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Hacktreks 2

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September 02

D.M. Hendricks

Lost, until I met you. It was how I met you.

This is what I remember. Do not forget.
For three days I have waited in this train station. Always returning at the appointed hour. The schedule we fixed. The schedule you’ve broken. You have your reasons, I’m sure. Still, I wait. Until my flesh forgets and my mind grows blurry, until they usher me out for another night. Until then I must wait.

This is my holiday. The weather here has been variable, mostly cold and damp, mist surrounding the city with an occasional break of sunlight through the clouds. The ticket was cheap. A draft runs through the station concourse, probably as it has for the hundred years it has stood here. The ceiling is impossibly high, built to commemorate the triumph of ever greater connections, with huge cathedral like windows adorning its sides to allow long shafts of light to fall onto the concourse floor. Matching clocks, at least thirty feet in diameter, with slate faces, black numbers, and steel blue hands, stare at each other across the concourse above the pedestrian entrances; they disagree on the correct time by four minutes. (I suggest you use the one that is four minutes ahead.) This station is a giant heart of the city, with arteries and ventricles laced with silver tracks, pumping people in and out. But there are no deafening whistles warning of the immanent arrivals and subsequent departures as there were a hundred years ago. Now the trains are electric and you hear the pneumatic hisses of train doors sliding open then closed. The sound of steel wheels on steel tracks. The echoes of thousands of individual footfalls against the high ceiling, merging, becoming one indistinct sound of motion, of the promise of progress. Combined, all this forms a pattern: first the unfamiliar syllables in this foreign tongue over the station’s scratchy speakers, then the clack and patter of footfalls, followed by the hissing of dozens of train doors absorbing all the travelers. Steel wheels rolling away on steel tracks signal the completion of the station’s heartbeat. I wait for it to beat again. I wait for you.

This is my holiday. I cannot read the words on the advertisements that adorn the walls or even the station’s timetable. I am here on holiday, a foreign place where I don’t speak the language and where I rely on a map book purchased before I arrived, maps created before the revolution. Before the people, in their enthusiasm and zest, renamed the streets and the buildings. The monuments, stained by decades of pigeon droppings, kept their names, if not their meaning. The internal security forces, gray men in dark suits, still lurk in the shadows, still stand on the corners, still watch everyone, though they are unsure now of which transgressions they are to stop. Now, with democracy and capitalism roaring through the country like a virus, the people appear fatigued. They seem taciturn and sullen, feverish, desperate simply to survive. The editorialists in the English-language newspaper seem shocked to discover that you don’t get a VCR and a microwave just for knocking at the back door of the Community of Free and Smug Nations. As a consolation, the new street signs are still shiny. Too new and shiny for the map book I have. The book was poorly bound and several signatures have fallen out and been lost during my days here. Now I can’t even connect the streets I know to the page they appear next upon. As a result, I have been almost totally lost since my arrival here, relying on any landmarks I am able to find. Lost, until I met you. It was how I met you.
This is my holiday.

Start with the premise that there are only two things worth having: things of great utility and things of great beauty.
Then what am I to do with me?
While you are a thing of great beauty.
The tragedy is in the having. The pathos is in the needing.

It was during one of those unexpected breaks of sunlight through the clouds that I first saw you. You were at a cafe a few blocks from my hotel, sitting at a tiny black table under the shade of a blue awning, sipping coffee. Your white raincoat hung over the chair next to you. At another table, I was struggling to order lunch from a waiter who either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak to me in English. The language seems to be resented, as if it is a skill practiced only by thieves and liars. You decided to help me. You introduced yourself, helped me understand the menu, and translated for me.

The waiter brought us an unlabelled bottle of white wine from a local vineyard. I thanked you for your help and asked about your English. You told me that you owned an import/export firm and that despite the ridiculous exchange rate between our two countries, you still had a soft spot in your heart for Americans with language deficiencies. You asked me about the sketchpad I carried, if I was an artist? No, I answered, just a student of sorts, a student of the reification of dreams. You laughed, then smiled in response, and our gazes held each other in an easy contemplation, a willingness to be more open than strangers really should be. I showed you my sketches of the places I had already visited: the abbey, the opera house, the fountain with its beautiful statues in the square. I listened to you tell me about each of the places, with words vivid and smart. I told you how lost I was here with all the name changes and my wretched map of the city. Tourists were always getting lost here, you said, even before the changes. As you spoke, I began to sketch you, altering my gaze so that I could simply see the lines of your face.

When I sketch a face, all I want to see are the lines of the face rather than the face itself. When I see the face I see too much: the lips and the history of their kisses, the eyes and the paths their tears have traced. All I want to see are the lines and shadows of the face, the relationships between its curves, angles and lengths, and to abstract them from their reality. Do that well and sometimes the history of the lips and the joy of the eyes are transferred to paper. I have to stop sketching what I know and simply focus on what can be seen. I explained to you how my life had come to revolve around drawing, usually places rather than people, and how I learned something I didn’t expect with every sketch.

Well what, you asked, have you learned about me?
I haven’t finished sketching you yet, I answered. And, sometimes, it takes more than one.
‘So you need more time, eh?’ You laughed and offered your help as my guide during my stay.
Deciding to follow was easy.

We walked through the city in a meandering path. We talked about architecture: The buildings that stood here from the 19th century; the towers and who they were built for. How some of the facades of the buildings had been allowed to wear away when funds were not provided for their maintenance. How your great-grandfather had been one of the many stone masons who worked for over fifty years on the cathedral. How the architect of another building committed suicide when his patron ridiculed his efforts. How the walls that had surrounded the city had been torn down when the city’s population seemed ready to burst its bounds. We wondered if the artists who finished the great mural of the abbey shared the inspiration and passion of the original artist, found dead in the chamber, brush in hand. We talked about exchange: how the value of things were so much in flux that making any kind of prediction about the future was almost impossible; how what you had today might be worthless tomorrow; how the only moment that mattered in making a deal was this one. We leaned over the stone balustrade of the bridge, looking down into the dark river flowing below us. In the distance, we could hear circus music gently floating over the soft sounds of the river.

For an hour or more we stood there talking, less about the city and more about the two of us. As the sun began to fall, I asked if you would have dinner with me that night. You agreed.
You wrote your telephone number on paper with one of my pencils, filled with soft lead. You were barely out of sight when I examined the paper and saw the numbers in silver-gray clumps falling away from the paper, taking even the impression with them. I resolved to carry a pen.
e met that night at the train station. I watched you walk into the station, cloaked by the raincoat you had with you earlier, turning the heads of many of the men waiting for trains, waiting to return to their wives. As you approached me, I reconsidered my sketch of you; it didn’t do you justice. I’d have to try again.
A little to my surprise, our dinner rendezvous was as amiable as our afternoon had been. And, after dinner, we returned to my hotel.

The first kiss is always special; like a whispered invitation, it was soft, tender, and in it I took a pleasant delight. It was a familiar enchantment, a gentle treasure. But later, there was something more to our kisses, something wonderfully ravenous in the joining of our mouths.

For the remainder of the week, you and I followed the same routine each evening: a meeting in the concourse of the train station, your raincoat always announcing your arrival; dinner in a small dark nightclub (our table’s single small candle illuminating your face) where we had eclectic conversations, drank bottles of undistinguished red wine, and listened to jazz, usually played by excessively earnest musicians. One night, when the stars peeked through dark holes in the silver-black clouds, we debated which Ursa should be Major or Minor, whether Cassiopeia should be emotionally involved with Gemini or Orion. And each night we returned to my room. Once there, we sat in front of the large French windows smoking a joint or two, sometimes sharing ripe fruit, looking down at the lights of the city, amber and white candles in the deep black space, sweeping out in intersecting curves, ultimately tracing the course of the still blacker river. Not very far away we could see the train station and the glowing windows of the trains entering and departing it. Behind it, rotating spotlights illuminated a cheery circus tent in peppermint colors and, beside the tent, a Ferris wheel was spinning slowly through the dark, lights golden ablaze at its extents. Like kids aloft on the Ferris wheel, our kisses began shyly. They turned harder and hungrier and you allowed me to lightly trace the soft, warm curves of your body with my hands. Aroused, we sampled the varied flavors of our flesh with curious and persistent tongues; found pleasures in the textures of our bodies with sharp teeth; mapped our soft, smooth curves and harder ridges with fingers, palms, and hands. At length, you yielded yourself to me and with your body beneath mine, sometimes I would close my eyes and attempt to see you through my flesh, to feel your lines beneath my arms, around my legs; to feel the shadows of your curves, to understand the physics of your warmth and weight. I listened to your sighs, I asked you of your desires, I watched your responses, wanting this joy to be shared and complete. You were so physical and vibrant that I found myself wondering if I had warmth or weight in your presence? Or was I simply shadow without the defining benefit of line? In time, we were expelled from the lush sensations we visited in a rush of shudders and sighs. We lingered there, time graciously pausing for the two of us—and I was surprised by the intensity of what I felt—how much I still could feel—with you. Afterwards, you cradled my face with your hands, warm and soft, and I rested in the fragrant scents of your body, your sex. We laughed then relaxed, tangling our damp bodies under the blanket for shared warmth. Sometimes we would take a warm shower together, letting it drench us and we would begin again, the cold air bracing our skin; sometimes we would fall asleep, the cool mist gently slipping in through the window, carrying laughter, applause, and music from the circus—sounds filled with kindness and joy, the audience locked in the hope that the daring performers would succeed again, overcoming the odds against them. Once, as we slept in each other’s embrace, I dreamed I was sketching the two of us there in bed, trying to understand through the drawing who we were, why we were together. Finally, early in the mornings, in a quiet rapture I’d watch you as you dressed and left for home to prepare for work.

During the days, I would wander the streets and tried—mostly unsuccessfully—to avoid getting lost by following the routes you had shown me during the evening. The streets were narrow and were bordered by low brick buildings, most over a hundred years old in the city core, some of high craftsmanship, most of indifferent design, construction, and maintenance, and painted in wildly random hues. I dodged pedestrians, bicycles, noisy Volgas and Fiats, and the occasional BMW driven by one of the nouveau riche, successful navigators of the suddenly changed landscape.

Finally, I’d find one of the buildings I wanted to study and I’d try to find a quiet place to sit to begin my drawing. It wasn’t easy—everywhere the visiting circus made its presence known with aerialists searching for wires to walk, mimes and clowns, fools and their monkeys, even baby bears in red collars on strong leashes, all trolling for visitors to the circus for the evening’s performance. Frequently, they would drift in front of one of the gray men, attempting to irritate or amuse. Sometimes, they would even succeed.

Sooner, rather than later, my thoughts would return to you, and I’d stop my illustration of the building and look in my sketchbook at my drawings of you. I’d think of our evenings and begin a new drawing, this time from memory. In each sketch, I continued to look for what I still didn’t know about you. With each sketch, I remembered the touch of your hands on my face, the scent of your hair, your voice, the taste of your flesh, the sharp pleasure of your teeth. I was falling, each thought drifting further and further away from the architecture of this place, from the gray men watching everyone, from the foolish circus performers, from the utter simplicity of being a tourist on holiday.

I began to think about how soon my holiday would be over. And that night, I told you I loved you—but you knew me for a liar, even if I did not know myself. As I have never known. It seems those words have always been an expiring certificate, one that crumbles into dust even as I hand it to you. These words it seems, aren’t worth the air they vibrate through, nor the paper the state or church would bless and keep permanently on file.

I protested your accusation, pleaded my case: How could it be a lie? I knew my feelings and how they had been awakened by our time together. The passion, the rush of sex and of mind, a chance to dream of the world and the flesh together. Really, the chance to see the world through minds ignited by the flesh—how could it be anything but love? No, the words were not a lie; instead, like all truths, the words were bound by time, bound in time, bound to dreams. Perhaps those dreams were too much made of fabrics unavailable in this life. Too synthetic, better living through chemistry, a house in the suburbs and a Volvo in the driveway. A dream of safe harbor for mercurial hearts. Oxymoron? Perhaps. But love, for me, has been an oxymoron in a single word; the single concept joins at least two and makes them one—but they are never really one are they? Long ago, I thought I put all this away. Gave up all this nonsense of negotiating soft and fiery passions for the cold and concrete, line and shadow. Reconciled myself to a placid aloofness and distance. And I threw it all away here on holiday; perhaps, because it was a holiday. Return ticket in hand, goodbyes spoken before our hellos, how hard could it be to protect the heart even while satisfying the flesh? Hold each in isolation: mind, heart, and flesh. Do this and be stable—sad, perhaps, but stable. Dead, perhaps, but stable. Fail—and you are in love, testing a faulty arithmetic: 1 + 1 = 1. An arithmetic whose proof is only to be found in dreams where it is simulated and tested in an unreal chamber. The same chamber that gave rise to the abbey, the opera house, and the cathedral—all taken from dreams and made real, where, somehow, the geometry was true and could be translated into this world. But love, for me, works in reverse: it wants to take reality and turn it into a dream, wants me to inhale you in the measure of a kiss, to take you and merge the two of us: 1 + 1 = 1. I thought I knew better than this, thought I was beyond it. So do I love you? Yes, with all the impermanence, inconsistency, and incoherence that are part of the definition, part of the peril of speaking with a mouth filled with sharp teeth.

You waved your hands and laughed at me, ‘You think too much. Don’t you know the difference between what you wish and what you believe?’
I felt silly, without an answer for you. Tourists. Always too charmed by the locals, too ready to believe everything they read in the travel guide. I knew what I felt; I knew what I wanted to believe. And later, I simply felt I was a fool: You are a thing of great beauty, while I am not certain even of my own utility.
That night something was different. There seemed the same urgency and passion in your kisses—still, something was different. Sometimes it’s impossible to know when something has changed, when midnight has come in the dark of night. There’s nothing that is said. It is what is felt. What is heard in the voice.

There is nothing wrong with your voice. It is the same. You laugh, you smile, you are still enchanting. I am the only thing that is not in your voice. It is as if all the pronouns that might describe me, might describe us, have fallen away from your vocabulary. My name off your lips is simply a name, it is surrounded by a space, something you are distancing yourself from. Worst still, I can’t find you in your words; I no longer know what you are feeling. Your words have changed from the subjective and felt, to the objective and clinical. I wait for your voice to change. It is all I think is right to do.
The trouble is always in the flesh. With the eyes, there is at least separation, distance, space. A tempting yearning perhaps—but you learn to change your focus; learn to only see line and shadow, abstract away from being, find form without weight, without meaning. It is the flesh that allows a casual touch to ignite the entire body. I’ve come to fear my flesh, fear the intensity of its desires, fear that I will be unable to measure the reaction, know my own truths from mindless wanting, ceaseless needing.
There is safety in my sketches. The distance of an altered focus. I realize my dreams on paper, where they can be redrawn, erased, or discarded if they do not please me. Somehow, I have gone on holiday and have lost my bearings, lost my way, signatures fallen from my heart. I forgot the simple rule: do not touch.
But there is nothing to be felt in that life. And only the flesh can feel at all.

I think about my friends. The happy ones, the satisfied ones, are those who live in houses with their spouses and children. They have their two cars in the driveway, sometimes three, counting the minivan for the soccer runs. Their homes are safe and suburban, places where by dark everything is asleep. Where I live there is never a time when everything is asleep.
I think about their happiness often. When I visit them I take note of the treadmill they tell me they want to use but don’t have time for. I pay attention to how much brighter everything seems—the lights, the walls, the furniture. I listen for the sounds of the children on the monitor as they play in the basement. And I feel like an alien, separated from his own, unable to find a coherence in this place.
They invite me to buy the house that is for sale across the street.
But what would I do when everyone else is asleep?

I wait because I must. I wait because I’m afraid. If I leave I know time will pass and ravage me, flesh loosening from bone, aching for what it will have forgotten. My eyes will cloud until I would not know you even if you stood directly before me. No, I wait because I must. I wait because I want you as my guide and destination.

In frustration, I walk to one of the train platforms. A rat, his eyes too much like mine, boldly crosses the track in front of me. He stops and turns toward me. Our eyes meet and hold each other for longer than our relative status should permit. I consider him, wondering if we share any of the same pains? In the dim light of the tracks, between their silver ribbons and its stony bed, he seems in no hurry to avoid the light, to return his dark hole. We could both avoid the light, cell phones with batteries long dead, and soft leaded pencils whose words crumble away. He will find his place, will wish to share his warmth, and his companion will be there or she will not. She will be there or she will be flattened by a train. She will be there or she will have gone away. In another night, perhaps he will have forgotten her scent. In another, perhaps he will mistake it for that of another. His head dips then rises, he turns and runs away, tracing the path of the track toward his dark hole, where he will find her there or he will not.
I am here and you are not.
You are. And I am not.

So you see, there is no plot to my life, no interesting circumstances, no inevitable push to an epiphany at its conclusion. It is all a series of moments, a fiction of connection, bound by cells, dividing and dying, each whispering all they can remember, what’s left, errors in the cell division, errors in the DNA, an Alzheimer’s of the flesh, and with each division, with each death, less is recalled than in the moment before. The whispers, the cries, are always the same: This is what I remember. Do not forget. Each time the message becomes less distinct. So, yesterday, I could feel your hand, its warmth and weight on my face with just a thought. Today, even if I close my eyes, I cannot warm my cheek with your memory; the chill in the station air overwhelms it, the present kills the past. This is what I have forgotten. Do not forget. So I wait. To find what I have almost forgotten. A train arrives, a train departs; the heart contracts, then releases. Sensation fades as the cellular whisper becomes indistinct and confused. I stare at my sketches of you, line and shadow, not flesh. In one, we are sitting on a bench in the shadow of the abbey. There are lonely faces on the people who are walking through the plaza. There are clowns and mimes, fools and monkeys, gargoyles and gray men. I am looking at you while you are looking away. This is what I remember. This is what I am forgetting. I look around at the entrances to the concourse and then at each of the clocks at either end of the station. You are not here. This station, built in a celebration of ceaseless motion, is really just a place of endless waiting. People stand about waiting—patiently, eagerly, desperately, hopelessly. Some wait for trains, some wait for children, some wait for lovers. Some wait for death to free them from the waiting. The gray men stand about watching the waiting, constantly spying for signs of excessive hope. The clocks that should give hope, the train is coming, the train is here, simply measure loss for me. Depending on which of the station’s clocks I choose, I can convince myself that we had four minutes more or four minutes less together. Is that enough time to change my feelings? But why measure at all? Of what use is any moment except this one? The measure is always of the past, felt, past tense, a rabbit racing away into the snow, gone. Why measure at all? Why feel at all?

I look at my first drawing of you at our table in the cafe. This is what I can remember, what I will not allow myself to forget. I take my return ticket for home from my pocket, crumple it, and toss it into a trash can filled to the rim with the debris of other travelers, other lives. I will have to find you and convince you of my truth in a language of thieves and liars. I will have to find you to remember the warmth of your hands on my face.

A few feet away, one of the gray men observes me and slowly moves an unfiltered cigarette to his lips. He inhales slowly, his expression unchanged, pulling in a nicotine coat for an already black heart. The gray man approaches me and removes my ticket from the trash. With so many watchers in this place, I am certain to be breaking some law. He takes a moment to examine it, exhales a cloud of smoke, and hands it back to me.
‘It is time for you to return home,’ he says flatly. In English, no less.
The music of the calliope drifts merrily through the station.
flight in dimensions counted five

I have friends who have mastered the art of vomiting gracefully. They are able to drink without concern and then when their body grows disgusted with the alcohol, they calmly walk to the bathroom, position themselves over the toilet, and quietly, with great dignity and reserve, heave. I am neither quiet nor dignified. I awakened and lurched out of bed, knocking over the bowl full of fresh fruit on the dresser, and ran naked to the bathroom, falling to my knees, barely making the toilet. Each spasm was tied to a sound like that of an animal being kicked. For the next five or ten minutes, I knelt there, collapsed over the toilet, waiting for the next retching, until all the liquor I consumed last night along with other contents I didn’t recognize had been purged from my body. Rolling over, I sat on the cold tile floor, my back uncomfortable against the still colder bathtub, eyes closed, sweating, and out of breath.

I don’t remember how much I drank last night or even how I returned to the hotel. But at least I am quiet now. After a while, I struggle to my feet, flush the toilet, wash my face and rinse out my mouth.

I pick up the fruit and replace it in its bowl and walk to the French windows. The gray mist still hangs over the city but the Ferris wheel has been taken down and the circus tent is being removed from its posts. The circus music is gone; the sound of traffic remains. The clowns, mimes, fools and their monkeys will soon be leaving town.
And the daring aerialists too—the trapeze artists and the wire-walkers.
And maybe it’s the image of me in golden tights, but I lie back and begin to laugh, naked on the bed.

I think about our time together and it becomes clear to me how much of all this was my fantasy, my dream, not yours. What I wanted, you couldn’t give me. Because you were a thing of great beauty, I wanted you to show me that I was worth having. If you could love me, I could be whole.
But that’s wrong. To remember myself, I had to forget you, let go of my dream of you. And if I can be a fool, a selective amnesiac of experience, happy in the joy, forgetful of the pain, willing to try yet again, maybe I will be able to give myself what I need.

I reach over and pick up my sketchpad, find a blank page, and draw two straight lines, intersecting at a point. In two dimensional space, the intersection is real and permanent. In three dimensional space, the two lines may only appear to intersect, perhaps really being an infinite distance apart along the z-axis. Add the dimension of time and you compress the concept of these lines into two points swirling in space over time, a mere coincidence if they should ever meet. Add love—and its unknown geometry—and even coincidence is an improbability, an accident, a happy surprise in its occurrence.

Still, we try. Or, at least, now I can. You helped me remember what I tried so hard to forget. So, we try. There must be, I think, a certain thrill in the life of an aerialist, flying through the air, waiting, hoping, for a pair of outstretched hands—as long as there is a net. We chalk our hands, smile at each other across the expanse, bow and preen to the crowds below, where even the gray men pray for our success, grasp the trapeze firmly and release from our towers simultaneously, soaring through space. In flight, I release the bar, but I’m too clumsy to spin, and I pray you will be there to grasp my hands, to stop me from falling. But even if you aren’t, there is always the net below. I will fall, I will bounce, and it will probably hurt. Again. And, then, I’ll climb back up the pole and try again. This time, let me try to catch you; trust me, when you reach for my hands. We are alive in our flight; everything else is mere waiting.

Still, let’s not make this a job; at some point, we’ll want to have lunch.
I take my luggage from the closet and begin gathering my clothes; my flight is this evening. I reach into the fruit bowl, remove an apple and bite down hard into its skin with sharp teeth, savoring the fruit and its juice. I will probably be the last fool departing town tonight. Perhaps the only fool in training to be a aerialist of great daring, even if I must start with small dares.
But then—all shows must close, all holidays come to an end.

© D.M. Hendricks October 2002

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