Reach Out and Touch Someone
A Mnemosyne story
Start at the beginning of the Mnemosyne series
Rich sounded concerned when I called to ask him to let people know I was feeling ill and wouldn't be coming in to work. It was a mark of the seriousness of the situation that he expressed any emotion whatsoever. I am not known to miss work for any reason, and Rich is not known to care about anything at all.
Even given the events transpiring, I felt a niggling drive in my brain to arrange for an alternate ride to SitSurvey. The drive forward, to continue on and upward in my career, was nearly too great to ignore. I knew that I was destined for greater things, and had only to march forward to receive them. When you have been successful for all of your life, it is difficult to surrender to the greater forces of the world, or even acknowledge that they are greater.
For the first time in days there existed within me that drive to conquer and control all that I saw around me. I had been reeling in confusion and fear since this affair began, and I was finally ready to stand up and fight. That was part of my desire to return to work. However, there seemed to be a far better application of my time and energy, and that lay in reclaiming my life from madness. I decided that the first step in returning the steering wheel to my hands would be in calling Theodore.
There is always tension before making a phone call to a possible paramour. A slow clutching in the gut that pulls at the muscles until it feels as though there are a thousand tiny strings roped to every invisible piece of the body and mind, drawing them all together in the center of everything, pulling so hard that you know it will wrap you up and make you disappear into nothingness. The sensation is a black hole of anticipation that opens in the stomach and consumes everything about you until you decide to either call, or to give up the notion completely. I relish the feeling, and the not giving in to it.
The phone rang only a single time before Theodore answered. "Hello?"
"Theodore?" I asked, not really meaning the question. His voice was clear and recognizable from the previous night.
"Oh. Oh! Yes, it's Theo. I didn't expect you to call so soon. Not that that's a problem. I wanted you to call, really." His words tumbled over one another, which must have mirrored the confusion of his thoughts.
I worried about making him uncomfortable and putting him off, so I decided to apologize. "I'm sorry, is this a bad time?" I dislike apologizing in any form, but I leave no weapon out of my arsenal.
"No, no. I'm at work, but I can talk for a moment." His voice was much steadier this time, which was relieving. I didn't want to fluster him so much that he would run. Now that I had decided to take control of my life again, I didn't want to immediately lose the object of my pursuit.
"Good. I would hate to interrupt you at work and cause you any difficulty. I just wanted to call and see how you were doing. Last night was memorable to say the least, and has me thinking about you. I was very glad you left your number." I truly was glad. It had been exactly the kick I needed at the right time to get me focused on fighting back against this . . .thing that was happening.
I don't want to make it sound as though I was simply using Theodore. That wasn't the case. There were genuine feelings for him in my heart, and still are. If there hadn't been any emotion to the relationship, meeting him would have had no real affect on me, and I most likely would have been content to lay back, close my eyes, and let the entire world wash away and take me with it. No, it was the connection that I felt with Theo that pushed me to use him to help myself. I suspect most relationships are like that to some degree. If your partner can't be a tool to help you, why stay with them, even if you care?
"I had a great time too. Drank a little too much, and I'm paying for that today, but worth it. Definitely worth it." The smile on his face was apparent in his voice. "Like I said last night, that sort of thing isn't usually my style. But, I'm glad I went home with you. Heck, you're already breaking convention by actually calling me."
I laughed. "I was worried myself when I woke up and you were gone."
He returned the chuckle. "Oh, if I don't get some coffee in me first thing in the morning I'm a zombie for the entire day. No one wants to be seen with a guy dragging his feet and moaning softly."
"Well, as long as you don't try to eat my brains, I'd be alright with spending time with zombie you." He laughed again and then let out a zombie moan. "In fact, I'd love to see you again soon. When is good for you?"
He hesitated in answering, and a surge of fear clutched at my throat. I didn't want him to put me off. Theodore didn't seem the type to jerk me around, but then again, Kevin didn't seem like a crazed drug addict either. When a guy has soft eyes, I tend to lose sight of the alarm signals.
"I think that tomorrow works for me. If that's not too soon for you." His hesitation was clearly not trying to put me off.
"Don't be silly," I replied, "I'm the one that asked you out again. Tomorrow is perfect. Where would you like to meet?"
"Well," he said, "there's a street fair in the evening down near Bells Town. Would you like to go?"
I hated farmer's markets and street fairs. "I'd love to. Meet there around seven-thirty?"
"That sounds perfect. I should probably go. Work and all. Hey, uh, thanks for calling."
"Of course. I'll see you tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it." I hung up the phone and grinned hard enough to feel the muscles in my face strain.
Papa Poppa told me that as a child, he helped my grandfather build a house. My grandfather had cleared the land and leveled the area, but he had my papa help him lay the first cornerstone of the building. Papa always said that the feeling he had laying that cornerstone helped him for the rest of his life. It gave a sense that no matter what was built on top of that stone, the base was solid and steady and could support anything. One step was out of the way, and it was on to bigger and better things, with no worry of collapse from underneath.
My phone call with Theodore left me with that feeling. For the first time since the beginning of the madness, a cornerstone lay in my life, something upon which to build. Arranging a date was such a stable and normal part of my essence that looking forward to my next meeting with Theodore was like coming home from a long trip. The familiar seems strange, but comforting and safe. I had laid the groundwork, now was the time to begin building.
Thus far, I reasoned, whatever I was doing to the world was taking its course because of inattention on my part. Things disappeared when I forgot them because they left my consciousness, left my own personal world and in doing so left the world at large. It stood to reason that if my inattention could destroy, my attention could create.
This thought was a precipice over a dark pit that I can behold only in hindsight. There was no careful analysis of my actions at the time, no emotional or moral wrestling with myself. I was determined to take back control of my world, and that was the beginning and end of my exploration of that topic. Alpha and omega, my will be done. The questions that I did not ask now flood my mind. What could I create? Why should I create it? How does my play with the fabric of the universe affect others? Does that even matter, since eventually I'll forget them and they will pass on into nothingness? I sit in the middle of the philosopher's dream, where reality obeys the dictates of my consciousness, and the only bounds are the ones I choose to impose. So, what did I choose to do with this power? What course did I take to exercise the awesome force of creation that brewed within me? I chose as man always does. I obeyed the twin forces of lust and fear. I decided that rather than explore new territory, I would revisit the dubious comforts of the past. I would bring back Kevin.
I wasn't quite sure how to begin bringing a person back into existence. If Kevin had disappeared because of my concentrated forgetting, the best way to start seemed to be a concentrated remembering.
The idea of reviewing my time with Kevin was painful. The scar tissue that I carried from that period of my life was deep, and the thought of purposefully tearing it open to release the poisons the wound held back into my conscious thought was a difficult pill to swallow. It might have been a different situation if the damage I had suffered then had healed naturally over time, but it was the result of very deliberate choices on my part. Now, I felt that in order to move forward, I would have to cut my way backward through every protection I had created for myself. The feeling of anticipation as I sat on my couch contemplating this . . .remembering . . .was far worse than the buildup to calling Theodore.
I decided to begin by concentrating on a memory of Kevin, a happy one, and recalling as many details about it as I could. I chose our first night at the movie theatre together.
The movies have always been a place of childhood magic and excitement for me. Papa Poppa does not like to go to the theatre often, so seeing a movie on the big screen was always a treat for me as a child. Even the smell of popcorn puts me into a better mood. Kevin enjoyed old movies, black and white classics from the era when Hollywood shone with a soft silver glow, and the actors and actresses were called stars because they belonged in the heavens. Casablanca was playing at a local independent theatre, and Kevin invited me to go on one of our first dates.
The movie was played as part of an event the theatre was putting on revolving around the magic of Hollywood. The manager had rolled stage lights outside of the building onto the sidewalk and pointed them at the sky, highlighting the concrete of the art deco walls in columns. It was a black tie only showing of the film, though tickets only cost a few dollars, and people arrived dressed to the nines. Kevin wore a top hat and a tailed tuxedo, and carried a walking cane. He even had a fake monocle. On any other night I would have teased him and called him Mr. Peanut, but on that night it was magic. I remember that his shoes were so black and shined that I could see my reflection in them.
When we arrived at the theatre, he spun his cane around his hand like a magic trick a few times, and gave me a mischievous grin before bursting into a small tap number on the sidewalk. Kevin did not look as though he should be graceful. His feet and hands were bit too big, his shoulders too narrow for his frame, his knee just a bit too wobbly, but on that night he glided across the concrete. A number of people applauded, and he rolled his top hat down his arm when he bowed. Kevin always loved to be a spectacle.
The key facet of knowing Kevin was to understand the meaning of pretense. He was a layer of facades, one after the other, like a layer of colored leaves in the fall, each brighter and more distracting than the last. Only a few times during our relationship did I see that series of masks slip away and reveal any honesty on his face. That night was one of those times. After we were seated by the ushers in bellhop uniforms, and after the theatre went dark, our hands linked together, I looked at Kevin's face as the flickering soft white light illuminated the room. The corners of his mouth tugged upwards slightly in an unconscious half-smile as the credits rolled, and his eyes danced back and forth, tracing familiar letters in anticipation of the film.
Casablanca was one of his favorite movies; he could recite it line by line. It was a delight for me to see the marks of happiness on his face. Kevin's smiles could best be described as crafted, each carved out of hours of pained practice looking in a mirror. I think that night was the only true smile I ever saw him wear - face relaxed, head tilted just a bit back and to the right, a slightly giddy look to his eyes and mouth. That was a truly happy memory for me, and one I'll never forget, no matter how hard I try, and how deep I bury it. I wish I had buried it deeper.
As I sat on the couch, lost in the memory, my phone rang. I answered it without looking - my eyes were still staring years into the past. It was my assumption that it was most likely Theodore calling back, or maybe Papa Poppa calling about something he needed me to do. I was wrong.
"Hi. It's me."
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010