I think my favorite story so far as been “Here and There.” After “Girl with the Curious Hair” and “John Billy,” Wallace quickly takes us back down to earth with what is a basic, honest to goodness love story. Boy meets girl in high school, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl go to different colleges, boy and girl have a long-distance relationship that doesn’t work out, boy and girl break up. Yet, in playing with the complex idea of distances, Wallace turns this simple love story into an intricate tale of desires, dreams, and space.
From the very beginning of the story, the question of distance is manifest Bruce’s kissing of what is now his ex-girlfriend’s senior photo. It seems as though Bruce enjoys kissing the girl’s picture more than he enjoys kissing the actual girl. She even says, “He didn’t really like to kiss me” (151). But, from his description of the photo (“It’s cloudy from kisses” (152)), Bruce has obviously repeatedly kissed the picture. This strange situation arises because Bruce’s feelings of distance and closeness seem to be inverted. While kissing the girl (in person), Bruce describes that “at the time, with her, yes, I’d feel vaguely elsewhere” (151). It is in a moment of close physical contact that Bruce feels far away from the girl, hence his dislike for kissing her in person. But, it seems that it is only when he is away from the girl, when he only has her picture, that he is able to love her and feel a closeness and a connection.
The reason for Bruce’s inverted sense of connection seems to stem from the fact that Bruce was only able to love the girl because he made her, in his head, what he wanted her to be. And it was only when the girl was away from him that he could “invest” the girl with the qualities that he wanted her to have. The psychologist points this out, explaining how Bruce “never regards her as more than and independent from the feelings and qualities [Bruce] is disposed to invest her with from a distance” (156). When he was able to, essentially, “make her up” in his imagination he felt closest to her. But when they were together, he realized that “she is just plain different from whatever [he] might have decided to make her into for [himself]” (157). So, again it is only when they are apart, when he is free to dream, that he can feel a connection to the girl.
This also connects to why the girl had that impression that Bruce never likes to have, instead “he really likes to want” (159). If he has something, he has to take it for what it is, for how it presents itself, but, if he wants something and doesn’t have it yet, he is still free to dream about it. Bruce needs space, needs a distance between himself and an object in order to connect to it. The second that Bruce feels at home in Maine is the moment that he needs to leave: “Maine becomes another here instead of a there” (164). Bruce can’t have “here’s,” he can only handle “there’s.” He needs to feel that burn of desire, that want. We can only desire things that we don’t have, otherwise it would no longer be a desire. Bruce likes the desiring–the object doesn’t much matter.
Beyond the content, the very structure of the work suggests a play of and with distances. The story seems to be a therapy session between Bruce and a psychologist. But, the girl is present, too. Or is she? At first glance it might appear so: the conversation seems to flow and her responses do, for the most part, follow after Bruce’s comments. But, after re-reading the story, I’m pretty sure that, in fact, Bruce and the girl are in separate rooms, relating their accounts of their story at different times. Though this could definitely be up for interpretation and I would love to hear what other people think, I think there is an ever so subtle feeling that Bruce and the girl are talking just past each other. (Connection to Rick and Lenore, anyone?) In this one moment where both sides of their story finally come together, Bruce and the girl are actually apart, separated.
Ultimately, in this deceptively simple story, Wallace raises many important questions about the nature of human relationships. Do we all try to keep ourselves separated from the ones we love in fear of finding out that they’re not the people we thought them to be? Is the desire to want stronger than the desire to have?