to say the things I need to say there. We need so much, we human beings. We want so much. The simple mechanics of living are so messy, so terribly tangled. This is what divides us from Adam and Eve, the only lovers left alive: the viscera.

Sola Gratia

Bram Stoker built his vampire to mirror mankind’s animal side. Dracula was all our wildness, our base desires, our ravenous predation upon the pure among us. Jim Jarmusch’s vampires, portrayed with exquisite androgyny by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, are just the opposite—it is his humans (or ”zombies,” in the patois of the film) who are beastly, thoughtlessly indulging their degenerate impulses. The zombies have poisoned the water, they’ve poisoned the earth, and now they’ve managed to poison their own bodies, their very blood. We’ve done it now, Jarmusch says. We’ve pissed in the Garden .

Elsewhere, Adam and Eve take their lives in elegant, measured mouthfuls. They sip their ruby liquid meals from crystal cordial glasses. They live on music, on poetry, on silver thermoses of untainted black-market blood. By some agreement, the lovers live thousands of miles apart, uniting once a century for a honeymoon. They have their art, their science, their memories, and the clear, bright bond of their love to sustain them. They feed each other glittering morsels of information. Eve caresses her antique books and Adam his rare guitars, but these touches express reverence, not desire—love, not greed. Living, loving, and even suffering look chic and effortless in their cool white hands. On a night flight to Tangiers the exhausted lovers lean upon each other in perfect repose, her pale face eclipsing the darkness of his hair.

This Is Your Wilderness

I watch Eve’s long fingers run calmly down a column of Arabic text. I wonder: How often have I wanted not to want? How often have I hungered to be free of hunger? My body, my heart, my life—these are anything but effortless.

Up on the mountain at the writing workshop, my every need was met. Each day instructors offered just the right amount of understanding. I took my place at the table each night to find an elegant, measured meal. The stream water was not too cold, nor was the sun too hot. My legs grew strong as I climbed to the meadow. I rested. I climbed some more. I did not hunger. I did not want. No truth was too hard to speak aloud. For those few days up on the mountain, the world was enough for me, and I was enough for the world.

The Taste of Blood

Sooner or later, every vampire story involves a character like Eve’s sister Ava—a newly minted, Stoker-style bloodsucker, urgent and sensual, who makes all the rookie vampire mistakes. It is not, these characters tell us, just vampirism that makes you cool; for proof, simply look to sloppy, red-chinned Ava, holding her stomach and moaning after too much to drink. No, coolness comes with experience, with making the mistakes and learning from them, with watching from a detached distance as continents drift and hungry zombies cycle through ages of splendor and ruin.

Spooky Action at a Distance

I thought about building my own little cabin on the ridge. I fantasized about hiding in those heights the rest of my life, of living so far above the world that the world ceased to exist. I dreamt of breathing with ease, of watching my crumpled self unfold into a creature of strength and grace. I dreamt of living for centuries on old books and pure air and small sips of clear, bright love.

Instead, I came back down the mountain. Dreams and immaculate vampires may flourish in the thin mountain air, but this messy, hungry human being cannot. So I bundled up what scraps of serenity I could and tucked them into my pack.

Let us hope they will last me the long night flight home.