I would like to know what "I was paralysed by possibility, caught between the vertigo of fulfilment and the abyss of uncertainty." means in the following sentences:

‘Goodnight,’ you said after you’d switched off your torch. You undressed without a trace of self-consciousness, your silhouette in the dark crawling into the sleeping bag next to mine. I could hear you breathe, like a gentle crashing of waves. And slowly, drop by drop, the rain started up again. It pattered on the roof like fingertips practising piano chords. We lay on our backs and listened, not saying a word. I sensed you near me, your body somehow animated despite its stillness. My heart was beating faster than the rain. Suddenly I wanted to be close to you, desperately so. I could feel the pull of your body, little strings drawing me towards you. But I couldn’t move. Heartbeats passed, light years of back and forth in my mind, and just when I began to think I would never have the courage, you shifted towards me and placed your head on my shoulder. My heart stopped. I didn’t dare breathe. Your head was heavy, like warm marble, and your hair brushed my cheek. I was paralysed by possibility, caught between the vertigo of fulfilment and the abyss of uncertainty. I thought of how rashly I’d acted with Beniek that night so many years earlier, at the dance, when the lights had gone out. How painful and unforeseeable the consequences had been. Despite that, I had just gathered the strength to think about what it would be like to touch my hand to your hair, that it was the only right thing to do, that now wasn’t then, when you whispered, ‘Goodnight, Ludzio’, and shifted away from me. It was the first time you had called me that, you’d changed my name affectionately. It made the void on my shoulder even more unbearable.

In this novel which is set in the 1980's in Poland under the socialist regime, where homosexuality was socially unacceptable, the protagonist Ludwik (a university graduate) left Poland in 1981 to live in the United States of America. And he remembers what it was like back then in Poland, where he went to the agricultural camp (which was mandatory for college graduation). At the camp, he met Janusz, who would soon become his lover. After the camp, Ludwik decided to go to a lake district with Janusz. On the way to the lake district, it rained through the night and they decided to stay the night at a barn of some family living at a farmhouse. When they lay close to each other, Ludwik and Janusz felt pull towards each other.

In this part, I wonder what "possibility" means here. Does it mean that Ludwik imagined all kinds of possibilities that might come true in this situation, he being close to Janusz?

And, as for "the vertigo of fulfillment," would that mean he thought his imagination was fulfilled (came true) because Janusz came towards him, and he felt dizziness because of the realization of his dream?

Lastly, I would like to ask about "the abyss of uncertainty." Would that mean he felt uneasiness, worries as to what happen next, and that it felt like an abyss...? And in this case, would it be alright to understand that "uncertainty" here is the dark side of the "possibility" mentioned earlier?

I am an English learner from South Korea, so thank you for your patience in advance as I may not know obvious things. I would very much appreciate your help. :)

1 Answer 1


I think the sentence:

I was paralysed by possibility, caught between the vertigo of fulfilment and the abyss of uncertainty.

describes the psychological state of not knowing what to do. "paralyzed" is semantically linked with "caught": the character was double-minded between the excitement (vertigo) of going ahead and the panic (abyss) of ignoring how things would turn out.

  • Dear Gustavson, thank you so much for the explanation. Then, may I take that he thought all kinds of possibilities, but he could not move his body because he was excited to achieve more, while, at the same time, feeling panic as he didn't know how things would turn out? I just wonder whether "fulfilment" here means that his dream (possibility) had partly come true, or he decided to fulfill his dream from now on. And I also wonder "possibility" has the basically same meaning as "uncertainty," though "possibility" seems to have a more positive connotation. Dec 19, 2020 at 8:18
  • 1
    Philosophically speaking, "possibility" points to situations that can occur. If they do occur, then there is fulfilment.
    – Gustavson
    Dec 19, 2020 at 12:55

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