Our interview this week is with Lena Haloway from Delirium.
According to a popular book review site, this is her story in a nutshell: “Oliver’s artfully detailed prose reveals, brick by brick, the sturdy dramatic foundation of an initially implausible premise.” (You can access the full book review here.)
Her story is that and so much more, so we reached out to Lena with a few questions. Read her answers below – in her own words.
(Wondering about the idea behind the “In their own words” interviews? Read all about it here.)
What is your greatest fear?
Love. Amor deliria nervosa. It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure. I don’t like to think that I’m still walking around with the disease running through my blood. Sometimes I swear I can feel it writhing in my veins like something spoiled, like sour milk. It makes me feel dirty. It reminds me of children throwing tantrums. It reminds me of resistance, of diseased girls dragging their nails on the pavement, tearing out their hair, their mouths dripping spit. Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe.
What is your current state of mind?
I’m nervous, of course. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. That’s bad enough. The Book of Shhh also tells stories of those who died because of love lost or never found, which is what terrifies me the most. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I don’t like makeup, have never been interested in clothes or lip gloss. My best friend, Hana, thinks I’m crazy, but of course she would. She’s absolutely gorgeous—even when she just twists her blond hair into a messy knot on the top of her head, she looks as though she’s just had it styled. I’m not ugly, but I’m not pretty, either. Everything is in-between. I have eyes that aren’t green or brown, but a muddle. I’m not thin, but I’m not fat, either. The only thing you could definitely say about me is this: I’m short.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Right before the sun rises there’s a moment when the whole sky goes this pale nothing color—not really gray but sort of, or sort of white, and I’ve always really liked it because it reminds me of waiting for something good to happen. Sometimes I feel like if you just watch things, just sit still and let the world exist in front of you—sometimes I swear that just for a second time freezes and the world pauses in its tilt. Just for a second. And if you somehow found a way to live in that second, then you would live forever.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
The Coldness: a feeling that comes sometimes when I’m lying in bed, a black, empty feeling that knocks my breath away and leaves me gasping as though I’ve just been thrown in icy water. I know the truth: I know from the nights of Coldness. I know the past will drag you backward and down, have you snatching at whispers of wind and the gibberish of trees rubbing together, trying to decipher some code, trying to piece together what was broken. It’s hopeless. The past is nothing but a weight. It will build inside of you like a stone.
What is your favorite occupation?
Running hard. All the pain lifts away, the cramp vanishes, the fist eases off my chest, and I can breathe easily. Instantly a feeling of total happiness bubbles up inside of me: the solid feeling of the ground underneath me, the simplicity of the movement, rocketing off my heels, pushing forward in time and space, total freedom and release. My awful secret is that I like to run with Hana partly because it’s the single, sole, solitary shred of a thing that I can do better than she can, but I would never admit that out loud in a million years.
What is your greatest regret?
It’s so strange how life works: You want something and you wait and wait and feel like it’s taking forever to come. Then it happens and it’s over and all you want to do is curl back up in that moment before things changed. Everyone you trust, everyone you think you can count on, will eventually disappoint you. When left to their own devices, people lie and keep secrets and change and disappear, some behind a different face or personality, some behind a dense early morning fog, beyond a cliff.
On what occasions do you lie?
I’ve learned to get really good at this—say one thing when I’m thinking about something else, act like I’m listening when I’m not, pretend to be calm and happy when really I’m freaking out. It’s one of the skills you perfect as you get older. You have to learn that people are always listening. No one in particular is targeted; it’s all done randomly, to be fair. But it’s almost worse that way. I pretty much always feel as though a giant, revolving gaze is bound to sweep over me at any second, lighting up my bad thoughts like an animal lit still and white in the ever-turning beam of a lighthouse. Sometimes I feel as though there are two me’s, one coasting directly on top of the other: the superficial me, who nods when she’s supposed to nod and says what she’s supposed to say, and some other, deeper part, the part that worries and dreams and says “Gray.” Most of the time they move along in sync and I hardly notice the split, but sometimes it feels as though I’m two whole different people and I could rip apart at any second. Just like anything else, lying becomes easier the more you do it.
When and where were you the happiest?
The Fourth of July—the day of our independence, the day we commemorate the closing of our nation’s border forever—is one of my favorite holidays. I love the music that pipes through the streets, love the way the steam rising thick from the grills makes the streets look cloudy, the people shadowy and unclear. I especially love the temporary extension of curfew: Instead of being home at nine o’clock, all uncureds are allowed to stay out until eleven. In recent years Hana and I have made it a kind of game to stay out until the last possible second, cutting it closer and closer every year. Last year I stepped into the house at 10:58 exactly, heart hammering in my chest, shaking with exhaustion—I’d had to sprint home. But as I lay in bed I couldn’t stop grinning. I felt like I’d gotten away with something.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
The Book of Shhh says that deliria alters your perception, disables your ability to reason clearly, impairs you from making sound judgments. But it does not tell you this: that love will turn the whole world into something greater than itself. Rainstorms are incredible: falling shards of glass, the air full of diamonds. The wind whispers Alex’s name and the ocean repeats it; the swaying trees make me think of dancing. Everything I see and touch reminds me of him, and so everything I see and touch is perfect. It’s an incredible thing, how you can feel so taken care of by someone and yet feel, also, like you would die or do anything just for the chance to protect him back.
Where would you like to live?
We can make our home in the Wilds. Other people do it, don’t they? Other people have done it.
Want to read the full novel? You can find Delirium by Lauren Oliver at the Austin Public Library: