The Hollow Man

The truth is I am not really a compassionate man, certainly not a loving one.  I am not even entirely sure I am a good one.  The truth is I was crippled long before Erik put a metal spike through my spine.  I am fairly sure I'm not a bad man, but I arrive at this conclusion through intellect, and objectively viewing my actual deeds.  I do try to do what is right.  I know right from wrong; that's the sort of thing you can learn intellectually, whether you can feel it or not, and in fact I might argue that the strongest ethical systems are those that can compel us even in the face of emotion arguing otherwise.  And I try to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness and open-mindedness.  I try to live my life by certain standards of virtue.

It's really quite laughable because inside, I'm hollow.  Almost completely empty.  I can have compassion for all humanity, because I really don't think that is an emotion you can feel with your gut rather than your mind, and if you want to be an ethical person it's necessary.  But for individuals, in the place in the heart where most reserve their fiercest passions...  I feel nothing.

As I said, a cripple, and it's got nothing to do with either my severed back or my questing mind.  It quite frightens me, that so much power can be held by someone with so little capacity for human emotion-- or post-human emotion, at that.  This may sound like a contradiction, so I should point out that the fear I feel in this matter is purely intellectual, a deep unease of the logical consequences of such unbridled power in the hands of a man who really can't care about anyone.  So I work very hard to maintain my ethics, to refrain from using my powers in ways that would harm others for personal gain.  Reading minds isn't particularly harmful-- the people who would feel a sense of violation and horror at having their minds read don't know I'm doing it, so no harm is done, and my X-Men are reasonably comfortable with my abilities.  But manipulating minds is a far greater sin-- to tell the policeman I wasn't really speeding, to suggest that the waitress wants to take my order before her other tables, to persuade the bank officer to give me a new line of credit although his figures tell him I'm overextended.  These are the sort of acts I won't commit unless it furthers my Cause, and then only if there's no other way to accomplish my goal.   I have to place such restraints on myself, or I don't see how to avoid becoming a monster, like Erik became.

I have been trying very hard not to become a monster.

I'm not sure when it happened, when the part of me that feels shut off or died.  I don't think it was related to my telepathy, since Jean is quite a passionate young woman, and poor David is obviously eaten alive by anger and resentment.  I remember crying at my father's funeral, when I was seven.  By the time my mother died, when I was 14, it had already happened.  I remember loving my mother, and yet I remember kneeling by her coffin to pay my respects in the funeral home, thinking, "I should be crying.  If I were normal I'd be crying."  But there were no tears, and not even really any grief.  I hadn't been separated from her long enough to miss her yet, and the truth was, the mother I'd have missed had gone away a long time ago, leaving behind a shell who drank too much and let her new husband hit her.  Her death was perhaps a relief.  I had no obligation to try to protect her from Marko or the knowledge of my true nature, no reason to stay where I was, nothing to hold me back any longer.  All my ties to humanity were severed; I could finally be what I was becoming.

I knew Kurt Marko was obsessed with control.  It was why he beat his son, and his wife, and occasionally me when I got in his way.  I knew it would enrage him to lose control of me, and he would try to block me if he could.  As he was technically my legal guardian, he could stop me if I didn't take steps to ensure he wouldn't.  In those days I couldn't simply control thoughts; I could read minds and do some crude manipulations, but I couldn't just think Marko to my will.  So the day after the funeral, when he was hung over from all the drinking he'd done at the wake, I went into his room to speak to him.  I told him I was taking my trust fund, which could be disbursed before the age of 21 only for educational expenses, and going to Bard College with it, and leaving his house immediately.  He told me I was doing no such thing.

All I did was amplify the sensitivity of his nerves, increasing his ability to sense sound and touch and smell and light.  I didn't even have to amplify them all that much.  His hangover did the rest.  He was sobbing with pain by the time I left him.  I threw up in the bathroom, rinsed with mouthwash, and packed my bags.  Marko did nothing to stop me, ever again.

I'm not proud of that.  Today I could have accomplished that without hurting him at all.  I did do that for personal gain-- I wanted my freedom-- and torturing Marko seems like a very petty revenge for an advanced being like myself.  But even while I was doing it, I wasn't feeling how he'd humiliated me or beaten my mother or usurped my father's place.  I was thinking, quite calmly, that if I relented too early, he wouldn't learn his lesson and then I'd have to do it all over again some other time, although it was really rather embarrassing to see a grown man writhing on the floor begging at my feet, and I wasn't comfortable with that.  Afterward I was acutely nauseated, but that might have had to do with the strain of using my powers in new and stressful ways.  I'm not sure I felt anything, at all.

Bard College had, and still has, a program for gifted students-- high school sophomores can attend an accelerated learning program to get them ready for college, and then in junior and senior years they can take college courses with the rest of the college students.  At 14, I was actually only in ninth grade, not old enough for the program, so I simply lied on my application and then persuaded the admissions officers not to check too carefully.  The truth was, my grades were so good they might not have checked anyway.  Knowing everything the teachers know had always been quite an advantage.

I didn't return home until I'd heard Cain was in the army, and Kurt Marko was dead.  I had my first Ph. D. by then.  I was 18.

I thought I loved Moira when I met her.  She was beautiful, and intelligent, and I'd spent many years in virtual isolation, trying to learn all I could at college (and milk my trust fund for all it was worth until I turned 21, of course; I couldn't leave school before then no matter how many Ph. D.'s I acquired in human-impossible time.)  I hadn't dated, partied or even really made friends, much.  So I thought what I felt for Moira was love.  But it turned out I was fooling myself all along.  Convincing myself that what I felt must be love.  It never was, but when you're empty, it's easy to convince yourself you feel any emotion.  You're drawing pictures on a blank slate, with nothing to compare them to.  I didn't learn what love, or any emotion, really felt like until I met Erik.

That was the final deathblow to whatever heart I possess, actually.  I felt for Erik.  I knew what love was, what obsession was, what it felt like to spend 22 hours in another's company because you resent the time that sleeping will take you away from them, how it felt to need another person.  I had read such things in other people's minds, but there's always a level of distance between other people's emotions and my own.  I didn't know, viscerally, what such things felt.  I had no preparation for how strong it was, how irresistible.  And I threw away everything I was supposed to do, my responsibilities, my ethics, because all of a sudden I could feel.  I left my wife, my son, my job, betraying the vows I swore and the solemn responsibility I took on when I helped bring a new life into the world, became a person that I really actively dislike quite a bit when I think about it, because I could love, for the first time ever.

It ended with a metal bar through my back.  That's something I'm not going to allow again.  As much as my emptiness gives me cause for unease, I know that if I can never love anyone that way, I can never betray my responsibilities and end up so thoroughly destroyed as a reward again.  Even if I still had some capacity to feel the way I felt for Erik, I suspect it would short circuit at some subconscious level now.  I can feel a bit of loneliness, a bit of longing to be in the company of my own kind, so I surround myself with mutant youngsters , people I could never need as equals, and I do enjoy their company.  They make me proud, and I hold them dear.  But they're interchangeable, really.  Whatever mutants I brought into the fold would serve the same need.  They'll fight for my Cause, give me purpose in my life, and keep me from getting lonely.  I'm not sure I actually care about any of them individually, except in the abstract way that I love all mutantkind.

Really, that's not right.  They see me as a father figure, but a father should love his own children more than other people.  But then, I'm a terrible father, as past experience shows.  I do much better with these children.  I can advise them and teach them and help them.  I can give them a Cause to believe in and a place to belong.  I can encourage them to make friends with each other.  I don't actually have to be able to love them, and they don't actually need that from me.  Most don't expect it, either. 

It's better this way, when you think about it.  How could I do what I need to do for the sake of the entire world, if I were driven by the gut-level emotion of love for children, for students, for wife and family?  How could I have been willing to see Erik risk his life in battle, if the Erik I knew hadn't been eaten alive by the demons of madness and bigotry and left nothing but the husk of Magneto the madman?  I don't have the same weaknesses the rest of the world does.  I can't afford to.  I'm too powerful.  If I could be swept away by love, I could force my feelings on others.  If I were driven by greed, I could amass a fortune and none would ever know.  I could indulge in any depravity I wanted to, and none would ever know.  The only thing that saves the world from my passions is that I haven't got any. 

In general, throughout history, great men have been terrible husbands and fathers.  Gautama Buddha left his family behind, after all, and Abraham Lincoln could do nothing for his wife's madness.  I think I make a decent teacher, without becoming a charismatic cult leader that anyone will obey unquestioningly.  I don't sway my students with my superb personality, because I haven't really got one, have I?  They must be responding to the rightness of my Cause, and the environment I've created for them, the feeling of acceptance, the slow growth of the success we've achieved.  The fact that while hate may be more viscerally satisfying, compassion lets those who have been downtrodden feel as if they are good people, noble people. 

History won't remember that I was not really a good man.  It will remember that I tried to do good things.  In the long run that's all that's important, I think.

No, the world, and I, are probably both better off with me this way.  I only wish I'd realized how fundamentally empty I was before I ever became a husband or father.

David, I'm sorry.  But you wanted something from me I was never capable of giving you.  It would have been better for you and everyone if you had never been born.

Somehow I need to stop you, to find the words to get through to you, to stop your murderous spree.  I've been hiding my emptiness from everyone in the world, even other telepaths such as Jean.  But perhaps if I told you how fundamentally hollow I am, you'd realize you could never have hoped for me to give you what you wanted.  Perhaps you'll take your rage out on me directly when you realize I don't, I can't, love anyone.  There's no sense in your destroying my X-Men, or anyone else, when I'm the one who failed you. 

Perhaps I'll tell you the truth.  I don't know any other way to free you.