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"You only need to be kind." These were his father's last words to him. He remembers the heavy green door as it creaked close, his father walking into the night, never to return. He thought he was just getting milk. Now he's grown up he knows that milk is never procured at night, at least not in this neighborhood. His father had these nightly walks because "he was getting milk". That particular night, that last night, he thought it would be the usual—his father would walk back in and say sweet dreams. That night he didn't even say goodbye.
It's always cold here, but it never rains. The cold is different when it rains—somehow there's warmth. He experienced this while visiting another town. He missed his hometown during that 2-week stay, yet he also knew a part of him was resolute about not going back. How do people resolve this dilemma? Being sure, being unsure. Are people ever sure 100%? If they decide to bungee-jump, are they 100% sure the moment they jump? He's grown to love the cold, he can't imagine life without it. When we leave something, does it mean we love it less?
He's a traveler now. He decided this on the month of September. Somehow the safety of home has become dangerous. Winding synapses of alarms that got louder each day. It is a kindness to be angry, his mother said. It is a kindness to be honest, and if one's truth at a particular moment is anger, then so be it. No sense in nicety. In all the years he lived at home, he's only had a handful of angry moments. Now he knows he can allow for that to happen more. This is freedom. This is knowing how to live.
For in our anger we see through our loved ones more easily. Not everyone will agree, of course, because not everyone's situations are the same. If we are not calm, the recipient of our foul mood will think of ways to adapt, and this way we can know how far they are willing to go to tolerate us. If they call us out, that's love. If they respond, with kindness and patience, that's love. If they get angry, too, that's love. We only need to be honest. He still goes by his father's advise to be kind. Be kindly honest.
He has a new favorite place: the museum. More than the artwork, he likes people-watching, sometimes eavesdropping. There's a wealth of stories in a 30-second conversation between mother and son. "Dad would have liked this," the son would say. "Wish I didn't leave the house that day," his mother would answer. He sits on a bench and on lucky days, someone would sit beside him and talk. He takes notes from these, too, careful to change names and physical attributes. Everything is grist for the mill. He buys more notebooks, pens, tape recorders. Making mountains out of molehills.
In this new place where he's settling, he's brought four things: his mother's love and disappointment, his father's absence, and the ghost of his past happiness. He knows he needs to let all of these go, but holding on keeps him together—as if changing the smallest thing will cause him to disintegrate, never to be put back the way he is now. And why does he like the way he is now? Does he even like himself? On some days, yes. On some days, no—but he regards these days as more important. They keep him on his toes.
This coffee is good. It's 8:12 a.m. and the sea is quiet. All he hears is his breathing. That instant when the bitter turns sweet, somewhere on the tongue, in the throat, or is it just an imagination? That's what keeps him sipping. That's what gets him out of bed. That split second of sweetness between the gulps of black liquid. "Ugh, that again," gagging noises from his neighbor every morning. "Why do you like coffee so much." Then they talk about what a nice morning it is, their plans for the day. He looks forward to these.
"What are you angry about? Exactly?" His new friend has a knack for honesty and inquisitiveness without being offensive and cloying. It's...refreshing. So he thinks hard about it before answering. "Nothing, exactly. Just, the general sort." His friend waits for him to elaborate. "It's the anticipation that something will go wrong. That, if I begin enjoying myself and believing that I have my own life, something from the past will insert itself in my life again and set me back." His friend's scowling. "Do you understand?" He knows what the answer is. Nobody understands. "Yes," his friend says. "Yes."
He begins to appreciate the thing he's been avoiding all this time: Being understood. When people start understanding us, they then have permission to predict our next move and they then think they have the right to judge us. Or so he thinks. When people start needing him, his first reflex is prepare to leave. Being undertood has the same effect. So for most of his life he affected a mysterious personality. Never letting anyone in, all because he doesn't want to eventually leave. His dilemma now is how to stay amid all this understanding in this new place. How?
Things take time, sure. It took 40 years for his mother to realize how she was hurting him even with acts of love. Distance made them closer, who would've thought? Everyone knows that, his new friend declares. Not me, he says. I always thought being together physically made things so much easier. That's because you didn't experience oher options before, his friends counters. Now you know distance is better, at least for you and your family. But how do we maintain this closeness? Why would you want to maintain it? Just let it breathe. It will take care of itself.
He'd like to think he's living a routine life now. This has been his fantasy. The same day every day. Habits, clockwork, exactness, familiarity. Knowing when he gets to be happy and knowing when he gets hurt. Knowing how to react, knowing how to feel. Knowing. Just knowing. In the past, it's the not knowing that made life difficult. Surprises are unwieldy, they can weigh you down for an indefinite amount of time. He fears the unknown. Here in this new place, new life, he lives the same day everyday. This is safe. This is wishful thinking. This isn't real.
He knows this isn't a real place but it's too good to give up. Too good to be true, all the clichés. He won't budge. It's taken too much time to reach this place. Are his new friends even real? Or are they a product of his imagination? Are they versions of him? People he created specifically to agree or disagree with him when he deems it necessary? The memory of people expecting him to be this or that, without deliberate words but with implied authority, it's a past he doesn't want to go back to. So he stays.
I don't want to be negative anymore, he tells himself one morning. The whole point of leaving home was to be a new person. A better person. Someone who understands that to be good sometimes means being bad, and that it doesn't necessarily mean being selfish. Being bad can be a product of kindness. Hear me out, he tells himself: You can't control how people feel. Respect how they feel, always. Just because they got hurt and called you bad doesn't mean you meant to be bad. But it doesn't change the fact they were hurt. What are you saying???
He holds his head. It feels about to explode. His thoughts aren't making sense. It's as if he's justifying everything with glass shards, and it's making his head hurt. There's a place in the future where the past cannot reach. It's always 2 steps ahead, never stopping, never looking back. How does he go there and does he want to? It seems this move away from home has brought him to a sort of limbo where colors are blurring into each other and he sees clarity, at last, but it's an image of him as a little boy—coddled, confused.
It's frightening how he doesn't feel affection for people who used to be important to him. It's frightening because imagining other people feel this way about him hurts in a way he can't describe. How does love become this unreachable thing? Like someone put it in a closet, and that closet has climbed a wall by itself. But then there's no ladder, as if it was meant to be that way from the beginning. It's there then it disappears and we are supposed to accept it. It's frightening, how he just watches, how he knows he can easily walk away.
Truth is he has walked away, so to say. In his head he is in another country altogether. He's left people, memories, places. Physically there is a chance he may encounter them again but in his head he's in the sky and they're left on land. This is how he expresses anger, this is his revenge. He can be black, he is black. It doesn't scare him anymore, to be honest, how little he cares. He only tells himself that he's scared to appease the little child in him that still yearns for his parents' love. He knows the truth.
The truth is this: This country he's in, it's unreachable. We have all sorts of little things we did in the past that we regret simply because we can never take them back. Here there is no regret. This is his fantasy come to life, no one to please, no one to love too hard, no one to reject him, no one to keep their door locked, no one to lock his door against. No one, simply no one. Peace, quiet, contentment. Safety, happiness, acceptance. In a few hours he can come home, but he chooses to go farther, farther.
He's at a stoplight. This is his first time in this area. So he doesn't know how long the red light is on. In some areas it's 2 minutes, others 5. In these places he's familiar with he knows exactly what he can and cannot do at a stoplight, because he knows for sure how long he's got. But here he's nervous, so nervous that he wasn't able to start counting. Now he's anxious the driver behind him will honk and he won't be ready. Why did he have to come here, in this new place. He keeps sweating. GodgodgodGOD.
Life's all about arriving and leaving. Never about the staying. Or is it the other way around? Is it all of those things? He can't decide. Is it up to him? In one of his long talks with his mother, he noticed how she balled up each used Kleenex and arranged them in a straight line in front of her, like they're soldiers who are supposed to protect her. She kept looking up at him with her kind eyes, and yet he felt rotten. She said it's fine. Go. Live your own life. He still doesn't know how to proceed.
In his head he's somewhere else entirely. Sure, he's left home. But the past, everything he wanted to leave, keep coming. They just keep coming. Even the news on TV brings something from the past. Move on, they say. Don't dwell, they say. Forget it, they say. How are these things possible in the real world? Sure, we can forget. But when they happen again are we supposed to just keep forgetting, is that a way to live? At all? He knows what he wants but can't bring himself to take the first step. He just needs that first step.
A simple life. Clean air. Trees. Fog. Flowers near the mailbox. A job that pays the bills. Someone to love. That's all, really. Oh, quiet. The quiet is important. Maybe the occasional rain. Lots of gentle sunlight. Nice neighbors who know when to leave you be. The sound of kids playing nearby. The smell of coffee. Creative space. Clean surroundings. Leaves rustling. Peace of mind. The right amount of ability and patience to problem-solve. Good food. Fairy lights. Christmas songs. Cute windows. Books. Lots of books. A camera. Contentment. Grace. Understanding. Forgiveness. Sleep. Lots of good sleep. Hearty breakfasts.
What if we lived underwater? It looks quiet there. The soft gurgle of water 24/7. What is the concept of always. Does anything ever really happen "always"? Isn't it a different version of something every time? When he opens his door on his way to work, does he "always" open it the same way? Surely, there's some little difference to the way we do things every day? Is this a prison? No, right? Are we trapped here and sentenced for life? No matter where we go, no matter what we do? Even in prison there's a form of freedom.
Five Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in the month of December. Wow. Seems a lot, if you're counting. He stares at his calendar and wills the days to go fast, faster, until they run so fast they disappear for good. It's puzzling how he wants so much to escape and yet it's so hard for him to let the day go. It's both: "I want out" and "I want to stay". How does one decide? The heart? Pshaw. The heart is finicky. For all the good things people say about the heart, there's an equal, or more, amount of bad there.
Yesterday was difficult. He was overwhelmed and so he said those things about the heart. Truth is, he's also overwhelmed by everyone's kindness. People are kind, yes? Some people have a kindness that leaves you awestruck. How do they manage to have that deep well of goodness in them. It can be done, who knew it can be done. Or is it something that comes naturally? Some people are just inherently good they don't have to exert effort in being kind, they just are? He wishes to have that kind of heart. He remembers his father in times like this.
He surveys this country he's in. It's bleak. No it's not. He was thinking of his former home. Though it always had hot meals and coffee, a nice bed and his mother's love, it was bleak in that it didn't give him joy. For so long he believed that being sad and forcing himself to do things he didn't want to do was the "good" way to live. Now he knows he can leave. He did leave. He's somewhere else now. If you leave something does it mean you love it less. He's still asking this. He's still clueless. Maybe?
There's a blue house at the end of the street. It has a lilac door. The colors blur together so they all look blue or lilac at a particular time of day, depends on how sunlight hits it. There's a nearby tree with yellow blooms that fall slowly, ever so slowly, that a dog decided to sleep under that tree. Perhaps it found the feel of falling flowers soothing. An ice cream truck comes every 5 p.m. Pistachio is the flavor this week. Last week it was vanilla. This neighborhood feels like a dream. He doesn't want to leave.
It's a few days before the New Year's. The neighbor has taken down their Christmas decor on the 26th. All that effort just for one day. What a waste. This is one of those things he does not understand. He knows the world will keep on turning whether he understands it or not, but he keeps trying. Why does it have to be an annual thing. Sure, all those decorations put up in November, not a total waste, they're up for less than 2 months and they bring joy. Then what. Where do they go when they aren't needed anymore.
The holidays are hard for him. He has beautiful memories of the holidays, that's why. It will take time, his friend says. In a few years you will find that it's becoming easier. It doesn't happen in an instant?—is what the petulant kid in him says. Instant noodles, instant coffee, instant soup. If we can invent an instant something, why can't we do the same for feelings. Why the passage of time. Why the need to go through it when we can bypass it. He can be unreasonable during this time of year. The holidays are hard for him.
There's one thing he does not take for granted: Gratitude. Kind people. Helpful people. A family that understands. A family that is patient. People. Gratitude for people. Even if he's alone now he knows when he needs help he can count on them, not that it will ever be easy for him to ask for help. He's scared of kindness is what it is, because he isn't capable of being a good person to other people. He is too selfish, too in his head, too negative that he simply wants to un-inflict himself from other people all the time.
But yes, gratitude. And the will to always try and be good. It's easy for some, it may take some effort for him. But he's leaving, always leaving. Searching for the ideal place, somewhere he won't ever feel the need to leave. Is there such a place, is here really that bad? Maybe so, maybe not. But keep moving, the wind tells him. In another land is the simple life he dreams of. No cars, no lifts, no machinery. Just trees. Earth. A house. A garden. Someone to love. Maybe just being alone is good, too. A place of promise.
At night he hears his breathing, imaginary cicadas, a gentle breeze on wind chimes. He can sleep forever or just for a few hours. Mayhap being awake isn't all that bad. In his dreams are people and pockets of time in the past, now, soon. All happening at once. But it doesn't overwhelm him. They happen in succession, like a well-organized parade. He knows what to expect. He knows in a few minutes he will have to get up and face the new day. He's not sad about it anymore. He's looking forward to sunlight, smiles, life, peace, nowness.
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