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￭ in return for your navy blue shirt
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2009-08-24 | |
An old friend came visiting me the other day; for the sake of discussion letās call him Ned. I do see him quite often and I have to say he always surprises me with something. After few drinks he lowered his voice and said:
āI am weird; disturbed and most probably sick. I should be locked away, preferably in a soft-wall room.ā
I looked at him and saw he was not kidding. āHm, I said to myself, this is gonna be interesting.ā Now let me introduce you to Ned.
Ned is in his mid 30ās, with a touch of baldness and wearing glasses. His scarce hair is showing gray threads here and there and when heās not shaved, his beard looks like dirty rice. Strong character and to be honest he is, letās say, different. I donāt know if weird is the right word, I would rather say heās strange. He can surprise you by being the most kind and giving person on the planet and yet, in the same time, he can be such a cruel and selfish SOB. I saw him not only once being lost in a flower but throwing a careless look at a masterpiece. I asked him: āWhy?ā The answer was typical Ned: āBecause I donāt feel anythingā.
Everything that he does is based on feelings. He lives and he dies thousands of times a day. He can smile and care for you and in the next second he cuts your throat open. He is a broken wolf of the pack, grey, cruel, yet caring for a lamb. He is the backstage of a theatre, full of costumes and masks and in a way he is an artist: he knows how to wear those masks and he knows how to play the character. Surprisingly enough, he has a job where feelings are not very welcome. He works with numbers, schedules, and appointments. Heās supposed to have a controlled and structured mind and heās way beyond that. Itās difficult to know where you are with him. Yet, he pulls it through, day in and day out.
Iāve seen his cruel side not only once. Violent in thinking, going postal within, you feel insecure next to him. On the outside heās calm, but itās the peace and serenity of an assassin who just found out that his loved one was killed. After a logical and humane burst of negative energy, expressed by shouting out loud and walking around with energetic steps, banging doors or smashing things, he calms down. He freezes with a sarcastic smile on his face and you think his lips will crumble to pieces. His eyes become ice and few people actually have seen the blade in them. Most donāt see his eyes and they are the lucky ones; heās looking away not wanting to hurt you.
His soft side is even more amazing. He gets lost in poetry, in twirls of colors and music. He watches the clouds passing by and his mind goes along with them. He laughs and when he does his laughter is full of joy; he falls in love for the simplest things: a puppy, a snowflake, a flower, a feeling, a second, a morning, a smile; simple things that bring so much happiness to Ned. I saw him once falling in love for a smile and in that split second, my friend Ned, was beautiful. He was the sheer definition of happiness. His eyes were wide opened, his nostrils quivering, his cheeks were all red and you could almost hear his heart pumping his boiling blood.
But deep down inside, buried so deep, lays a complex soul and a troubled mind. No one understands Ned better than me and yet I cannot say I know him. Most people, like you and me, live in a real world or at least in a world that we perceive as real. Ned may show the same features, the same down-to-Earth features but only few really see that heās cleverly wearing a mask, a disguise that not only helps him to cope with the day to day life but also to fool the others that heās one of them. Iāve said to myself few times that he should seek professional advice but the charm, the nonchalance, the level of unexpected that heās showing stopped me every time when I wanted to tell him that.
If for the most of us, life goes on with ups and downs, for Ned life goes on with peaks; and Iām thinking of the fact that not only he goes from the seventh heaven to a bottomless pit but also these mood switches are so fast that I often fail to see what the cause was. Now, of course, if you are a psychiatrist you can immediately label Ned with a bipolar personality and you can start writing down a recipe for pills or look for a facility to put Ned in. But heās a nice guy, as the song goes āToo good to be trueā, and he wouldnāt deserve such a treatment.
Given these, letās get back to the beginning. I was having a drink with him when he lowered his voice and told me that he thinks heās sick and should be locked away in a soft-walls room. I looked closely at him and I saw he wasnāt kidding.
āWhat do you mean? Why are you saying you should be locked away in a coo-coo house?ā I replied. āI know you for quite some time and I know youāre strange but from here to there is a long wayā.
āI found out something strange about me: I am a life stealerā he said.
Did it ever happen to you that you are in a conversation or a situation and then all of a sudden something so unexpected is happening that you wish you werenāt there and yet youāre dying to find out more? Well, it happened to me right in that second. It took me about 10 seconds and a considerable effort to avoid a really stupid question like āWhatās the forecast for tomorrow?ā in a desperate attempt to channel the conversation somewhere else but curiosity won.
āWhat do you mean? What did you do?ā I asked, hoping he didnāt give in to a bestial instinct and started chopping off people heads.
āWell, I didnāt kill anyone if you were thinking of that. But something that recently happened made me realize that I can say that. You know that I was away on vacation. You also know I like watching people on the street, in the bus or in the airport in this case.ā Yes, I remembered that, it was one of his favorite āthingsā if I can call it that way. I donāt know if it was a hobby of his but I knew he liked it a lot. When he was returning from somewhere, along with the stories about the places he visited he was also telling stories about the people he saw. About the elderly couples still holding hands, about the youngsters who just had their first kiss or about the couple for which love was a feeling in the past.
āI was at the airport the other day, he continued, waiting for my flight back. Having some hours to spend Iāve wondered around, entering each little shop that you can usually find after the Check-In. I went to the bookstore and spent almost 30 minutes looking for a decent book. The writers these days, he complained, are not writing anymore something meaningfulā.
āWhat do you mean?ā Iāve asked, raising an eyebrow.
āWell, almost all the books were with blood, bones, murders, crimes, fear and no matter where the story was taking place it was bound to have a girl, good looking of course, that in the end falls in love with the hero that saves the day. If the book is not in this category that most probably is the sweet kind, where he falls in love with her, she becomes sick of a cruel disease, dies, and you end up with a nose that is running so badly that people around you think you have swine flu or something similar. Books so sweet that by the time youāve reached half of it youāre already having diabetes and youāre frantically looking in the phonebook for pharmacies that are selling without recipe a shot or two of insulinā.
I couldnāt help laughing out loud hearing Ned saying this; yet another sample of what and how he feels. I was beginning to breathe lightly now, when he was talking about books but a question was still wondering in my mind: āWhat the hell is the connection between a bookstore in the airport and Ned stealing lives?ā I knew I didnāt hear everything so Iāve waited for him to continue.
āIn the end, he said, when I was just about to buy a crossword puzzle magazine Iāve finally found a book worth reading: a book about a bit troubled minded teenager, or at least that was what his parents were thinking, whoās just dealing with his teenager life, the questions, the concerns and the difficulties that heās facing at 16 years of ageā.
I couldnāt take it anymore so Iāve asked āOk, so far so good, but what is the connection with you stealing lives?
āWell, perhaps itās not much of a connection if you really stop and think about it, he said bitterly, perhaps itās just a way for you to see my frustration and my anger that we are more and more promoting fiction; and if that wasnāt bad enough weāre promoting negative fiction, ugly and dark thoughts, and even though they are indeed a part of our human nature they are simply not helping us in our evolution as intelligent beings. Anyway, he continued, Iāll get back to that later on. For now, itās enough to say I bought the book and I was just roaming around for a quiet sit. I found one that was also having a view to the runway and I could see from time to time that planes that were lining up for take off. Iāve started reading the book and I was slowly dragged into the problems, the psychosis, the fun and the worries of a 16 years old kidā.
While I was listening to Ned, I couldnāt help myself smiling, picturing him in a corner or the airport, deaf and blind to the people around him, all rushing and storming towards gates and desks, perhaps hurrying for a coffee before the flight. I knew somehow that this was not the end of the story. I knew Ned and I felt it was something more to it than just a book.
āAfter a while, he continued, my eyes became tired and I had to take a break from reading. I closed the book and I started again looking around and watching people. And then I saw her. In that moment, for more than a split second I had a lifeā.
āSay what?ā Iāve replied. āCāmon Ned, youāre just pulling my finger here. Weāre all turning our heads around when we see a nice woman on the street. Yes, itās a bit awkward that you saw her in the airport after the Check-in desk, I give you that, but other than that itās just a normal peek at a pair-o-leg. We are hunters my friend, whether you like it or not, and this is what we do.ā
āYes, he replied, I agree to some extent that you are completely right; but not this time. This time was different.ā
āWell, if you stop interrupting me you would be able to find out, isnāt it?ā
I smiled again, remembering that Ned hates to be interrupted. Sometimes heās so focused on what heās trying to tell you that anything that breaks his line of thoughts greatly pisses him off.
āThis time, he continued, I was looking at her and I couldnāt believe what Iām feeling. Iām not gonna bother describing her; we could just not be on the same page here. Itās enough to say that she was indeed good looking. She was wearing a suit, which was a bit of a surprise in an airport, and the skirt had just the right length to show a very interesting pair of legs; long, a bit muscular, showing that she was doing some sport. A round face was placed on top of a nice neck and the curve between the neck and the shoulder was amazing. She had very interesting eyes, a strange combination of blue and grey and adding to this a lovely smile makes a stunning picture. I couldnāt believe my eyes! She was right over there, in the bright morning sunlight, with a smile that doubled my heartās beatings, just being the most astounding woman alive.
She was on the phone with someone and from time to time she was giggling and laughing with someone at the other end. Her eyes were glowing and she was smiling the most beautiful smile Iāve ever seen. I became jealous. In an instant I wanted to be the one at the other end. I wanted to be the one she was laughing with, the one who was enjoying perhaps her immense love. The Universe stopped and in a second I became that one. I became her lover and my disturbed mind took me even further in time.
I remembered how we met, in a rainy morning, waiting for a bus among bored and dull people waiting to get to work. She smiled at me and all of a sudden the sun came up, subdued for her smile, as he was nothing but a mere slave, mirroring himself in her eyes. I fell madly in love and I knew back then that I will always love her. Time flew by and I remembered how our love grew stronger and stronger, going above and beyond the realm of real, the realm of small and petty differences that haunt us almost every day. Now, while I was waiting for her to fly back from a business trip, I was talking to her on the phone telling her how much I would love to have her by my side, not knowing that a stranger, one of the billion of Earthās people was dreaming the same thing.ā
I became silent and my smile froze. Ned always had a way of surprising me in ways I couldnāt imagine. Iāve had a sip of my favorite wine and silently, I waited for him to continue.
āThen my mind went even further in time. I was old and I remembered our how I proposed her to be my companion for the rest of our lives. We were sky diving and I was scared like crazy not to drop the ring. I was struggling to kneel, not even realizing how difficult yet romantic this would be. Floating in the air I was able to come up with a position that with a lot of imagination resembled a kneeling position. Well, this was for about a second because my body, losing the flowing ability, started diving exactly like a big piece of rock thrown from the same plane I jumped. She followed me diving and she caught me few hundreds of feet lower. She took my hand, looked into my eyes and I knew again that I wanted her to be my lifeās partner.
We grew old together and our love refined itself into the most romantic love story ever told. We had kids and they had kids of their own. We were grey haired, holding our hands, smiling as always to the unknown future, tasting from the cup of life, cherishing each drop as it would be the last. āTill death do us partā were not words thrown in the heat of a silly vow but words that we knew they were true. We wanted to die the same way we lived, side by side, partners in happiness, holding hands, smiling and laughing all the way, helping each other going through life, making each day a better day for the other one. We wanted to die together; the feeling deep inside me was like an imprint in my genes. The feeling I had was telling me she couldnāt live without me and I knew I would be hurt too much upon her death and I wouldnāt be able to live without her. I wouldnāt bare knowing that what was once a love story would lay under a cold marble stone, carved with her name.
Iāve felt all this so vivid that I could even feel the touch of her fingertips on me; I could taste the sweetness of her lips and I closed my eyes and I smelled again her skin, the perfume, the scent of a blossoming flower. A lump made its way up to my throat and a tear started running down my cheek. It was so meaningful and after a while Iāve realized what was going on. I was thanking her for all the good moments, for all the feelings she gave me, for how alive she made me feel, for my life itself that started in that bus station, in a rainy and gloomy morning.
Reality and dream mixed together. A tear was indeed running down my cheek while I was looking at her and I think I was looking silly but I couldnāt care less about the people around me. She mustāve felt something because at some point she gazed up and looked straight into my eyes. Her smile faded and no matter what my eyes were saying I knew she realized, even for a moment, what I was feeling. We looked into each otherās eyes for what it seemed to be an eternity. She read, I knew she read, the whole story in my eyes and at the end, seeing my tear, her lips curved in the most beautiful smile Iāve ever been lucky to see. The was thanking me for a life that didnāt happen, for place she has never been, for mornings she didnāt have, for sunsets she didnāt see while resting her head on my shoulder, yet for feelings she had for more than a second when she looked into my eyes.
The magic broke and reality slapped me with a very cruel question: Would I know how to be the One for her? What if whatever I dreamt wouldāve happened? Would I see the mirrored sun in her eyes every morning? Would I really love her forever? Do we love forever? Isnāt the routine making itself way in our lives like a stench of a corpse that you donāt want to acknowledge thatās there, corpse thatās actually the dying love? I didnāt know what to answer. Perhaps because I still have to overcome an ancestral fear of rejection. A fear so out of place that it is stupid to even mention. Perhaps because I wasnāt sure enough that I could change the reality and bend it in such a way that it would fit this imagination Iāve had if only for a second. Perhaps I wasnāt complete enough as a person, perhaps I didnāt find yet the definition of āmyselfā to be able to give a straight answer right there on the spot.
I stood up and walked away. While roaming through the airport, those questions were relentlessly haunting me. And then, in a burst of energy, the answer popped out in my mind. Yes, I would be the One for her. I would know how to love and cherish her by the end of time; and I knew why: because I couldnāt define her and couldnāt quantify what I felt for her. The love I felt for her could not be divided into tangible pieces, could not be broken down into fragments of dull reality. I fell in love for her smile and for the sun in her eyes, for the way she made me feel.
Iāve stormed back, not knowing what the hell I am doing, but feeling that I have to do something; but she wasnāt there anymore. All the other people were there but she wasnāt, it was like I was looking at a picture that Iāve seen before yet now, something was missing; She was missing.
I felt like shouting, I felt like breaking and destroying everything around me in a burst of an insane feeling of madness. But Iāve realized how futile this feeling was; I wasnāt achieving anything acting like that. I just stood there and my lips curved in a smile; it was my turn to thank her for the feelings she made me feel.
Iāve raised my head and saw that my plane was ready for me to go on board. I turned around and went on the plane.ā
It seems I had a huge question mark imprinted on me because Ned, gazing at me, asked: āAre you dumb or youāre just pretending? Donāt you get it? For more than a second I stole that womanās life and shaped it as my own. Iāve created a past and a future that never existed. Iāve created memories that were so vivid that I could remember her eyes when we met and the smell of her skin while making love. I cried remembering how we wanted to die. I was able to feel the touch of her fingertips and her voice calling me. I stole her life.ā He said with a bitter voice.
Oh, my dear friend Ned, youāre such an enigma, a puzzle so complex that Iām afraid you will never be deciphered. Yet you have such a beautiful soul. For a second I thought he really did something wrong in terms of real and touchable things; but I couldnāt say anything for sure about what he did in that airport. Somehow, I do believe he stole that womanās life, yet he did it in the most beautiful way ever possible. He stole it and created a past and a future full of lovely memories. He created memories out of nothing.
We continued chit-chatting for a while, talking mostly non-sense and at some point our ways grew apart. Iāve dived into the night, still having Nedās story in my mind. I myself am an Observer but not at Nedās level and a twisted game came to my mind, Nedās style.
Recently, Iāve kind of met a lovely girl, who, on top of her looks, sheās also sharp minded. Finding out that sheās gonna take a vacation to a different country and sheās gonna get there by bus, Iāve asked her, out of the blue, just one thing: to look around, to remember and to describe upon her return the people in the bus. I didnāt expect much but while asking her that, using an online service, I couldnāt help smiling thinking of Ned. A twist like this was indeed worth of him: observing the others through somebody elseās eyes.
She left for vacation and I was so eager for her to come back. A week passed and on Monday I did see her online but I kept quiet. Not until Wednesday I contacted her starting with the usual trivial things. In a short while Iāve asked her about what she promised she will do before she left: observing the people around her.
She started telling me about them but unfortunately she was too tired and to stay awake the whole trip. But she did tell me about the old lady sitting in the sit next to her, who made a square out of her head, blabbing all they way about her daughter she was going to visit in Italy, about a family with kids that was eating all the way. She remembered that most of them were just listening music watching the landscape while they were traveling.
She said all this in just a few words, yet the impact on me was huge. In a second my imagination ran as wild as possible. I was hearing the old lady telling me the story of her life, how she actually took part of the 2nd WW, how she gave birth to her daughter and how successful she became in Italy, this being one of the reasons she was visiting her. How her life have been since her husband died and how much she did love him.
I heard the noisy family with the two kids that were sitting few rows away. The father, tired of the rush of getting to the bus station with all the luggage was snoozing while resting his forehead on the window and the mother, also tired because of the preparations, was reading a book while still having a vigilant eye on the two rascal kids that had enough energy to power up a city; it was like they were high on plutonium and even the Duracell bunny would wore out in a competition with them. Eager to arrive to the destination, curiously checking the neighbors, making faces at them, stealing newspapers and pretending they were reading them, they were having the kind of fun that only kids can have.
I saw the others, some having a dreamy look in their eyes, being already at the destination, perhaps meeting some old friends, perhaps hugging their loved ones. Some were just silently enjoying the trip, looking out the window and reading from time to time. I tried and I was able to get into their minds and hear their thoughts like they were mine.
A crazy game Iāve played with my new friend. I used her eyes to see all these and I love her for allowing me this. Yet, thinking of Ned, Iām asking: āIs he indeed weird? Should he be locked away? Did he really steal that girlās life? Just think of it for a second: āIsnāt it possible that for those seconds he and that girl actually lived a beautiful life that otherwise had but a slim chance of happening? Didnāt he create a parallel reality filled only with beautiful and loving things? Isnāt it possible that he actually gave her and himself few more moments of life? Wasnāt what he felt what we all want? Wasnāt what he felt simply above and beyond everything?
Think about it. I did.
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